Electrification: Yes, but…

An all-electric Porsche Taycan is one of the EV models that is, well, leading the charge in the Philippines. — PHOTO BY KAP MACEDA AGUILA

CHANGE DOES NOT always move in one direction. It’s often more complicated than that. Take, for example, the global momentum toward embracing electric vehicles (EVs). It’s been slow, but pretty straightforward. That was, until the war in Ukraine broke — and another energy crisis was born.

Let us review: The European Union’s plan to only allow zero-tailpipe-emission vehicles (from the passenger cars and vans segment), to be sold within their member states starting from the year 2035, was put into place by a majority vote — with the intention of decarbonizing transportation systems to address climate change.

Now that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has forced Western Europe to cut many of its economic ties with Russia — including having to drastically reduce its dependency on natural gas sourced from the latter — fuel prices have skyrocketed, as with the price of electricity. Having said that, the cost of charging/maintaining an EV in Europe has also risen. Now, more EU member states are beginning to express their dissent for the approaching EV sale exclusivity come 2035.

Is this a kind of step backward, as some countries appear to still want to cling on to internal-combustion-engine-powered vehicles? And, if you think about it, an EV still does emit CO2 across its life cycle — that is, during its production and even during its charging phases. Other countries also argue that although EV technology has advanced so much in the last couple of years, the other dimensions of the EV story still pose problems — namely, the lack of charging infrastructure, an uncertain electricity supply, an unstable electricity grid, and some problematic access to raw materials (read: the semiconductor supply shortage in the wake of COVID). It is enlightening to know that battery electric vehicles actually require twice as many semiconductor components, compared to their ICE-powered counterparts.

Germany, which has a very strong automotive lobby, is now even campaigning for certain e-fuels (synthetic fuels) to be exempted from the 2035 ban. It’s actually an emerging technology that claims to leave a significantly smaller carbon footprint, but which many environmentalists don’t necessarily agree with.

Nevertheless, Germany does plan to increase (as a government directive) its renewable energy share in the overall electricity grid — and that’s a great thing. It may, in fact, be the answer to the question of how to source all the additional kilowatt-hours necessary to power all the new EVs that will be in use by then.

And perhaps that is a large part of the answer to the survival of EVs amid a global energy crisis — countries will just have to diversify their power generation assets. And while regular people will likely be owners of EVs by then, we must keep in mind that EVs en masse have great potential for storing renewable energy during the day, and then feeding them right back into the grid during peak hours.

Perhaps the future is still bright, after all.