I have always loved cars. Although my original degree was in Medicine (I am a former NHS doctor) I have always enjoyed writing about them and I was the motoring correspondent for Surgo (Glasgow University Medical Journal) and then Glasgow Medicine. Like many people I am horrified at the Government’s plans to phase out petrol and diesel cars and replace them with expensive electric vehicles.
Most people do not want EVs. They are costly to produce and much more expensive to buy than a car with an internal combustion engine. On average an electric car is £10,000 more expensive than its petrol or diesel counterpart. The cheapest electric car, the Fiat 500, costs £30,000, £10,000 more than a 500 with a petrol engine.
The huge cost is largely down to the expensive lithium ion battery. The lifespan of such batteries is about a decade although they lose efficiency after only a few years, resulting in decreased range. The replacement cost of a battery is about £8,000 to £10,000 although batteries for expensive luxury cars can be much dearer. For this reason it is likely that car dealers may be reluctant to accept an electric car more than five years old as they may be faced with the huge cost of a replacement battery.
Lithium batteries can overheat and catch fire and the resulting conflagrations have been documented on numerous occasions in the mainstream media. The batteries also have problems in freezing conditions as they become less efficient and impossible to charge in such low temperatures.
Construction of an electric car is associated with a huge amount of carbon emissions and if this is taken into account then the average petrol or diesel car would have to drive 50,000 miles before it produced as much carbon as an EV does during construction. The mining of the rare and expensive minerals required for the building of an EV battery (lithium and cobalt) is also associated with a lot of carbon emissions as the machinery and vehicles involved are diesel-powered. A single 500kg lithium battery requires 10 tonnes of lithium salt, two tonnes of nickel ore and 12 tonnes of copper ore for its production. It is likely that there will not be enough lithium in the world to produce enough batteries to meet future demand.
The bodywork of an EV is made of steel which requires iron ore and coking coal to produce. The interior uses a lot of plastic which is made from oil. The windows are made of glass. The U.K. FIRES report on achieving Net Zero has stated that Britain would have to stop the production of new steel and glass by 2050. Both materials are of course essential for the production of electric vehicles.
Charging of lithium batteries is also a problem. An overnight trickle charge can take eight to 10 hours. A fast charge can take as little as 45 minutes but this is considerably more than the time it takes to refill a petrol or diesel vehicle. Combined with a shortage of charging points, this means that large queues of EVs can form at filling stations. This is not likely to improve in the future as the rollout of new public charging points is falling far short of demand.
There are also problems moving EVs which have died as they cannot be put into neutral and pushed as they do not have a gearbox. Trying to push an EV with a dead battery is like trying to push a petrol car which is in first gear. For this reason I would not recommend that an EV driver with low charge ever attempts to cross a railway level crossing. To recover stranded EVs, recovery organisations such as the AA and RAC have to put a low trailer under the vehicle to raise its wheels above the ground so it can be towed.
The phasing-in of electric vehicles is happening to meet the U.K.’s commitment to Net Zero carbon emissions by 2050. But there is considerable doubt in the scientific community as to whether man-made global warming is actually happening.
Even if there is modest increase in global temperatures it is likely that this would be beneficial to mankind. More crops would grow and less people would die as more people die from cold than heat every year. A modest increase in atmospheric CO2 levels would make plants grow.
There is also some doubt as to whether the U.K. National Grid would cope with the increase in demand for electricity by 2050. My estimate is that there would need to be a tripling of electricity generation capacity to meet the likely demand if all vehicles were electric and all gas and oil central heating systems converted to heat pumps.
In addition, all electricity pylons, high tension cables and transformers would need to be replaced and every town and city road would have to be dug up to allow the installation of more heavy duty cabling. There is also some doubt about whether Britain’s electricity can be generated entirely by renewable sources as some claim. Wind turbines are expensive and unreliable. They produce no electricity when the wind doesn’t blow and have to be switched off to prevent damage when the wind is too strong. They only last 10-20 years and have to be backed up by fossil fuel power stations to avoid blackouts. Solar panels are also expensive and have a limited life.
One solution would be the widespread adoption of nuclear power but the U.K. has already missed the boat as such units take 10-20 years to build and the Scottish Government does not want any atomic power stations.
For these reasons it is likely that much of our electricity generating capacity (perhaps 50% or more) will be provided by oil and gas power stations for decades to come. If the Government insists on phasing out British gas and oil production then these fuels will have to be imported at great expense. So electric cars won’t save the planet if most of the electricity used to charge their batteries will be generated by fossil fuels for decades to come.
In my new book I also examine how Net Zero will affect other modes of transport, namely ships and planes. Most ships are currently powered by huge diesel engines with a small number of larger naval vessels having nuclear power plants. Some experimental civilian nuclear-powered ships (such as the American NV Savannah) have been built in the recent past but were not successful. The main problem was leakage of nuclear waste into the ocean. If this could be fixed then atomic ships could make a comeback, as could sailing ships.
Aircraft are more of a problem. According to the U.K. FIRES report most U.K. airports will have to close with only Heathrow, Glasgow and Belfast left operating by 2050. Battery-powered electric aircraft have been built but are not really practical. Experimental nuclear powered aircraft were flown in the 1950s but proved dangerous. The only practical alternative to fossil fuel aircraft would be gas turbines running on low-emission biofuels or on hydrogen which only produces water in its exhaust rather than carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide. The main problem with hydrogen though, is that the only practical way to produce it is through the electrolysis of water which requires a lot of electricity.
In the end, electric cars are the non-solution for a problem that doesn’t really exist as there is no evidence of dangerous man-made climate change and any small warming and CO2 increase would likely be beneficial.
Colin M. Barron is a former NHS hospital doctor who is now retired. He is also a writer with 14 published books. His website is www.colinbarron.co.uk. His book Why I Will Never Buy an Electric Car is available from Amazon in Kindle (just 77p!) and paperback versions.