Government wakes from electric dream

So Philip Hammond’s policy — his one lonely policy* — of encouraging people to drive electric vehicles has been cut.  The government are still wasting money giving £5,000 subsidies to people who are already able to afford expensive new electric cars (though it will be interesting to see how much longer that lasts), but they will no longer be building a network of charging points, instead leaving owners to charge their vehicles at home.  The greenest ever government can’t even be bothered to keep up its greenwash.

The electric vehicles policy was never ambitious, and at best stretching the definition of “green”.  It envisioned replacing internal-combustion (ICE) vehicles with electric vehicles by 2050.  That’s forty years.  The twenty year old book that arrived on friday arguing for cycling as a political priority was already noting the overwhelming evidence for climate change and the need to do something about it.  For twenty years we’ve faffed around doing not much, and the government proposes that we leisurely carry on for another forty.  Never mind the fact that we have less than half that time to completely decarbonise if we are to avoid catastrophe.

And the extent to which electric vehicles are green also depends, of course, on how green their manufacture and the generation of their power is.  Our electricity, still mostly produced by burning a lot of imported coal and gas, is considerably greener than burning a lot of imported refined oil, but it’s not green enough to avert catastrophe if we don’t decarbonise it in the next couple of decades — a project that is already way behind schedule.  Even when we do decarbonise, the more we rely on electricity, the more dams, barrages, wind turbines, nuclear plants, and, least welcome of all, pylons we need to accommodate.

Of course, carbon is the only thing that matters about transport, right?  When I worked in a London office I would enjoy many a fun argument about people who chose to drive in London: “ah, but somebody who drives a little hatchback back and forth in zone 1 & 2 might have a smaller carbon footprint than somebody who commutes from Brighton or Bath by train every day.”**

Even if electric vehicles did solve the carbon problem, they would solve none of the others associated with car use — the nascent sedentary-lifestyle-related public health crises, the ongoing road danger scandal, the waste of urban land and spoiling of urban environment, the deleterious development patterns that exist in symbiosis with car dependency.  EVs do admittedly have one less method of directly producing air pollution.  Problems that can all be solved by shifting shifting journeys to active transport.

Active transport remains suppressed by political policy.  The lack of support for the types of interventions that are proven to work at enabling journeys to be switched to being made by bicycle; and the continuing policies that prioritise the motor vehicle and prevent pedestrian and bicycle-friendly streets, as epitomised by Blackfriars Bridge, amount to government suppression of cycling and walking.

If we are to meet our carbon deadlines — not “targets”, deadlines — we need a plan that would, by 2030, tear down the barriers that all over the country are preventing people cycling.  That is, primarily, the environment.  Most people will never cycle on the streets as they are now.  We must change the streets, and we haven’t got time to faff around about it.

It’s not like Philip Hammond has any other policies to pursue.

(Consider that our cycling mayor, from the party that gave us the greenest ever government, is father of a cycling revolution which he hopes to give London an embarrassing 5% modal share for cycling by 2030 — an achievement that he intends to make at the same time as maintaining motor traffic flow at current level and without any meaningful changes to London’s streets.)

* I’m giving High Speed Rail to Osborne and Danny Alexander, since it’s they who will pull the plug when the time comes.

** Indeed, it is because of these arguments that I spend so much time discussing all of the other problems with motorised road transport and all of the other reasons to support the alternatives, and rarely mention the carbon and climate issue.

10 thoughts on “Government wakes from electric dream”

  1. I like the phrase “Active Transport”; it’s a better term than “Alternative Transport”, as the latter implies that walking is somehow radical. “Active Transport” makes it clear that people not taking part are fat and lazy. Use it more often.

  2. Ponder also on the dinosaur policies that have in the past month seen completion of 2 projects so completely out of sync that the images scream the stupidity of commitments to driving up motor car use and consumption of travel resources. When Seoul, Portland, San Francisco, Munich have ripped out roads just like the M74 and A3. Even where the radical removals have not taken place (yet) cities like New York and Bogota (20 years of shutting out cars every Sunday), have closed huge areas and genuinely given them back to people in place of machines. Commentators have crowed of the fantastic ambience in Central London for the rare days of total traffic exclusion – The Tour de France, Royal Wedding, and some less planned for events.

    It also overwhelmingly demonstrates the massive capacity to move PEOPLE which can be unlocked by shedding those wasteful lumps that surround them. Come on Boris where’s your bottle let’s deliver London without cars every Sunday – it could be such a wonderful way to enjoy the city with the bike scheme or on foot – it might even see the idle resources used for 10% or less of the time on the frustrating and futile exodus from the home counties every morning – called commuting.

    Let’s not forget places beyond London wee ‘Eck might sderiously ponder the need for a further Forth bridge given that the existing one is barely used for substantial periods through the day – and I know how little the vast and expensive motorways are used, choosing mainly to travel at night – on one occasion seeing just 4 vehicles travelling in my direction in 50 miles. We see the crazy hour in the evenings her living close to the M8 – baely 35% of local households own a car yet the roads we have to cross or use are either locked up with static motor traffic or a major hazard as those leaving the motorway fail to adjust their speed.

    David Begg (in his previous life as convenor of Transportation with Lothian Council) remarked that even then the utilisation of the M9 was so poor that had it been a rail line it would have been closed and lifted. maybe we should be as radical with roads as we are with rails.

