The biggest advances in low carbon energy have been made in the field of electricity. Transport and heat lag far behind.
E-mobility has been talked about for many years, but the portion of the world’s vehicle stock that uses electricity is tiny. Despite the many TV adverts in the west providing racy images of electric vehicles, less than 1% of the vehicles on the road are electric, and most of those in use are hybrids — which means that much of the time they will be using fossil fuels part of the time.
Using electricity is only a low carbon solution, moreover, if the fuels used to generate electricity are low carbon. Charging an electric vehicle using electricity that is generated from coal simply shifts the problem of carbon emissions from the vehicle to the power station.
For the same reason, heating is also a hard-to-decarbonise sector. Replacing a gas boiler with electric heating doesn’t reduce emissions if the electricity is being generated by burning gas. Similarly, while hydrogen boilers will help, if the hydrogen used is derived from fossil fuels rather than electrolysis, the climate benefits are negligible.
Don’t be fooled by the idea that electricity is “greener” than other sources of energy! If it’s generated from fossil fuels, there is little benefit in using it. The carbon saving comes when the power is made from renewable sources such as wind or solar,
Despite the above caveats, a revolution is underway. Electric bikes and scooters have started to proliferate in urban areas, and the range of electric vehicles is gradually improving. Innovative car finance schemes are making EVs viable options for many, rather than the wealthy few. It is still hard to see EVs making inroads in developing countries, but electricity grids are expanding globally and this could provide a tipping point for a more widespreads use of electric vehicles in emerging markets.