Photograph by Thomas Haugersveen, Agence VU, Redux
Electric vehicles will one day push gas- or diesel-powered ones to the curb—but how soon? Sooner than you might think, according to researchers at the International Monetary Fund and Georgetown University: Based on how quickly horses and buggies disappeared in the early 1900s, the researchers argue, more than 90 per cent of all passenger vehicles in the U.S., Canada, Europe and other rich countries could be electric by 2040.
Along with a spate of recent commitments to electric vehicles by governments and car companies, the study offers hope about the prospects for weaning the transportation sector off carbon. Of more than one billion registered vehicles on the road today, only two million are electric (with one million of those in China). But if EVs catch on as fast as the researchers project, it could reduce oil use by 21 million barrels a day and cut CO2 emissions 3.2 billion tons a year — equivalent to 60 percent of total U.S. emissions today.
Other studies project a slower rollout, although newer ones tend be more aggressive. Bloomberg New Energy Finance recently bumped up its estimate of the EV market share in 2040 from 35 per cent of all new car sales to. RethinkX, an independent think tank, is even more bullish, saying most U.S. vehicles will be electric by 2030 —just 13 years from now.
The authors of the IMF-Georgetown working paper, “Riding the Energy Transition,” base their own optimism on an analysis of past technology transitions, especially the one from horses to cars.
“We were surprised at how fast cars replaced horses as the main means of transport in the early 1900s,” says IMF economist Fuad Hasanov. “It happened in only 10 to 15 years in spite of the many hurdles.” By comparison, the barriers to adopting electric vehicles today seem small.