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Electric Vehicles

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.


first prototype…1828: DOE. “The History of the Electric Car.” September 15, 2014; IEA. Global EV Outlook: Understanding the Electric Vehicle Landscape to 2020. Paris: International Energy Agency, 2013.

Edison and Ford…“Electricity is the thing”: Strohl, Dan. “Ford, Edison, and the Cheap EV That Almost Was.” WIRED. June 18, 2010.

William Morrison; Charles Kettering: U.S. DOE. “The History of the Electric Car.” September 15, 2014.

1 billion cars: Voelcker, John. “Two Billion Vehicles Projected to Be on Roads by 2035.” Christian Science Monitor. July 29, 2014; Sperling, Daniel, and Deborah Gordon. Two Billion Cars: Driving Toward Sustainability. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.

1 million electric vehicles: IEA. Global EV Outlook 2016: Beyond One Million Electric Cars. Paris: International Energy Agency, 2016.

Two-thirds of…oil consumption: IEA. Key World Energy Statistics. Paris: International Energy Agency, 2016.

Transport emissions: Sims R., R. Schaeffer, F. Creutzig, X. Cruz-Núñez, M. D’Agosto, D. Dimitriu, M.J. Figueroa Meza, L. Fulton, S. Kobayashi, O. Lah, A. McKinnon, P. Newman, M. Ouyang, J.J. Schauer, D. Sperling, and G. Tiwari. “Transport.” In Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change. Contribution of Working Group III to the Fifth Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge, UK, and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014.

number of motor vehicles…2035: Voelcker, “Two Billion”; Sperling and Gordon, Two Billion.

compared to gasoline-powered vehicles: U.S. DOE. “All-Electric Vehicles.”; U.S. DOE. “Where the Energy Goes: Electric Cars.”

emission[s]…of gasoline [vs.] electricity: U.S. EPA. “Greenhouse Gases Equivalencies Calculator—Calculations and References.”

Sales volume; largest markets: IEA, EV Outlook.

Tesla…Model 3: Vlasic, Bill. “Tesla’s Model 3 Already Has 325,000 Preorders.” New York Times, April 7, 2016.

government car purchases: Shepardson, David. “Obama Orders Agencies to Cut Federal Vehicle Emissions.” Detroit News. March 19, 2015; “China Requires 30% of State Cars Use Alternative Energy.” Bloomberg News. July 13, 2014.

India…all-electric by 2030: “India Aims to Become 100% E-Vehicle Nation by 2030.” Economic Times. March 26, 2016.

electric buses…London: Liu, Cecily. “BYD Targets London's Iconic Double-Decker.” China Daily Europe. July 17, 2015; “End of the Road for London’s ‘Dirty’ Diesel Buses.” BBC News. November 30, 2016.

electric cars…range: Fleming, Charles. “Chevy Bolt EV Range is 238 Miles: Prime Time for the Electric Car?” Los Angeles Times. September 12, 2016.

network of charging stations: IEA, EV Outlook.

Projections [from] Bloomberg: Randall, Tom. “Here’s How Electric Cars Will Cause the Next Oil Crisis.” Bloomberg. February 25, 2016.

view all book references


p. 143

China has more than 170,000 electric buses.

They can charge the car off-peak, when electricity is cheapest […].

If EV usage rises to 16 percent of total passenger miles by 2050, 10.8 gigatons of carbon dioxide from fuel combustion could be avoided.

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Technical Summary

Electric Vehicles

Project Drawdown defines electric vehicles as: the increased use of battery and plug-in hybrid vehicles. This solution replaces the use of conventional internal combustion engine (ICE) cars.

Most light duty vehicles in use today rely on liquid fuel for energy storage and propulsion in an internal combustion engine. Electric vehicles (EVs) use a more energy-efficient electric motor, and have high-capacity batteries on board that can be charged from the electric grid. [1] The EV market is still in its infancy, with early adopters driving the high growth seen over the past five years. Even though EVs are still only a small fraction of vehicle sales and stock, they are expected to grow dramatically over the coming decades, replacing a large share of conventional vehicles and causing a dent in the carbon dioxide emissions from road transportation. For purposes of this work, both battery EVs and plug-in hybrid EVs are included, assuming a 60 percent share of the entire EV market is battery EVs. All relevant variables are weighted according to this share.


Total Addressable Market [2]

The total addressable market for electric vehicles represents the total number of urban and non-urban passenger-kilometers projected by sources such as the International Energy Agency (IEA) and the International Council on Clean Transport (ICCT) to 2050. Current adoption [3] of EVs is taken as 0.07 percent of the passenger-kilometers driven by all light duty vehicles, derived based on IEA data. The total passenger-kilometers of light duty vehicles was averaged from data provided by the IEA, ICCT, and the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP) and University of California–Davis (UCD).

Adoption Scenarios [4]

Impacts of increased adoption of electric vehicles from 2020-2050 were generated based on three growth scenarios, which were assessed in comparison to a Reference Scenario where the solution’s market share was fixed at the current levels.

