China could lead the efforts to roll out electric vehicles and deploy disruptive new transport technologies at scale more quickly than the United States, according to a new report by Accenture that compares the two countries.
The report, The US and China: the race to disruptive transport technologies by Melissa Stark, concludes that China's state-backed focus on electric vehicles (EVs), its domestic supplies of lithium and current battery production capability will give it a competitive advantage over the US in EVs. The US' market led-approach will result in a more gradual development of new technologies.
Accenture believes that the US will be better placed to create new innovations across many platforms (advanced combustion engines, electric and advanced biofuels) that can be integrated into the existing fuel supply infrastructure, according to the report. The US could lead a global biotechnology-based agricultural revolution that will generate a greater range of biofuel breakthroughs.
The report says, "Who will win the race?" The oversimplified short answer is that, assuming continued long-term government support for alternative energy and allocation of funds to R&D and deployment, our expectation is that China will be able to achieve its targets faster, but in a narrower field of technologies. While the United States may be slower in its development, its openness to new and disruptive technologies is more likely to generate a breakthrough solution.The assumption of continued government support (however fragmented, in the case of the United States) is critical. The scale of funding needed to deliver the capital projects that will deliver these new fuels and infrastructure is enormous. However, investment will come only if policy signals are clear and long-term. But assuming this policy stability, the current activity in the United States and China will fundamentally change the future of transportation fuels."
The rise of new fuel technologies and greater fuel efficiency will give both countries greater energy independence. The reduction in gasoline demand in the US could be up to 22 billion gallons per year by 2030 if vehicle miles travelled (VMT) remained roughly the same as today, according to Accenture, cutting crude oil imports by one billion barrels per year, a 34% reduction from the 3.3 billion barrels imported in 2009. By contrast, China, which imports over half its petroleum demand, could reduce its crude oil imports by 676 million barrels per year by 2020, a drop of 21% from today, according to the report. The reduction in gasoline demand will impact US refineries currently configured to maximize gasoline production and favour those refineries that can more easily adjust their product mix.
On the other hand, in China there will be no losers, the report says. China aims for alternative energy to make up 30% of transport fuels by 2020 but Accenture estimates that car ownership will almost triple between now and 2020 to approximately 200 million, creating growth for the biofuel, EV and oil industries. The report says, "The US already has a competitive advantage in agriculture and conditions that make it the home of completely new technologies, but China's policy decisiveness will allow it to scale specific new transport technologies more rapidly. However, these respective strengths will not guarantee long term competitiveness and policy makers and investors in both countries will need to put in place major structural changes to ensure their industries adapt and can compete globally."
Implications for US competitiveness include:
- New transport fuels will make the US refining industry less competitive in the face of falling gasoline demand and crude oil imports. This structural change in fuel demand will favor larger, more complex refineries with lower marginal costs and production flexibility to make different product slates including "fuel switching" or the ability to incrementally increase diesel production (or gasoline) if demand dictates.
- Disparate federal funding will disadvantage the US. Although the government has committed billions, the support is spread across many technologies, versus approximately $15 billion the Chinese Government has committed to EV deployment for the next 10 years.
- The US EV industry faces strong competition from China, Japan and Korea which already account for 60% of the US's rechargeable battery imports. The US will depend almost entirely on lithium imports from Asia and Latin America (China supplies a fifth of the world's batteries and its reserves of lithium can support 450 million vehicles).
Implications for China's competitiveness include:
- China's progress in new fuels could be constrained by supply chain bottlenecks, such as feedstock availability for cellulosic ethanol and high battery unit costs. Financial incentives will need to be more precisely targeted to these specific parts of the value chain.
- China's investment and policy-driven approach will need to be supplemented by more consumer oriented business models and innovation that build on a greater understanding of consumer demand.
- China must supplement its advantages in rapid implementation with greater investment in core technology innovation. More transparent IP processes, talent strategy and incentive policies are required to attract funding of new fuel industries.
She concludes that, "The US has to manage the transition of its legacy infrastructure to one that will accommodate new fuels to ensure that this transition occurs at the lowest possible investment cost. The US does not have a blank piece of paper while China, in many ways, does. China's challenge is to balance implementation with innovation if it is to compete well in the long term race for new transport technologies. Both countries need to leverage their respective advantages."
Some of the other key findings of the report are:
- Greenhouse gas reduction, although important, is not the key driver in either country. As Accenture has discussed in past studies, what is important for governments is the domestic agenda and setting policy that balances three key objectives: energy security, improving economics and climate change.
- Trading relationships and trade flows will change. The ramifications of these technologies scaling could lead to potential shifts in power around the globe and a changed picture of trade with and between the United States and China.
- Opportunities exist for US and China collaboration. Considerable overlap exists between the United States and China interest areas around alternative transport fuels. Increased collaboration could strengthen relations and/or create increased mutual co-dependence between the two countries. The Joint US-China Collaboration on Clean Energy (JUCCCE) is one example.
Accenture recommends that electricity utilities proactively manage the opportunities and challenges presented by electrification of transport. Given uncertain consumer demand, utilities will have to improve their understanding of consumer preferences for EVs to mitigate the high risks associated with infrastructure investments. Electricity distributors should also increase low voltage energy storage investments to mitigate the volatile demand of EV charging and the intermittent supply of renewable energy. Proactive management on this level will further position utilities to capture market opportunities related to electrification of transport.
The new IDTechEx report, Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure 2011-2021 expands on the hardware aspect with latest ten year forecasts.
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