The UK government is considering a ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles by 2040, in a decision that echoes a recent announcement in France earlier this year. Although setting this ‘green’ target is a positive response to the challenge of air pollution, delivering the infrastructure, research and development support, and incentives to switch to greener cars will be a difficulty.
The long term benefits for air quality and economic investment post-Brexit could be seen as long as extensive planning is undertaken. There is no question that a switch to alternatively-fuelled vehicles would significantly improve air quality, particularly in towns and cities. However the actual benefit will not be felt for many years, given the slow vehicle replacement rate. Still, as battery prices are set to tumble over the next decade, it will be another reason for businesses to switch to greener vehicles.
The 2040 target should in theory encourage big electric vehicle manufacturers to invest in the UK. The country is a significant consumer market and has strong production capabilities in green technologies, especially the use of lightweight materials. BMW for example, have just announced it will build the fully electric Mini as part of its plant in Oxford. An even clearer example of policy driving private investment is Chinese carmaker Geely’s investment in a new hybrid model of the London taxi, to take advantage of the capitals new “ultra-low emission zone”.
Then there is the question of infrastructure. The UK has 6,535 charging stations, which seems to be enough for now, however comparing that to Norway (which has slightly more stations for a population less than a tenth of the size), the number of charging points will have to rise to the hundreds of thousands.
As well infrastructure, there is also the issue of energy supply. Widespread implementation of electric vehicles could put a strain on the grid at a time when fossil fuels are being phased out and a higher share of more volatile renewables is taking over. Therefore the government will need to think seriously about how excess power is stored during extra hot or windy days that favour solar or wind farms, and how to manage demand from electric vehicles when there is not enough sun or wind.
However for car manufacturers, 2040 is several production cycles away. This gives them and the government time to think creatively about mass electrification. Roads that charge cars as they are driven would need a big initial investment, but would make electric cars considerably cheaper and potentially better.
By 2040, internal combustion engines may no longer be able to compete in the market. But whether the UK’s infrastructure is ready for millions more electric vehicles remains to be seen.
(Brooks, R and J, Begley. Energy Post, 15/08/2017
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