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Since the first electric vehicle (EV) prototype was built in 1828, the central challenge has been making good on a lightweight, durable battery with adequate range. In its absence, internal combustion engines have dominated the automotive landscape since the 1920s, and the atmosphere has paid the price.
Luckily, there are now more than 1 million EVs on the road, and the difference in impact is remarkable. Compared to gasoline-powered vehicles, emissions drop by 50 percent if an EV’s power comes off the conventional grid. If powered by solar energy, carbon dioxide emissions fall by 95 percent. The “fuel” for electric cars is cheaper too. EVs will disrupt auto and oil business models because they are simpler to make, have fewer moving parts, and require little maintenance and no fossil fuels.
What is the catch? With EVs, it is “range anxiety”—how far the car can go on a single charge. Typical today is a range of 80 to 90 miles, long enough for most daily travel. Carmakers are closing in on ranges of 200 miles, while keeping batteries affordable.
The rate of innovation in EVs guarantees they are the cars of the future. The question is how soon the future will arrive.
In 2018, 2 million electric cars were sold. If electric car ownership rises to 16–23 percent of total passenger km at a first cost of $4.7–6.0 trillion, by 2050, 11.9–15.7 gigatons of carbon dioxide from fuel combustion could be avoided as well as US$15.3–21.8 trillion in fuel costs. Our analysis accounts for emissions from electricity generation and higher emissions of producing electric cars compared to internal-combustion cars. Electric cars are several thousand dollars more expensive, but we include slightly declining electric cars prices, expected due to declining battery costs.