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Can the world go all-electric?

Can the world go all-electric?

Recently, word leaked out that Norway may ban the sale of diesel- and gasoline-powered vehicles by 2025. The move toward electric vehicles is part of a dream shared by those concerned about climate change and about fossil fuel depletion (especially oil depletion), namely, to turn the world into one big all-electric paradise by running everything we can on electricity.

Theoretically, this is possible, but getting there won’t be easy. First, such a transition will take time. In the Norwegian example cited above, the transition to an all-electric private car fleet would take about 15 years based on Norwegian new private car registrations in 2015 and the current total number of registered private cars.

But the ban wouldn’t take effect until 2025. While Norwegian electric car registrations are rising, so are total car registrations. Even if we generously assume that the rise in electric car registrations between now and 2025 will shave five years off the transition, that still means Norway won’t achieve an all-electric private automobile fleet until 2035. And, Norway is already a leader in the move toward all-electric transportation. Other countries lag far behind.

The Norwegian example points out a second difficulty in the transition to an all-electric world. Norway gets 95.9 percent of its electricity from hydroelectric dams. It gets another 1.6 percent from wind turbines. Only 2.5 percent of its electricity comes from thermal power plants, the kind that burn fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas and that provide 66 percent of the world’s electricity.

Transitioning to electric transportation in places that primarily burn coal, natural gas and/or diesel fuel to produce electricity would undermine the goal of lowering greenhouse gas emissions. In thermal power plants, the ones that burn fossil fuels, two-thirds of the energy produced is lost in the form of heat. Only one-third is turned into electricity.

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