Cooling: Transporting us to net zero

December 16, 2020


Cooling: Transporting us to net zero

December 16, 2020

Diana Hindle Fisher
Project Manager, The Economist Intelligence Unit



How efficient, climate-friendly cooling can support the transport sector’s transition to net zero emissions

In 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) announced that to limit global warming to 1.5°C, global net human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) would need to fall by about 45% from 2010 levels by 2030 and reach “net zero” by around 2050. In practice, meeting this target requires all sectors to shift away from oil, gas and coal while also removing CO2 from the atmosphere.

In the transport sector, most of the emissions reductions will fall to on-road passenger transport, which is easier to decarbonise than aircraft and freight ships. If the electricity that charges an electric vehicle (EV) is generated from renewables, driving a fully electric vehicle produces no emissions post-manufacturing. As countries decarbonise electricity, EVs present a net zero solution for getting both people and goods from point A to point B. But concerns over cost, range and charging infrastructure are preventing mass uptake by consumers. At the core of the problem lies the vehicle’s battery and its range.

This report focuses on how more efficient cooling can extend EV battery range. Based on an extensive modelling exercise, it quantifies how efficient cooling also reduces costs and emissions. Finally, it outlines priority actions to ensure that the contribution of efficient cooling to increasing EV uptake and speeding up the race to net zero can be realised.

Key findings

  • Cooling requirements can cut EV battery range by up to 44%. The range of an EV in the US may be reduced by almost 185 kilometres (km, almost 115 miles) on a single charge when using cooling equipment compared with when there is no cooling.
  • It can cost 80% more to recharge an EV battery in warm climates over the course of a year due to the additional electricity required for cooling.
  • In trucks with refrigerated units, where cooling accounts for a much lower proportion of the overall electricity requirements than in a car, cooling can reduce the range of the battery by almost 23km for each charge. This translates to an increase in operating costs of almost US$1,500 each year.
  • More efficient air conditioning (AC) units can extend the range of EV cars and trucks by up to 38% and reduce operating costs by up to 28%.
  • Using materials and design that keep EVs cooler naturally can extend the range of EV cars by up to 16% in hot climates and reduce operating costs by up to 14%. Similar measures can improve the range of EV trucks and reduce operating costs by up to 2%.
  • Installing better insulation in refrigerated trucks can improve their range and reduce operating costs by up to 5%.
  • Lower operating costs from efficient cooling could drive a 7% uptick in EV sales. Furthermore, this is likely to underestimate the sales impact: as consumer anxiety over range falls, it is likely that more people will purchase EVs.
  • Efficient cooling reduces EV electricity use and increases uptake, which in turn collectively reduces emissions. In China, efficient cooling in EVs has the potential to cut emissions by 58MTCO2 over the next decade.
  • Of the emissions that could be avoided in China, 72% would have been from coal-fired generation, 22% from oil and 5% from gas, with only 1% from renewable energy.
  • While efficient cooling alone cannot meet the transport industry’s zero emissions targets, it is certainly a critical component of the path to net zero.


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