The electric car revolution is already underway, and if the long-term projections are even remotely close to accurate, the effects will ripple through every corner of the global economy.
A large chunk of conventional fossil fuel powered electricity generation is already uneconomic because of the surge of wind and solar installations. Nearly every major U.S. coal mining company has either filed for bankruptcy or is in financial distress, a glaring sign that the industry that powered the U.S. electrical grid for a century is dying off.
Even the relatively small penetrations of solar and wind are upending electricity markets, but we are merely at the beginning of this revolution. As Michael Liebreich of Bloomberg New Energy Finance wrote on August 22, the long-term ramifications of this unfolding phenomenon are hard to overstate.
Take the electricity sector as an example, which is flipping from being an industry based on huge power plants that provide baseload power with peaker plants to provide supply during peak times, to a power sector that relies much more heavily on disparate sources that depend on “forecast-and-balance” services. That is a jumbled way of saying that the electricity grid is changing fast because of clean energy – for decades the grid has hardly changed, but electrical equipment is becoming cleaner, more digitized, and won’t necessarily resemble what it has in the past.
But that isn’t just an issue for the competitors of clean energy (coal and natural gas); the effects could spread throughout the economy. The case of cell phones is illustrative – cell phones “have eaten entire industries (cameras, alarm clocks, maps) and are set to do the same to others (newspapers, cash handling, music systems),” Liebreich explains.
BNEF projects that EVs will capture 35 percent of the global vehicle market by 2040. But because technology is changing fast, the surprise is probably on the upside. Under a more aggressive scenario, BNEF can see a scenario in which 47 percent of all new vehicles sold in 2040 will be electric. Related: Can Fire Ice Replace Both Oil And Renewables?
The rapidly falling cost of batteries will be a key reason for the explosive growth of EVs. Battery costs have already declined by 65 percent over the past five years, and could fall by half again by 2025.
But while some doubters of EVs might dismiss such figures, BNEF says EVs will beat the internal-combustion engine on many more fronts than just emissions. As Liebreich writes, EVs “drive more smoothly yet accelerate better, they can be charged at home or at the office, they require much less maintenance, they help solve air quality problems, they improve the energy autonomy of oil-importing countries.” EVs also are “vastly superior” to fossil fuel-powered vehicles when it comes to autonomous driving, infotainment, and other features. “[I]t simply makes no sense to have an inherently analogue power unit – vibrating, volatile-liquid-consuming, hot-polluting-exhaust-producing – at the heart of a fully digital, sensor-pervaded, solid-state-electronics-controlled system,” Liebreich argues.
With that in mind, he comes to a conclusion that should deeply worry the oil industry: “can anyone think of a good reason to buy a diesel or petrol second car in 15 years?”
What are the implications of this? There will be winners and losers, BNEF says. The winners: battery manufacturers, lithium miners, and a whole supply chain of technology needed for these new vehicles, such as autonomous driving, cyber-security, and other software tech. The losers: suppliers of parts exclusive to fossil fuel vehicles, such as exhaust systems, fuel management systems, gearboxes, etc. Also, less steel will be used in EVs as companies try to reduce weight. Less maintenance also means less need for mechanics, repair shops, and dealerships. Repairs can often be done remotely using software, just as many computer fixes are conducted today. Related: ‘’Like A Rollercoaster’’ Hyper-Volatile Oil Funds See Popularity Spike
Then of course there is the electric power system. EVs themselves will allow for more demand response – an army of EVs provide new source a large source of new demand, but also millions of little power plants when connected to the grid. Software, cyber-security, and other digital tech that helps gird operators deal with load balancing will thrive in this environment.
Finally, perhaps the most devastating effect of the EV revolution will be on the oil industry. BNEF forecasts EVs cutting off 13 million barrels per day of oil demand by 2040. The implications of that figure are hard to exaggerate – if it comes to pass, it effectively means permanently lower oil prices.
The prevailing view in the industry is that the $1 trillion or so in investment reductions between 2015 and 2020 will set the world up for a supply crunch as too few projects come online. But, BNEF says that the EV revolution could mean the off-cited mantra in the industry of prices remaining “lower for longer” could become “lower forever.” BNEF says the long-term cap on oil prices is $80 per barrel and is falling fast. The effects are so massive they are hard to even contemplate – whole countries will be tossed into crisis (Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Russia, Venezuela, to name a few) if oil prices remain permanently low.
Liebreich sums up BNEF’s conclusions succinctly: “if our predictions for the uptake of electric vehicles are anything like correct, there is no part of the global economy which will not, in some way, be affected.”
By Nick Cunningham of Oilprice.com
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