What year will cars go electric?
How much electricity would it take to power all cars if they were electric?
The US would need to produce 20-50% more electricity annually if all cars were electric vehicles.
Published on Thu, December 15, 2022 9:29AM PST | Updated Tue, March 28, 2023 2:25PM PDT
In 2022, California became the first state to require all new cars and light trucks sold to be zero emission vehicles by 2035. Because several states have laws or rules on the books agreeing to follow California’s vehicle emission standards, about 34% of states in the US are expected to follow suit. 
While electric vehicles (EVs) currently represent a modest proportion of the automotive market, sales of all types of EVs are expected to continue growing in the near-future.
This raises questions over how much more electricity would be needed to power these cars, and how much more cost-effective EVs are per mile.
Based on 2019 data, the US would need to produce 20-50% more electricity in a year if all cars were EVs.
According to data from the Department of Energy (DOE), the cost of powering EVs is approximately 35-75% cheaper than the cost for gas-powered vehicles per mile.
Since generating electricity often relies on the use of fossil fuels, switching to EVs won’t eliminate vehicle-related emissions of greenhouse gases. The emission rates for EVs would vary by state based on how electricity is generated.
How much electricity would it take to power all cars if they were EVs?
In 2019, drivers across the US consumed roughly 3.4 billion barrels, or 142.8 billion gallons, of motor gasoline.
According to the EPA, every gallon of gasoline is equivalent to 33.7 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity. Based on these metrics, an equivalent of approximately 4,800 billion kWh was used to fuel gasoline vehicles over that year.
According to the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, EVs are roughly two and a half to six times more efficient using energy from the power grid than conventional cars are using gasoline. Given that comparison, it would take roughly 800 to 1,900 billion kWh of electricity to power all vehicles if they were EVs.
The US used about 4,130 billion kWh of electricity in 2019. This means if all cars were EVs that year, the US would have consumed 20-50% more electricity.
This estimate doesn’t account for the number of charging stations or the differences in energy efficiency across all EVs.
How does the fuel economy of EVs compare to regular gas-powered vehicles?
Compared to fuel economy rates for all gasoline-powered vehicles in 2021, fueling costs for EVs were anywhere between 35% to 75% cheaper than vehicles which used retail motor gasoline, on average.
The annual fuel cost for all EVs on the market ranges from $500 to $1,850 per year, according to DOE data. Using the assumed fuel economy benchmarks set in those estimates  , this translates to a cost range of $0.03 to $0.12 per mile travelled in an EV.
Furthermore, a 2021 study by the DOE comparing the costs of driving gas-powered cars to EVs found that the average fuel cost savings for an EV driver was about 60%. This range varied by state depending on the local electricity and gasoline prices.
While miles per gallon for conventional vehicles continues to improve over time, EVs remain more efficient, even after considering those advances.
According to the EPA’s Automotive Trends Report, the most fuel-efficient vehicles since 2011 have all been EVs.
Based on these factors, the cost of traveling a mile in EVs has fallen from roughly $0.09 to $0.12 in the late 1990s to $0.06 or less per mile today for 90% of EVs sold in the last decade.
In addition to fuel efficiency, the cost of different energy sources for fuel may be more volatile, making it more difficult to predict the cost of travel over time.
While the price for retail electricity has remained relatively stable over the past decade, gas prices are more volatile.
Since 2011, the average nationwide cost of retail gasoline has increased by 46%, while the cost of residential electricity has increased by 30%. 
Switching all cars to EVs would have a number of difficult-to-predict effects that aren’t guessed at in this analysis. For example, electricity prices could become more volatile if cars relied on the power grid instead of gasoline for fuel.
Where does electricity for the power grid currently come from?
In 2021, more than 60% of the nation’s electricity was generated by fossil fuels. While this ratio has fallen since 2010, when the total was 70%, it means powering EVs can still produce emissions.
But how electricity is produced differs greatly between states. And those differences impact total emissions produced when powering EVs.
According to the Alternative Fuels Data Center, all-electric vehicles produced an annual average of 2,817 pounds of CO2 equivalent emissions per vehicle across the country in 2021, compared to 12,594 pounds of CO2 equivalent emissions per gas-powered vehicle the same year.
In West Virginia, annual emissions per EVs in the state was 6,228 pounds of CO2 equivalent emissions in 2021. That’s nearly triple the annual emissions than in neighboring Virginia at 2,085 pounds of CO2 equivalent emissions. This is largely due to West Virginia relying on coal for over 90% of its electric power compared to Virginia, which relies on a more diverse energy portfolio, including natural gas and nuclear power.
Aside from California, these states include New York, Massachusetts, Vermont, Maine, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Washington, Oregon, New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware, Colorado, Minnesota, Nevada, Virginia, and New Mexico.
This assumes a vehicle travels 15,000 each year, with 55% of driving in “stop and go” traffic. It also assumes a price of $0.14 per kilowatt-hour.
