Politicians continue to tell us about the death of the internal combustion engine in favour of e-vehicles. But even with some special incentives offered as part of the Swiss government’s Roadmap 22 initiative – the future success of e-vehicles in Switzerland still hangs in the balance.
According to EVANNEX a company manufacturing and marketing aftermarket Tesla accessories, Switzerland has seen a “soaring” adoption rate in the number of electric vehicles driven in the last couple of years. In a recent report, they show that the share of pure electric vehicles went from 1.7% in 2018 to 14.3% in June 2021. Swiss eMobility also shows positive numbers for electric and plug-in hybrid registrations in its statistics.
However, away from this there is still a huge imbalance when comparing sales of the best-selling e-car in Switzerland. Tesla Model 3 sales in Switzerland were 2’265 per year compared with the total number of passenger cars sold in 2019 in Switzerland of 311’466.
The Swiss Government has set a target to raise the registration rates of electric vehicles to 15% in the next few years and 20% by 2050. However, a recent survey of 1’150 people conducted by the comparison platform bonus.ch found that the vast majority of people living in Switzerland, do not intend to switch to an e-powered vehicle any time soon:
- 2% of those surveyed said they already owned an electric car while 24.2% said they were planning to buy one, but a resounding 72.6% said they had no plans at all to buy an e-vehicle in future.
- The “no’s” were split by geographic areas accordingly:
- 74% of people surveyed in the German-speaking cantons said they were unlikely to purchase an electric-vehicle.
- While in the French-speaking cantons, 72.6% of the recipients said they were uninterested in buying an electric car.
- Finally, in the Italian-speaking cantons of Ticino and southern Grisson, 61.3% of the respondents said they had no plans to buy an e-Vehicle.
- The most common reasons given for not wanting to buy an electric vehicle were:
- 25.3% cited the environmental damage caused by batteries.
- 24.8% found the purchase price too high.
- 22% blamed a lack of recharging points.
- 17.7% complained about the limited driving range.
- Finally, instead of buying an electric vehicle, 42.3% of the respondents said they planned to purchase a petrol car, with 16.2% opting for a hybrid model and 15.7% aiming for a diesel vehicle.
The main reason cited by Governments around the world for a Switch to e-vehicles is emissions. However, recent reports and studies point to the term “Zero emission vehicle” being a misnomer.
Governments tend to treat all electric vehicles as being equally green, regardless of their size – and regulators only measure what comes out of the exhaust pipe in their comparisons. Both choose to ignore all the other environmental consequences such as procurement of resources required to manufacture the actual vehicles, manufacturing processes and recycling of parts.
When accurately measuring the total carbon footprint of cars, the type of fuel used is only a part of the equation. Other important factors include:
- Raw material extraction and processing for components.
- How the cars are produced and disposed of.
- The amount of energy or fuel consumed.
- And the carbon cost of maintaining cars on the road.
When considering the procurement and recycling of components and fuel, many in the industry believe petrol vehicles could be greener than electric vehicles.
Production & Recycling
The first challenge for electric vehicle manufacturers is to try and reduce the amounts of metals mined for use in electric vehicle batteries. This varies according to the type of battery and vehicle model. Typically, a single car lithium-ion battery pack can contain around 8 kg of lithium, 35 kg of nickel, 20 kg of manganese and 14 kg of cobalt.. Building a million cars requires about 60,000 tons of Lithium Carbon Equivalent (LCE).
Cobalt, unlike other metals used in electric vehicle batteries is mostly found in one place – the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where 59 per cent of the world’s supply is located. And there may simply be not enough supply for the expected demand for electric vehicles.
According to Florina Knoblauch at the Cambridge Centre for the Environment, Energy and Natural Resource Governance, the significantly higher emissions associated with manufacturing electric cars are offset by the electric vehicle’s superior energy efficiency over time – even with a differing situation for electricity production across the world.
Sergey Paltsev, a senior research scientist at the MIT Energy Initiative claims that the full benefits of Electric Vehicles will only be realised after electricity sources become renewable, which could take several decades from now to happen. Currently the electricity currently used to charge e-vehicles mostly still comes from fossil fuels.
Currently, around 37 percent of the world’s electricity comes from fossil fuel power plants. Switzerland is connected to the European Network of Transmission System Operators or ENTSOE. This means that Switzerland adds and draws electricity from a pool of electricity beyond its borders. In 2018 nearly 41% of the electricity in the European Electricity Network was produced by burning fossil fuels.
As electric car manufacturers increase production, estimates point to a 300-fold increase in demand for electricity by 2040. Although Switzerland has seen a large increase in the available infrastructure for charging electric cars, growing from 404 stations in 2012 to more than 6,600 stations in 2020, there are still not enough and charging time for an e-vehicle is still restrictively slow compared to that of fossil fuel powered vehicles.
The majority of Swiss live in apartment buildings as renters. Many of those do not have access to garage parking, meaning they park on the open streets – currently without any charging points. The only possibility to charge their batteries would be at a highway charging station or designated charging point.
The Swiss government’s target to raise the registration rates of electric vehicles to 20% by 2050 would seem reasonable – and given the intention shown in the recent www.bonus.ch survey with 24.2% of the respondents saying they intended to buy an electric vehicle as their next car – it could also be achievable.
The Automobile club of Switzerland www.tcs.ch has developed a tool which allows a direct comparison of all car models registered in Switzerland. This really excellent tool shows the specifications, operating cost, carbon footprint and shows the basic statistics and represents an accurate and true comparison for all vehicles and fuel types – not just what comes out of the exhaust pipe.
But the question to be asked is this: with both the external forces in sourcing of materials for manufacturing playing a key role and the resistance from the majority of the Swiss public to use electric vehicles for a host of reasons, maybe it would make more sense to hang on to our old cars and extend their life as much as possible to get more distance out of the initial manufacturing emissions. At least until electricity becomes more sustainable.