The number of battery-powered vehicles numbered just hundreds globally in 2005 and passed the 1m milestone in 2015, but sales jumped 60% in 2016.

China, the US and Europe accounted for more than 90% of electric vehicle sales last year, with China the single biggest market, according to research by the International Energy Agency.

In some European countries, growth has been so fast that electric cars are taking significant market share from petrol and diesel cars.

Nearly a third of new cars sold in Norway are electric, the highest proportion worldwide, followed by 6.4% in the Netherlands and 3.4% in Sweden.

While the UK lags behind on annual registrations, industry figures this week showed that a record 4.4% of new cars sold in May were hybrid or pure electric models. More than 100,000 electric cars have been sold in the UK under a grant scheme launched in 2011.

The growth globally indicated a “rapid market evolution” in electric cars, the IEA said, but it cautioned that they made up only 0.2% of all passenger cars.

Greg Archer, clean vehicles director at the Brussels-based Transport and Environment group, said: “The rapid rise in electric vehicle sales is a consumer-driven phenomenon rather than being down to the efforts of suppliers.”

Decreasing costs, longer battery ranges and an increasing number of charging points were driving demand, he said.

Worldwide, the IEA found there were 2.3m charging points, although public ones were outnumbered more than six to one, suggesting most drivers were recharging at home.

The agency estimates that there will be 140m electric cars by 2030 globally if countries meet the Paris climate deal’s goal of avoiding dangerous temperature rises.

Previous forecasts for the growth of the cleaner vehicles has been overly optimistic. Barack Obama hoped US drivers would have bought 1m by 2015, but the actual number was 280,000. In May, Angela Merkel admitted that her goal of 1m electric cars on Germany’s roads by 2020 would also be missed.

However, the IEA said government policies to tackle air pollution and global warming would buoy electric cars.

The vehicles also got a boost this week from 10 countries including the UK, US, France, Germany and Japan, which have committed to an aspirational but non-binding target of 30% of market share for electric vehicles by 2030.

Oil companies have been sceptical about the impact electric cars will have on oil demand. BP projected this year that even with a hundred-fold growth in electric cars by 2035, oil demand will still be growing.

However, the company’s chief executive, Bob Dudley, said recently that in the 20 years “obviously sales of electric vehicles will accelerate”.

Carl-Henric Svanberg, BP’s chairman, told shareholders at the group’s AGM in May that the company would benefit from producing the gas to generate electricity for the increasing number of battery-powered cars.

Adam Vaughan, the guardian

edie is part of the guardian Environment Network

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