Ninety Percent of U.S. Cars Must Be Electric by 2050 to Meet Climate Goals

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The United States is not expected to electrify passenger cars fast enough to stay on track with the Paris climate accord’s goal of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius, according to a new study.

Published in the journal Nature Climate Change yesterday, the study by engineers at the University of Toronto concludes that 90% of light-duty cars on American roads would need to be electric by 2050 to keep the transportation sector in line with climate mitigation targets.

That might mean requiring all of the nation’s new car sales to be electric as early as 2035, the state target established by California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) in an announcement last week.

The prospect of a national ban on gasoline-fueled cars emerged throughout the Democratic primaries, where several candidates proposed a 100% EV sales policy for 2035 or earlier. Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden favors the idea of phasing out gasoline cars but hasn’t signed on to a timeline (Energywire, Feb. 14).

If California’s 2035 target were adopted and implemented nationally, 350 million electric cars would ply the roads in 2050, the study found.

Those would fuel up using the equivalent of 41% of the nation’s total power demand in 2018, creating challenges for the grid, in addition to requiring “excessive amounts” of critical minerals like lithium and cobalt, the authors wrote.

“We need to deploy electric vehicles. But we also need to be realistic that they’re probably not sufficient on their own,” said lead author Alexandre Milovanoff, an energy and sustainability researcher at the University of Toronto.

Instead of focusing exclusively on switching from gas cars to battery-electrics or fuel-cell vehicles, he said, policymakers should simultaneously aim to reduce the public’s dependence on personal cars.

Over coming decades, the number of miles racked up by the average