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Net emission reductions from electric cars and heat pumps in 59 world regions over time

Abstract

The electrification of passenger road transport and household heating features prominently in current and planned policy frameworks to achieve greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets. However, since electricity generation involves using fossil fuels, it is not established where and when the replacement of fossil-fuel-based technologies by electric cars and heat pumps can effectively reduce overall emissions. Could electrification policies backfire by promoting their diffusion before electricity is decarbonized? Here we analyse current and future emissions trade-offs in 59 world regions with heterogeneous households, by combining forward-looking integrated assessment model simulations with bottom-up life-cycle assessments. We show that already under current carbon intensities of electricity generation, electric cars and heat pumps are less emission intensive than fossil-fuel-based alternatives in 53 world regions, representing 95% of the global transport and heating demand. Even if future end-use electrification is not matched by rapid power-sector decarbonization, it will probably reduce emissions in almost all world regions.

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Fig. 1: Projections of global future technology diffusion in power generation, passenger road transport and household heating.
Fig. 2: Boundary conditions for the use of EVs and HPs.
Fig. 3: GHG emission intensities of passenger cars.
Fig. 4: GHG emission intensities in household heating.
Fig. 5: Relative GHG emission intensities of EVs and HPs around the world.
Fig. 6: Changes in global GHG emissions from EVs and HPs.

Data availability

The main data that support the findings of this study are available as supplementary tables. Additional data are available from the corresponding authors upon request.

Code availability

The computer code used to generate the results that are reported in this study are available from the corresponding authors on reasonable request.

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Acknowledgements

The authors acknowledge funding from the EPSRC (J.-F.M., fellowship no. EP/K007254/1), the Newton Fund (J.-F.M. and P.S., EPSRC grant nos. EP/N002504/1 and ES/N013174/1), the ERC (M.A.J.H. and S.V.H., grant no. 62002139 ERC – CoG SIZE 647224), Horizon 2020 (J.-F.M., F.K. and H.P.; Sim4Nexus project no. 689150) and the European Commission (J.-F.M., H.P., F.K. and U.C.; DG ENERGY contract no. ENER/A4/2015-436/SER/S12.716128). F.K. acknowledges participants of the CIRED summer school in Paris (2018) for valuable discussions.

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F.K. designed the research and wrote the manuscript, with contributions from all authors. S.V.H. and F.K. performed the life-cycle analysis, with contributions from M.A.J.H. F.K., J.-F.M., U.C. and H.P. ran the model simulations. U.C. and H.P. managed E3ME. J.-F.M. and A.L. developed FTT:Transport. F.K. and J.-F.M. developed FTT:Heat. J.-F.M. and P.S. developed FTT:Power.

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Correspondence to Florian Knobloch.

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Knobloch, F., Hanssen, S., Lam, A. et al. Net emission reductions from electric cars and heat pumps in 59 world regions over time. Nat Sustain 3, 437–447 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41893-020-0488-7

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