The latest attempt by the government to meet its near-zero carbon target by bringing forward the move to electric vehicles and all-electric heating is well-intentioned, but I believe it is considerably flawed.
One of the biggest problems is infrastructure, or to be precise, lack of it. Let’s take electric cars as a starting point. 25 million roadside car chargers would be required by 2035, meaning 4,000 charging point installs per day until 2035, starting last week. The cost aside in terms of install, the disruption alone would cost the economy with roads and pavements being affected on a greater scale than that of TV cable laying – what cost in terms of emissions from those works?
Looking at the fact that 33% of the UK use cars to commute, what happens when they all arrive home and plug in? The head of Oxford University’s Energy and Power group, Malcolm McCulloch, has warned that the National Grid would require an extra 20 gigawatts of generating capacity – putting that into context, Hinkley point generates around a gigawatt per day. Furthermore, substations would need to be installed to cope with the power needed.
Michael Gove speaking on Radio 5 live, was asked by Rachel Burden, what happens if you live in a flat with no access to a charging point. The answer showed a complete lack of understanding of the issues. “Well, you go to a petrol station to fill up, so would go to a charging station to do the same” was the answer. Ah ok, so what if there is a queue with everyone taking 20-40 minutes to charge? Oh, and what do we all do while we are waiting? And this, unlike petrol is not once a week, it is every day!
Furthermore, what happens if we are stuck in a traffic jam, where the road has been closed for an accident and it is the middle of winter on a cold night. We need the heating on, but that will deplete the battery so we could have miles of stranded cars! Throw in the mix that the batteries do not perform as well in the winter and you have a recipe for disaster. Let’s not even get into the fact that there is a limited supply of Lithium for the batteries and to cap it all, Neodymium is only mined in China…. So we get rid of petrol, only to become beholden to another foreign power …..you could not make it up.
Ofgem has now got involved. Their ‘Decarbonisation Action’ involves households changing the way they use energy, meaning gas boilers to be removed and switched to a lower carbon source. ‘To meet net-zero, Britain will see changes to the way homes and businesses are heated,’ says Jonathan Brearley, chief executive at Ofgem. ‘This might include using hydrogen boilers or electricity to power heat pumps and may see more customers connected to heat networks.’ Aspirational, yes but in reality, it is not possible without a huge uplift in infrastructure. This has even bigger implications than the switch to electric cars.