Volvo Calls for Swifter Transition to a Fully Renewable Electric Grid

The current electric grid in most countries still rely on fossil fuels to generate electricity for EVs.

An image of a 2022 Volvo C40 Recharge electric SUV in a dimly lit space, plugged in.
2022 Volvo C40 Recharge electric SUV.


Electric vehicles (EVs) significantly reduce carbon emissions since their motors do not rely on fossil fuels. But what about the energy that is used to power the electric grids that EVs rely on? While electric vehicles don’t emit carbon emissions, the current electric grid in most countries still rely on fossil fuels to generate electricity for EVs.

At this year’s United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland, Volvo released a new report on the lifecycle carbon emissions of the 2022 Volvo C40 Recharge electric SUV. The goal of the report is to show how much EVs can cut carbon emissions even further when recharged using renewable energy, instead of fossil fuels.

Volvo is calling on all world leaders and energy providers to transition to a fully renewable electric grid faster. According to the report, once the electric grid relies on renewable energy, electric vehicles will be able to make an even bigger impact in reducing carbon emissions.

Treehugger spoke to Volvo Cars’ Director of Global Sustainability Stuart Templar about Volvo’s recent report and how the brand plans to make a big impact in the EV segment.

Treehugger: Electric vehicles already reduce carbon emissions compared to internal combustion engine-powered vehicles, but there’s still room for improvement by switching to renewable energy grids. Why is Volvo calling for cleaner electric grids?

Stuart Templar: The pace of the clean energy transition simply isn’t quick enough. According to the IEA, global clean energy investments “would need to double in the 2020s to maintain temperatures well below a 2°C rise and more than triple in order to keep the door open for a 1.5°C stabilization” of global temperature rises. We urge captains of the energy industry to capitalise on any incentives provided by governments and accelerate their investments in clean energy generation. The current average global electricity mix still contains 60% fossil fuels.

How much would the life-cycle carbon dioxide emissions of a Volvo EV drop using renewable energy?

The LCA shows that the C40 has a total carbon impact of 27 tons when charged with clean energy, whereas the vehicle has a footprint of 50 tons when it is charged with a global energy mix (around 60% fossil fuels).

These results are in line with our expectations but our full intention is to reduce emissions from all our products and become climate neutral by 2040. The LCA report for the C40 Recharge shows that when charging it with electricity generated from clean sources, its lifecycle CO2 footprint comes down to approximately 27 tonnes of CO2, compared to 59 tons for an XC40 compact SUV powered by a combustion engine.

This C40 Recharge LCA report is an important proof point that demonstrates how important it is that, to realize the full climate potential of electrification, the automotive industry goes beyond the electrification of its vehicles, and decarbonizes every part of the value chain, using clean energy in both the production and usage phase of its vehicles. 

Does Volvo plan on partnering with any energy firms to quicken the switch to clean energy sources?

We expect all our top-level suppliers to use 100% renewable energy by 2025. Reducing emissions in carbon intensive areas is a priority. This year we announced a number of partnerships to help address these areas, including with SSAB to produce fossil free steel and with Northvolt to produce sustainable batteries

What about the emissions that are produced to build an electric car? Does Volvo plan to find ways to reduce production emissions for its electric cars?

Volvo Cars understand that electrification is not enough. Shifting to electric cars is necessary but not sufficient to deliver on our ambition to become a carbon neutral company in 2040. In fact, electrification will mean that our supply chain emissions actually increase as a proportion of our total emissions. As a result, we are working closely with our suppliers to reduce production emissions, including through the use of renewable energy, more recycled and bio-based material, and limiting wastage. Embracing the circular economy across the whole value chain together with our suppliers will be key.

Other short-term ambitions include a 25 percent reduction of CO2 emissions related to our global supply chain by 2025, a 25 percent share of recycled plastics in new Volvo cars by 2025 and a 25 percent reduction of carbon emissions  generated by the company’s overall operations, including manufacturing and logistics –on this we are making good progress, and this year our Torslanda manufacturing plant in Sweden reached climate neutral status.

Does Volvo have a plan to recycle or re-use the battery components from its electric vehicles at the end of their lifecycle?

Our batteries are designed to last for the lifetime of our cars. For the majority of our markets, the warranty covers eight years or 160,000km/100,000 miles, whichever comes first. We are developing a 3-step strategy for EV batteries after their original use –Reuse, utilization in energy storage and eventually recycling. The purpose of the strategy is to enable a circular material flow.

By  2030, 12 million tons of  EV  batteries will be dead. We are developing a strategy to give batteries a second life, like our partnership with BatteryLoop to create solar-powered energy storage systems using our car batteries.

Reducing the lifecycle carbon footprint per vehicle is incredibly important. How does Volvo plan to reduce this and what are the immediate goals? How is Volvo planning on reducing the environmental impact of its EVs?

Volvo Cars is aiming to be climate neutral across our value chain by 2040. In the interim, we are aiming to reduce our lifecycle carbon footprint per vehicle by 40% between 2018 and 2025. As part of that, we are working with our top suppliers to ensure they use 100% renewable energy in their operations by 2025.

Over their lifetime, EVs really are cleaner than conventional cars when taking into account the production of batteries. They have a significantly lower carbon footprint. However, the distance a fully electric vehicle needs to be driven to have a lower carbon impact than an internal combustion engine vehicle depends on how the electricity that powers them is generated.

There is currently no accepted standard for how to calculate carbon footprints or LCA of vehicles. This is why we share our methodology, together with the carbon footprint, in order to be transparent about how we calculated the figures, and the assumptions made. We encourage other OEMs to do the same and we are happy to collaborate to improve the method. Even though there’s a long way to go until actual numbers in LCAs from different OEMs can be directly compared, transparent LCA reports will help interpreting the differences between results. Volvo Cars intends to publish the carbon footprint of all our new fully electric vehicles. As we take action to reduce emissions across our entire value chain, we hope a positive trend towards lower carbon footprints will be seen.

Volvo has already announced plans to switch to an all-electric lineup by 2030, but a lack of charging infrastructure is still a concern for many EV buyers. Does Volvo have any plans to partner with any EV charging partners to increase the number of Level 2 and Level 3 chargers around the country?

Volvo Cars is currently investigating various ways to provide easy access to charging. This could include partnering with different public charging suppliers, facilitate charging at our retailers and potentially investing in a proprietary charging network.

As an example, Volvo Cars has selected Plugsurfing as the partner of choice so that drivers of fully electric Volvo Recharge models in Europe will soon have easy access to over 200,000 charging points, enabling seamless long-distance travel across the continent. The agreement eliminates the most common obstacles for electric car drivers, such as inadequate access to charging points and a highly fragmented European market for charging infrastructure.

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