What if... all cars in Belgium would become electric tomorrow?

The VRT science news desk has calculated how much extra power we would need if all cars running on fossil fuels in Belgium would use electricity instead. It would be wonderful to cut greenhouse emissions, but would it be feasible? "To have this in 2050, is possible and affordable."

Belgium has some 5.7 million cars at present, running an estimated 15,000 kilometres on average each year. Together, they are consuming over 5 litres of diesel and petrol. 

If we would like all of these to run on electricity to improve air quality and to fight global warming, we would need 20 percent more power, says professor Joeri Van Mierlo of the Free Brussels University VUB. 

This means that we would need either

  • two extra nuclear power plants (Belgium has 7 at present, of which some are so old that they need to close soon) 
  • OR 610 big wind turbines at sea (the big type which generates more power than those on the land; on land we need 1,220 wind turbines)
  • OR 15,200 football pitches full of solar panels (we can of course cover a lot of the demand if all those who have this option, would install solar panels on the roof)

It's possible and affordable to have only electric cars on our roads by 2050

We will not make this switch immediately, of course, but it's good to know which alternatives we need to provide. "If we want all cars to run on electricity by 2050 to become climate-neutral, we should only sell electric cars as from 2035, considering an average car survives 15 years. This is possible and affordable, on the condition that we start in time", says Van Mierlo.

The electricity watchdog CREG earlier calculated that if we would have 1 million electric cars extra on our roads tomorrow, we would need 4 percent extra power, but this should not pose a problem towards power supplies, if the cars are being charged at the right moment. 

Note that this study was made taking into account that we will drive as many kilometres as now; if we use more public transport this would be less, or it could be more if we have more cars. In order to cut emissions, it is also crucial that the energy is 100 percent sustainable.