EV growth ‘needs Swiss nuclear power’

October 19, 2016

The Swiss motor industry has warned that a bid to increase the number of electric vehicles (EVs) on the roads could be threatened by calls to shut down the country’s nuclear power plants.

Switzerland is holding a referendum in November 2016 on the future of its nuclear programme following demands for a vote in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan.

If the vote is passed, three out of five nuclear power plants would face being shut down as early as 2017.

The Association of Swiss Automobile Importers, auto-schweiz, is against the proposal. It says the country depends on a secure, low-carbon power supply to support growing demand for EVs. Market share for EVs has grown from 1% to 1.7% of the new car market in the past year.

Auto-schweiz has called for stability of power supply as manufacturers prepare to launch a series of EVs in the coming years.

It also warns that energy would have to be imported if plants close. This electricity may have been generated at power stations with higher emissions of CO2 than Swiss power plants, which are heavily focused on renewable energy. Around 60% of Swiss power comes from hydro-electricity, with nuclear power accounting for much of the remainder. Only 4% comes from non-renewable sources.

The debate reflects wider European concerns about power generating capacity as EU legislation encourages a mass shift to EVs over the coming decades.

While EVs may have zero tailpipe emissions, to be emission-free the electricity needs to be generated from renewable sources, such as wind or hydro-electric power.

Depending on the source, this could mean that EVs have higher CO2 emissions than conventional petrol and diesel cars.

An average EV will cover 4.8km on 1kWh of electricity. According to the UK National Grid, generating a kilowatt of electricity using coal creates 800g of CO2, while a gas-fired power station would generate 500g and a nuclear power station 5g.

If power comes from coal, an EV ‘emits’ 165g/km; from gas, it is 103g/km and from nuclear 1g/km. Average emissions for a petrol or diesel C-segment vehicle can start from less than 100g/km.

Therefore, EVs will provide most benefit in countries with high levels of renewable power generation.

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