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Innovation Case Study: Electric Vehicles (EVs) and energy storage systems (ESSs)

The analysis of the innovation Electric Vehicles (EVs) and energy storage systems (ESSs) will include two case studies, the first focused on the transport sector and the second on the energy system.

Case study 1 - Transport sector

The transport sector case study will be split into two phases:

Phase 1 »

By reviewing scientific publications and reports, we will carry out a qualitative analysis of the narratives surrounding the innovations. We will provide a qualitative framing of the innovation, looking at the role electric vehicles play in socio-technical imaginaries of sustainable transport, and how the results of their assessments are influenced by their qualitative framing. In particular, we will check what implications the chosen set of assumptions and boundary conditions have for science and, in turn, for policy. This will be done in practice by identifying the main narratives surrounding EVs in EU documents, and by organizing them across hierarchical levels (what does the EU want to achieve with EVs? Are they proposed as solutions for specific issues, and if so which ones? What other narratives are entangled with those of EVs? How do lower level technological narratives link to higher level political and normalized narratives of the EU, such as the circular economy or green growth?)

In addition, narratives from relevant academic literature will be analysed and framed (at what level do the assessments take place? What are their implicit and explicit assumptions? To which level of policy narratives do they refer to?)

Partners: UAB, with the support of UiB.

Phase 2 »

By means of quantitative story telling (QST) we check the quality of the narratives of Phase 1 by developing a scenario. Here, the narratives identified and mapped in Phase 1 will be checked with a quantitative assessment to see: (i) whether narratives at the same level clash with each other; (ii) whether narratives at a lower (technological) level clash with higher (political) level narratives; (iii) whether implicit and explicit assumptions of existing assessments are coherent. The scenario will be developed by checking the effects of switching 100% of current cars to EVs in the EU, without changing driving patterns.

Partners: UAB.

Case study 2 - Energy system

Storage technologies will be assessed at the grid level rather than the transport sector one. Here, we will check the implications of introducing a large amount of ESSs into the grid in order to accommodate for a higher integration of renewable energy. First, we will check how much storage would be needed to integrate different mixes of renewable energy in the EU’s electricity grid. Then, we will focus our discussion on the implications of introducing storage technologies, not from a purely technological perspective but by looking at the larger picture of societal metabolism as a whole. In particular, we will see:

  • How much storage capacity (power capacity – both in power level and storage quantity) do we need?
  • What external (biophysical or socio-economic) constrains can we expect in relation to the stocks? And starting from there, how much labour should be allocated to build the required storage power capacity?
  • Are we going to build the storage power capacity in the EU or abroad? In the former case, does it have any implications on the current societal organization?
  • Are there limitations on the resources needed to build the technology? How much will it cost?
  • How will the batteries be recycled, and what impact will this have on the overall emissions of the renewable + storage system?

This analysis will be initially focused on lithium ion batteries, but can be further expanded to include other options.

Partners: UAB.

In both case studies we are interested in the potential constrains, if any, posed by the current patterns of energy production and consumption in the EU. Therefore the whole life cycle of EVs and ESSs will be considered: the availability of raw materials and supply for the manufacturing of and development of related products as well as the decommissioning and end-of-life stages. A particular emphasis will be placed on the WEF nexus elements.

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Update on the case study so far

Electric vehicles are becoming an increasingly popular topic in sustainability arenas, and rightly so: with the transport sector accounting for a large share of EU emissions, and cars in cities leading to unbearable levels of pollutions, a shift to more sustainable forms of transportation has become inevitable. The change, however, has been difficult to initiate and govern: barriers to the integration of electric vehicles include challenges in shifting behavioural patterns, market barriers, technological lock-in and many more.

The effectiveness of the implementation of electric vehicles in fighting climate change has also been questioned. A growing body of literature points towards the emissions associated to the construction of lithium-ion batteries, and to the large role played by countries’ electricity mix in determining whether emissions increase or decrease when compared to regular vehicles.

To have a say in this heated and relevant debate, in MAGIC’s energy policy team we ask: what are the main reasons why the EU wants to implement electric vehicles, and does their large scale implementation reach the desired goals? In particular, we want to know whether alternative, less celebrated solutions in policy arenas, such as car sharing, could yield similar – or better – results when compared across a range of indicators spanning the realm of climate change, security and jobs.

So far, we have conducted a text analysis of EU policy documents to answer the question: why should electric vehicles be implemented in the EU? The different positive aspects attached to electric vehicles have been organized across different levels, in what we have called a narrative taxonomy, and the quality of the narratives (for example, that electric vehicles promote green growth and increase security) has been checked through a scenario. Preliminary results suggest that technological changes initiated in the complex social-ecological system carry a pattern of synergies and trade-offs across different levels and scales, and that electric vehicles may do little when it comes to improvements in security and green growth.

Our next step is to use the preliminary results as a basis of a knowledge co-production exercise, interacting with different stakeholder groups to re-frame the issue of sustainable transport in the EU and its underpinning narratives, to see whether alternative solutions emerge, and whether electric vehicles meet their desired goals at chosen scales (for example, at the city level).

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Where can you find more information about the case study?

You can know more about this case study in the Knowledge Hub section > "Innovation Cases"