  • Plausible Scenario: Adoption is aligned with the IEA projection for EV stock. [5] 100 percent of EV passenger-kilometers are assumed to be urban only until 2021, after which the nonurban share increases by 5 percent annually until 2029. From 2030 on, the share of urban to long-distance EV passenger-kilometers remains at 55-45 percent. [6]
  • Drawdown Scenario: IEA (2016) projections and historical EV sales are combined to project the total stock of EV cars out to 2050. This scenario includes an annual rise in average EV car occupancy, resulting in a 50 percent increase by 2050. [7]
  • Optimum Scenario: In this optimal “sharing” scenario, electric car use increases in line with the Drawdown Scenario; however, the total passenger-kilometer demand shrinks because of the doubling of average car occupancy. Only usage of battery EVs is included, no plug-in hybrids. [8] Variable costs drop as electricity in battery EVs is cheaper than gasoline in plug-in hybrid EVs. 100 percent of EV passenger-kilometers are urban only until 2021, when they start to decrease by 5 percent annually until reaching 25 percent in 2035.

Emissions Model

Emissions estimates used the same electricity and fuel usage data as the operating costs, with emissions factors calculated based on the guidelines from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). EV production generated up to 5 percent higher indirect emissions than ICE vehicles.

Financial Model

First costs for purchasing an EV or ICE vehicle were estimated using US Energy Information Agency (EIA) data (weighted by vehicle market segment) and global vehicle price data. [9] A learning rate of 2.1 percent was applied to the EV first cost only, based on projected EIA prices. Purchase costs for the EV were averaged to be US$20,000 higher than the ICE vehicle in the base year. [10]

Operating costs and emissions included grid electricity for the EV (dependent on the ratio of battery to plug-in hybrid EVs in each scenario), and fuel (for the plug-in hybrid). Electricity and fuel use were based on EIA data. The weighted global average fuel prices were derived from recent IEA estimates, and electricity prices were calculated using data from 51 countries over 10 years. Additionally, operating costs included the maintenance costs for vehicles and fixed operating costs. [11]

Integration [12]

As noted earlier, some inputs were harmonized across solutions for consistency. [13] The additional demand on the electricity grid resulting from the growth of EV usage was accounted for in the integrated total market for electricity. To avoid double-counting emissions benefits, the results presented for EVs do not reflect the increasingly cleaner grid; instead, the additional emissions benefits are accounted for directly in the supply-side energy solutions.


EV adoption in the Plausible Scenario leads to 885 million EVs on the roads in 2050, compared to only 305,000 EVs sold in 2014. This rapid growth in the EV fleet results in the reduction of 10.8 gigatons of carbon dioxide-equivalent greenhouse gas emissions between 2020 and 2050, and US$9.7 trillion in net operating savings. [14] The purchase cost is high, however, at $14 trillion. The Drawdown Scenario projects that 1.3 billion EVs would join the global fleet by 2050, resulting in 25 gigatons of emissions avoided. The Optimum Scenario would have 1.2 billion battery EVs on the road, lower than the Drawdown Scenario since car occupancy is higher. [15] These EVs would avoid 52 billion tons of emissions from 2020-2050.


EV adoption is beneficial for the climate, and our financial analysis shows that it will also save operating costs for households, although at a higher purchase cost in the Plausible Scenario. For other scenarios, the operating savings are higher due to increased occupancy of EVs. It is important to note that higher adoption can lead to higher reductions in battery (and EV) costs, due to more battery investment. Consumer education is a key component of EV adoption, in order to relieve concerns about the upfront price premium and the reduced range of EVs compared to ICE cars. As battery technology matures, the price of manufacturing high-capacity batteries will decrease, so both the purchase price and range of EVs will become more attractive to consumers. There are some potential problems from increased battery production that would have to be managed, for instance sourcing of key metals such as cobalt, copper, and nickel, whose supply chains can have negative environmental and social impacts around the world. These issues should be managed alongside the growth of the EV market.

[1] The grid in general is much less polluting than conventional vehicles, and is growing cleaner annually around the world.

[2] For more on the Total Addressable Market for the Transport Sector, click the Sector Summary: Transport link below.

[3] Current adoption is defined as the amount of functional demand supplied by the solution in the base year of study. This study uses 2014 as the base year due to the availability of global adoption data for all Project Drawdown solutions evaluated.

[4] For more on Project Drawdown’s three growth scenarios, click the Scenarios link below. For information on Transport Sector-specific scenarios, click the Sector Summary: Transport link.

[5] Based on the 2°C Scenario from the IEA’s Energy Technology Perspectives Report (2016).

[6] This assumption addresses the perceived “range anxiety” problem of EVs – drivers are often hesitant to use them when they drive long distance (such as between cities), due to the perceived risk of being able to arrive at the destination or a charging station before the battery drains to empty. Battery technology is advancing rapidly, however, so the passenger-kilometers are confined to urban environments as described to account for a declining range anxiety over time.

[7] Knock-on impacts of this are that other variables, such as the electricity used and the fuel saved per passenger-kilometer, change.

[8] This has knock-on effects: electricity use and the fuel usage reduction from conventional cars increases.

[9] From, where thousands of data points exist on the differences in price of common vehicle models across countries.

[10] That is US$47,000 versus US$27,000.

[11] Insurance was the only fixed operating cost accounted for, but this was assumed the same for all vehicle types.

[12] For more on Project Drawdown’s Transport Sector integration model, click the Sector Summary: Transport link below.

[13] Common variables across solutions include: vehicle prices, fuel prices, operating costs, etc.; total addressable market, and market data.

[14] All monetary values are presented in US2014$.

[15] High occupancy should help reduce the number of cars purchased, and hence result in first cost reductions.

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