Comparatively, the cost of change of electricity for the commercial, industrial, and transportation sectors ranges between 11% to 24% over the same period.
Tesla: Elon Musk reveals how long it will take all cars to go electric
Electric cars could soon cost the same as traditional ones — but that’s only half the battle.
During Tesla’s annual shareholder event last week, Musk explained that “the fleet is what matters” when it comes to electrifying transport. While experts believe that electric cars could reach the same price point toward the middle of the decade, it will take decades more for all cars to be replaced by electric counterparts.
In response to a question around when Tesla will not need to do any more mining for batteries — when can Tesla depend on recycling batteries to build new cars, in other words — Musk explained that “it’ll be a while because we’ve got to extend the fleet.”
Musk broke it down:
- There are around two billion cars and trucks in use in the world.
- Annual production capacity is around 100 million vehicles per year.
- Cars and trucks last around 20 years before they go to the junkyard.
- Electric vehicles are “still well under one percent” of the global fleet.
- That means it will likely take 30 to 40 years before Tesla doesn’t have to do any more mining for batteries, or 2050 to 2060.
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The timeline chimes with Musk’s previous comments about how he plans to move more of the fleet to electric faster. In October 2020, Musk claimed that his goal was to produce 20 million cars per year by 2030. That would equate to one percent of the global fleet per year.
«It’s difficult to say that . are we really changing the world if we’re not switching out one percent of the global fossil fuel vehicles?» Musk said.
It was an ambitious goal, especially considering Tesla delivered 367,500 cars in 2019.
Tesla Model S in action.
Going green: How it could shape out
One of the big hurdles to switching to an electric vehicle is vehicle cost. It’s declined in recent years, in part thanks to declining battery costs. In October 2019, Musk argued that traditional cars bought today will have low resale value in the future.
In 2020, the BBC reports, electric car sales accounted for just 5 percent of all car sales. That sounds small, but it’s a 43 percent increase over the previous year.
It could shoot up from here. UBS predicts that electric cars will account for 20 percent of new car sales in 2025, 40 percent in 2030, and almost 100 percent in 2040.
Others are slightly more conservative. Analysis firm IHS Markit, the New York Times reported in March 2021, predicts electric cars will comprise just 62 percent of sales by 2050. That would mean EVs comprise just 41 percent of the global fleet by that time.
To reach 95 percent electrification by 2050, IHS Markit claimed, new car sales would have to shift all-electric by 2035 — just 15 years from now.
Whether that will happen remains to be seen. The United Kingdom announced in November 2020 a ban on all-gas powered cars and vans by 2030. California has also announced plans to ban the sale of new gas cars by 2035.
President Joe Biden, who aims for 50 percent EV sales by 2030, has faced calls to go further and announce a long-term ban.
“I would love to see President Biden set a goal of 60 percent of sales to be electric cars by 2030, before all electric sales in 2035,” Margo Oge, a former director of transportation air quality at the Environmental Protection Agency, told The Guardian. “We can’t wait any longer, we have run out of time with climate change and we need car companies to start making that transformation now.”
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Countries and automakers agree to go all-electric by 2040 in weak new goal set at COP26
At COP26, several major countries and automakers have agreed to set a new goal to go all-electric by 2040.
The goal is uninspired and likely useless.
The 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as COP26, is currently being held in Glasgow, where world leaders have gathered to update their goals and plans to address climate change.
Amid the conference today, several participating nations issued a new declaration regarding the transition to electric vehicles.
They have agreed to move to “all new sales of zero-emission cars and vans globally by 2040”:
As representatives of governments, businesses, and other organisations with an influence over the future of the automotive industry and road transport, we commit to rapidly accelerating the transition to zero emission vehicles to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement.
Together, we will work towards all sales of new cars and vans being zero emission globally by 2040, and by no later than 2035 in leading markets.
Here’s a list of the nations that have joined the declaration:
- Cape Verde
- Dominican Republic
- El Salvador
- New Zealand
- United Kingdom
While the US hasn’t joined the declaration, several states have, including California, New York, and Washington.
Several automakers and companies have also joined the declaration, including Ford, GM, Mercedes-Benz, Jaguar Land Rover, and Volvo.
In my opinion, this is a weak and unambitious goal.
There are several nations in that pledge that have already individually announced more aggressive timelines to phase out fossil fuel-powered cars.
Norway is aiming for 2025, and it is on a path to achieving it even sooner.
The Netherlands, a country that has also signed the declaration, has previously announced a ban on gas and diesel cars by 2030.
These goals are more ambitious and actually reflect a more realistic timeline of the shift in consumer demand for electric vehicles.
As I have often stated before, I believe that there will be a major shift in consumer demand around 2024-25 that will result in virtually all new car buyers realizing that their next car is going to have to be electric.
Many automakers won’t be ready for this, but it’s going to happen as buyers realize that electric vehicles are not only a better proposition out of the box with all the compelling models that are going to be available by then, but it will also make no financial sense when accounting for resale value and gas savings.
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