  3. £5000 per e-car, how much is that in aggregate spending, compared to, say, the Dutch spending 30 Euros per capita on cycling infrastructure? If you could find someone with a 5-mile commute, and give them a very nice bicycle to use (and that they would use), you’d probably net just as much in reduced GHG emissions, and have a tidy sum left over.

    1. “In 2009 55 electric vehicles were sold in the UK.”

      Yes, fifty-five.

      So £275,000. Even cheaper than the grants to the “cycling boroughs”.

      I imagine the number is going up — the EVs on sale today are a bit less embarrassing than the ones two years ago.

  4. In March after 13 years of driving Audi’s I sold my 7 year old Audi TT and bought a 100% electric Nissan Leaf and have never looked back. I admit EV’s aren’t a perfect replacement for ICE based cars yet but like all new technology they will improve fairly quickly over time. I view the first generation of electric cars in the same light as the first generation of mobile phones and see them advancing at a similar rate due to the billions of $’s been spent on battery R&D.

    In the 3.5 months of ownership of the Leaf I have not had to charge away from home once but I admit I have borrowed my mother’s C3 diesel car 3 times. The 3 times were all for +90 mile long distance trips which happened to be outside the footprint of the current 26 Nissan Leaf dealer rapid charger network. If a rapid charger had been available midway along the routes of the 3 journeys I could have driven the Leaf easily. A Google map depicting the location of the 26 Nissan rapid chargers can be seen here

    The said rapid chargers which use the Japanese developed CHAdeMo protocol will charge Nissan Leaf’s and Mitsubishi i-Miev’s from 0 to 80% full in 20 to 30 minutes and thus allow long distance trips outside of an electric cars range now present day, albeit with slightly longer journey times. The lack of a common agreed rapid charging standard amongst car manufactures is one obstacle which will have to be overcome before mass EV adoption can take place.

    The EV’s are no greener than Internal Combustion Engine cars (ICE) as they take more energy to manufacture and shift the pollution to power stations premise has largely been debunked. Most EV’s will be charged overnight when the demand for power is very low and thus most of the dirty coal fired power stations are set to idle reducing the carbon footprint of 1 unit of electricity (kWh) by about 200 grams.

    For instance as I write this comment only 14.4% of electricity generation is from Coal power stations, 51.4% from Closed Cycle Gas Turbine (60% efficient), 25.8% Nuclear, 6.3% in total is imported from France and the Netherlands, 1.2% from Wind Turbines and finally 0.6% from Non Pumped Hydro. Therefore when I charge my Leaf overnight its CO2 footprint drops to about 67g/km. The said figure includes the construction, running and deconstruction carbon footprint of the power stations. A very good website which lists the carbon footprint of several electric vs. ICE cars can be found here

    I have reduced the CO2 footprint of my Leaf further by subscribing to a green electricity tariff and we also had Solar PV (electric) panels installed on our roof which generate about 2700 units (kWh) of CO2 free electricity a year. This is enough to power the Leaf about 9000 miles a year. Apparently 30% of Leaf owners also have a Solar PV systems installed.

    The vast majority of energy used in the life cycle of car is generated from the everyday use of the said car. A recent widely misreport report from the Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership came out in favour of EV’s having lower overall life cycle emissions even when including the energy used to manufacture the battery. The report, press release and a letter to the Times correcting their considered misreporting of the report can be found here

    Another scientific report coming out in favour of EVs resulting in lower pollution and emissions can be found here

    “All the facts taken together, the results of the LCA, the various sensitivity analyses, the modelling applied for EOL, the assumption for the used electricity mix, etc., suggest that E-mobility is environmentally beneficial compared to conventional mobility. The Li-ion battery plays a minor role in the assessment of the environmental burden of E-Mobility. Thus, a Li-ion battery in an BEV does not lead to an overcompensation of the potential benefits of the higher efficiency of BEV compared to an ICEV.”

  5. I take the threat from climate change seriously and thus over the last 12 months I have reduced my properties direct local carbon emissions to zero by replacing a 26 year old gas boiler with a Ground Source Heat Pump, installing a Solar PV system replaced the Gas Oven and Hob with an Electric Oven and Induction Hob and topped up the loft insulation to 270mm.

    Therefore I am surprised by the Governments withdrawal of the new build zero carbon homes requirement as this is possible today with technology already on the market.

    Yes I agree people need to cycle & walk more but for anyone living outside of major urban areas they still have to rely on personal transport due to grossly inadequate public transport.

    I used to commute 42 miles each way to work (before I was outsourced) but as I was able to take advantage of the flexitime policy I could start work at 10 am and avoid most of the traffic congestion on the M60 around Manchester. Ok I could have moved closer to work but this would have increased my living expenses greatly as the work site is situated in an exclusive area. Taking public transport would have doubled my commute time of 45 minutes.

    29000 premature deaths a year are attributed to the high levels of air pollution across most of the UK. As London has some of the worst air pollution in Europe I would never cycle in the city until the level of pollution is drastically reduced. The extra exertion of cycling causes the cyclist to breath the PM 2.5 and PM 10 particulate pollution far deeper in to the lungs that would be the case with walking or driving.

    Unless the Buses and Trains are all electrified driving an EV has a lower impact that taking an off peak third full bus / train.

    Admittedly EVs don’t address the traffic congestion. Maybe town / city centres should be made car free zones?

    Ok the PV panels have a carbon footprint but this will be offset with just 2 years of operation. Surly the PV system installed on our roof reduces the CO2 emissions to near zero for the first 9000 miles. What other transport technology is capable of allowing people to generate their own zero pollution fuel at home?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: