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Farewell to the Internal Combustion Engine!

Words by Chris Reed

There has been much written and talked of recently about the Government's plan to ban the sale of new diesel and petrol cars from 2030. Their plans are ambitious, to say the least, especially within the context of current economic woes. The initiative is of course welcomed by many and especially those living and working close to major road links where levels of air pollution are highest, let us hope that our leaders honour their pledges. Transport contributes 27% to the total greenhouse gas emissions in the United Kingdom and has not significantly reduced from this level since 1990 despite government efforts and promises.

So just how well does this bold plan stack up? What potential logistical and operational challenges are we expected to face in the run-up to this new and exciting vehicular dawn. All the major motor manufacturers have an electric or a highbred solution that will be developed to as close to their idea of perfection as can be achieved over the next 10 years. However, as marvellous as these cars will be in terms of technical and aesthetic prowess, unless the advances in Hydrogen technology accelerate at a ridiculous pace the only car left at the party i.e. electric means we as a nation will require more charging power points than you can shake a stick at. Potentially this could mean each car driver needing one at home, with another at the destination address, oh, and you may need one somewhere in between. So how are we going to go about creating an infrastructure that can accommodate? Ten years is not a long way off relatively speaking, and you only have to look at some recent innovative initiatives in the UK to get a taste of what may be around the corner. I suggest you do some research on the Crossrail debacle in London which is still not finished after 13 years of construction.

 

Predicting where these charging points are located will be extremely difficult, with almost 40 million registered vehicles on UK roads and a population of circa 66 million that loves to drive whenever and wherever it can, will we become an ever-growing of Staycationers, exacerbating the problem with an exponential increase in the levels of traffic movement over the coming years? Who knows? Only time will tell and that is something we have extraordinarily little of if Mr Johnson is to get his way.

 

Whatever happens, let us keep fingers crossed that our streets don't end up shrouded with extension leads to all the necessary chargers as they are some Indian Cities, where the installation of electricity supply could be construed as little laissez-faire, to put it mildly in its application. Let us also hope that whatever plans the Government has we shall not have to wait for our neighbours to finish charging their cars and lawnmowers before we get a chance to power up our mobility scooters; and let us pray to whichever God we subscribe to that we will not be cursed with young ne'er-do-wells unplugging our cars at night for a bit of fun, leaving us in the morning with two tons of immovable vehicle.

 

Wireless looks to be infinitely more practical with this resonance charging technology having been developed and proven to work. It is a system that will power up our vehicles wirelessly as the name suggests wherever we chose to park, within reason.  However, whilst infinitely more practical from a user point of view, to complete this scale of development we would have to implement our own version of the Marshal plan in order to lay cables or conductors in every street, driveway and country park. 

 

Whatever technology is chosen the logistical and construction phase will be on a biblical scale. Hundreds of thousands of men in reflective jackets will toil day and night to lay 246,000 miles of cables under all the publicly maintained roads to link the charging points that will most likely be located in the 20,000 car parks and 3 million parking bays in each big city.

For you city dwellers, don't think there will be any escaping to the country so avoiding the new road work signs popping up like woodland autumn mushrooms on damp September mornings, for you will be thwarted by the lack not only of Charging Points but also by the ridiculously small number of car parking spaces to house said points especially if you are one of the 110,000,000 visitors to our National Parks each year. 

Electricity Costs

It is estimated that each electric car requires 3000 kW of newly produced power annually, which will cost the average motorist around £ 450 a year. I know a Tesla electric car driver who religiously monitored his cars electrical intake over 7000 miles during the first year of ownership which began in mid-2019.  Having installed his own electrical output port at home at a cost of just over £400, which he excluded from the calculation he reckoned he spent just over £163 on electric in comparison to what would have been around £1,350 in fuel driving his 2 litre Volvo Diesel Estate.

 

As a country, we purchase around about 3 million new vehicles a year and keep them for an average of 6 years, so based on these figures and whilst accepting they are only rough but educated approximations I estimate the transition to electric cars would be achieved by 2045. In line with that development, we would require the output of 2 new nuclear power stations worth of wind farms and solar panels entering the network every year from 2030 to charge the 3m new electric cars entering the market.

 

Let us not forget that allied to the huge costs required to bring about such changes, income derived from fossil fuel taxation would decrease by around £ 3 billion a year that would add up to around £ 100 billion pounds over the same 15-year period. As a result, there is a fair old chance that we will see car owners being charged a certain amount of money per mile driven or greater road tax or maybe an amalgam of the two.

We may find that the journey is too expensive and disruptive to complete within 10 years and push the time frame out to the original 2040 deadline. This may allow the population to sensitise to the infrastructure challenges and costs of the investment. It would also allow electric technology, if this is the only choice, to develop vehicles that can travel double the distance on one charge, and to use the existing infrastructure of fuel stations that in twenty years would have increased the speed of the charge time to match fossil fuel refuelling times.

 

I am not an accountant and I apologise if my figures are not 100% accurate but they are not a million miles away. With our leaders making such bold statements about such huge and life-changing plans, our expectation must be set at the correct level, which is something many politicians have failed to do, certainly during my lifetime.  

One thing we do know with 100% accuracy is that if we as a nation can achieve such generational change in terms of vehicles and road transports systems, future generations will be less susceptible to respiratory problems and similar breathing maladies. As of 10 May 2020, 5.4 million people in the UK were receiving treatment for asthma: 1.1 million children (1 in 11) and 4.3 million adults (1 in 12).

The liquids used to fuel our cars are responsible for the collateral damage inflicted on the health of our population yet despite warnings we continue to buy into the expediency.

 

Boris’s plans for 2030 may be ambitious, maybe too ambitious. The implementation may be frighteningly expensive and hugely disruptive and the manufacturing of Lithium batteries for these electric cars will have a hugely negative impact on global carbon emissions. However, for the sake of our children and their children's health the changes cannot come soon enough in my humble opinion!