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Transport electrification: A key element for energy system transformation and climate stabilization


This paper analyzes the role of transport electrification in the broader context of energy system transformation and climate stabilization. As part of the EMF27 model inter-comparison exercise, we employ the MESSAGE integrated assessment modeling framework to conduct a systematic variation of availability, cost, and performance of particular energy supply technologies, thereby deriving implications for feasibility of climate stabilization goals and the associated costs of mitigation. In addition, we explore a wide range of assumptions regarding the potential degree of electrification of the transportation sector. These analyses allow us to (i) test the extent to which the feasible attainment of stringent climate policy targets depends on transport electrification, and (ii) assess the far-reaching impacts that transport electrification could have throughout the rest of the energy system. A detailed analysis of the transition to electricity within the transport sector is not conducted. Our results indicate that while a low-carbon transport system built upon conventional liquid-based fuel delivery infrastructures is destined to become increasingly reliant on biofuels and synthetic liquids, electrification opens up a door through which nuclear energy and non-biomass renewables can flow. The latter has important implications for mitigation costs.

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  1. The maximum shares over the century for a given scenario are rounded to the nearest 5 % level so that the naming convention is consistent (e.g., ET5%, ET15%, ET35%, ET55%, and ET75%). In all scenarios, maximum values are reached in the second half of the century.

  2. Leakage from natural gas extraction, transport/distribution, storage, and use is accounted for in MESSAGE. Assumed leakage rates add up to <1 % of total gas throughput – in fact significantly less in certain regions utilizing newer infrastructure.

  3. For reference, total final energy consumption in the transport sector is ~87 EJ/yr today. In the 450 FullTech ET75% scenario, this grows to 109 EJ/yr in 2020 and 123 EJ/yr in 2050; in 450 FullTech ET5%, these numbers are 107 EJ/yr and 140 EJ/yr, respectively.

  4. MESSAGE accounts for these price-induced demand feedbacks through its linkage to an aggregated macro-economic model.


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We recognize the technical contributions of Patrick Sullivan to this analysis. The Sankey-type flow diagrams were developed using the Fineo software made available by the DensityDesign Research Lab of the Politecnico di Milano. The comments of the editor and anonymous reviewers helped to substantially improve this paper.

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Correspondence to David McCollum.

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David McCollum and Volker Krey contributed equally to this work.

This article is part of the Special Issue on “The EMF27 Study on Global Technology and Climate Policy Strategies” edited by John Weyant, Elmar Kriegler, Geoffrey Blanford, Volker Krey, Jae Edmonds, Keywan Riahi, Richard Richels, and Massimo Tavoni.

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McCollum, D., Krey, V., Kolp, P. et al. Transport electrification: A key element for energy system transformation and climate stabilization. Climatic Change 123, 651–664 (2014).

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  • Transport Electrification
  • Transport Sector
  • Final Energy
  • Mitigation Cost
  • Climate Stabilization