Vince's Verdict ... Are Electric Cars the Best Solution to our Air Pollution Problem?
Fossil fuels are running out and the air is becoming increasingly polluted – the race is on to find another cleaner and sustainable method of transport. So far, the answer provided by vehicle manufacturers and supported by Government incentives is the electric vehicle.
In the UK, we have responded to this message and have admirably set the wheels of the electric revolution in motion. Sales of electric vehicles reached record highs in January this year, the estimate is there are now 100,000 electric cars on Britain’s roads. Experts are predicting sales of Electric Vehicles will overtake those powered by fossil fuels by 2027, some believe it would be realistic to say there could be as many as 1 million electric cars on our roads by 2022. The government has now announced a ban on all sales of new petrol and diesel cars from 2040.
As we all excitedly embrace our inner eco warrior and commit wholeheartedly to a new electric future, our Chief Operating Officer at Rivervale Vince, wonders if electric vehicles really are the answer, or if we should be removing our tunnel vision and applying the brakes until all the options have been considered ….
“We know we must all strive for an alternative way to power our vehicles, at the moment the focus is on electric cars. The electric motor is nothing new, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly which inventor was first to build an electric car. We do know here in the UK, Thomas Parker is often attributed with producing the first practical electric car back in 1884, with the first practical motor vehicle produced by Karl Benz soon after in 1885. The electric motor is now used without any notice in our everyday lives from our fans, fridges, washing machines and for those who have more hair than me in their hairdryers! This technology then got forgotten somewhere along the way as the combustion engine took centre stage.
To bring it back again manufacturers have many boxes to tick. Range anxiety is the biggest barrier to a purely electric future, as miles per charge increases this fear calms but many more charging stations need to be built before people can charge up as easily as they fill up. At Rivervale we have seen an increase in sales of hybrid vehicles, people want to make a change, but this small step ensures there is still a combustion engine to rely on. Aside from these practical considerations people need to be as excited about electric cars as they are about our motor cars.
A survey conducted by the AA revealed 4 out of 10 drivers name their car.
Young drivers were the most likely to do so with 70% of 17-24 year olds choosing a name for their car.
Cars become like a part of the family and an expression of our personalities, we like to pick a car which suits us. I recently went back to my old school and met a previous teacher of mine, she didn’t remember me but I said to her – ‘you used to drive around in that mini’, to which she replied, ‘oh yes you mean Beryl’. Our cars are such an important part of our lives we name them like we would our pets and our children. Electric cars need to be exciting and have personality to make them desirable.
There is one manufacturer who has managed to create this over an electric vehicle – Tesla. There is a certain sex appeal and alluring futuristic quality to a Tesla which means there are not many people who wouldn’t trade their own car for one.
As drivers, we need to feel comfortable behind the wheel of an electric vehicle. I drove a Hybrid Lexus RX300h back in 2005. It looked like a car and moved like a car, but it felt different. The brakes felt strange due to the regenerative systems in place which is very disconcerting for a driver and it was so, so quiet. Noise reduction is hailed as a great benefit of an electric car, it has the power to improve the lives of those who live near roads, there’s no denying this, given the choice we would all probably prefer to hear the birds singing than the constant hum of traffic. However, as I drove home, there were children out playing and none of them could hear me. The silence of the engine meant my approach went completely unnoticed and it occurred to me this could have hugely negative effects. Not only for the child who hears a car and so steps back onto the pavement, what about the people who do not have any vision to rely on, how will they know when there is a vehicle nearby?
Once the public are won over, charging stations are built and range the same as combustion engines, is there a chance electric cars are not the best answer? Consider the following …
What if electric cars were no better for the environment than petrol or diesel cars?
The reason I say this is after reading an interesting article in The Times by Matt Ridley who looked at the entire process of making a battery for an electric car from mining and processing the materials needed to the final car and found more CO2 was produced than in the production of a comparable petrol car, 50% of this is produced in making the battery alone.
Charging just 6 electric vehicle in the same street could overload the grid and lead to localised disruptions to power supplies
When considering the use over the lifetime of an electric car it is true less emissions are produced, however, this saving may not be as substantial as many people would believe. The figures stated are about 26-30% less than a petrol car and 17-21% less than a diesel car. These figures are based on electricity production in Europe which includes a higher proportion of renewable energy sources, the emissions saving would be even less in countries such as China who still mainly burn fossil fuels to produce their power.
If electric cars are being hailed as the key to saving the environment, we are forgetting a massive chunk of the picture as transport vans and trucks use 40% of all fuel on the roads.
Would we have enough electricity?
Proposing the entire country switched to electric cars – would we be able to produce enough electricity? A report from the Green Alliance think tank seem to suggest we would not suggesting charging just 6 electric cars in the same street could overload the grid and lead to localised disruptions to power supplies. Supposing everyone used charging stations the limited number in comparison to petrol or diesel fuelling stations combined with the much longer charge time of electric vehicles would surely lead to massive, frustrating queues to top up charge.
Major investment would be needed to make sure we can keep all our cars powered.
Is the focus on electric cars reducing research into alternatives?
While we are so focused on electric cars are we forgetting to explore other options? Tesla are seen as the leaders and produce lithium batteries in their Gigafactory, but are there any other options? Hydrogen powered motors have been around since 1806 and the first modern, mass production hydrogen powered car for sale in the UK was the Hyundai ix35 in 2014. This vehicle has a 369-mile range and fills up in a matter of minutes, the only waste produced is water and oxygen surely a contender worth considering more seriously as the combustion engine is replaced.
As oil reserves diminish and air becomes increasing polluted action is needed, but I think we should take the time to consider all our options before we panic and rush into what could end up being a wrong turn. A clear example of this is the Government’s insistence years ago that diesel engines were better for the environment, only to change their minds recently and begin penalising those who followed their advice and spent their money buying a diesel-powered car.
A solution is needed, we just need to look all the possibilities and find the right one."
Do you think electric cars are the right solution to our fuel and air pollution problems?
The comments above do not necessarily reflect Rivervale's views unless clearly stated.
26 July 2017
Written by Natalie Faughy