I’ll be 84 years old in 2040, a fairly optimistic assessment but my Auntie Peggy is 97 so it’s not impossible.
That’s the year when the current UK government have stated we will no longer build or sell new cars that burn fossil fuels.
There will I’m sure be loads of fossil burning cars still around, far less than today, maybe 10%, so they’re not trying to ‘ban’ fossil burners, just phasing them out, really slowly.
When the announcement hit the news everyone I’ve ever met, spoken to or heard of that drives an electric car was on the Radio and TV.
So was everyone whose outraged and shockingly ill-informed opinions made better sound bites. Suddenly the airwaves were full of puffed up automobile-Farage’s coming out with absurd and utterly refutable arguments that have been debunked so many times.
‘Have to generate more power.’
‘Melt the wires.’
‘Batteries are dirtier than diesel.’
‘Don’t have the range.’
‘Batteries wear out after a year, look at mobile phones.’
‘Nowhere to plug them in.’
The mind-set we all have if we’ve never driven an electric car is shaped and entrenched by our experience driving fossil burning machines. Cars with engines. Cars that go ‘tu-thu-thu-vroom’ when we start them.
We know what they’re like to drive. Noisy, dirty, slow, expensive to fuel, incredibly expensive to maintain and service, politically and militarily complex and costly to maintain the supply of fuel they burn.
So, I’m obviously pleased with the announcement, it’s a statement in the right direction but clearly doesn’t mean much without an enormous amount of action and clear decision making over the coming 23 years.
What would we really need to do in order to transition from burning fossils inside inefficient internal combustion engines to using electricity we make on and around our small islands stored in batteries and hydrogen?
It’s a massive task, no doubt about, that but is it even remotely possible?
Won’t we need gargantuan increases in our power generating capacity and cost to power millions of cars, won’t the wires melt, won’t we just be burning more gas and coal and nuclear fuel to generate all that extra power.
The answer to all those anxieties, expressed again and again by people who suddenly came across this news yesterday having never previously considered it is, no. They won’t.
Thankfully there are a few thousand people in this country and millions around the world who have been thinking about these issues for a long time.
The transition from a fossil burning economy to a sustainable technology economy is complex, disruptive and challenging. However, and this is constantly ignored by the loudmouth supporters of fossil fuels, it’s also an incredibly exciting opportunity.
Not one of the endless string of anxieties and criticisms I’ve heard is original or valid, they have all been addressed multiple times in dozens of reports, research papers, discussed at seminars, briefings and conferences.
What I have never heard is the simple fact that if we were able to instantly transform the current system of millions of fossil burning cars, mostly sitting idle for most of their useful life, we will achieve nothing but a further mess.
I have yet to hear someone question the universally accepted idea that we all either own, or aspire to own a car. While that might work in developed economies for a while, it is utterly impossible when you consider the vast numbers of vehicles required to make that aspiration achievable in Africa, India and China.
I was once asked at a Q & A session after a presentation, ‘is there enough lithium to make all these electric cars?’
Thankfully my co-presenter, an engineering Professor, suggested that there was plenty of lithium, there just wasn’t enough steel, aluminium, copper, rubber, plastic and a list of other materials to make enough cars so everyone could own one.
There weren’t enough roads to drive on or car parks to store them.
In all my travels through the automotive industry, speaking with engineers, scientists and executives, one set of figures is always universally agreed upon.
90% of the time, 90% of cars are dormant. You only need to think about that for a moment to realise how unspeakably absurd that is.
It’s daft, it’s unsustainable and even now it doesn’t work. Witness 40,000 cars sitting in a snarl up on the M25 every day, all their engines running, burning countless millions of gallons of irreplaceable fossil fuels using Victorian era piston engines.
What we do now is unsustainable, we’re doing it on borrowed time, it’s not ‘normal’ it’s ridiculous.
What the government announcement has failed to mention, but believe me civil servants are very seriously considering it, is that the age of the privately owned and maintained car is coming to an end as fast, if not faster than the demise of the internal combustion engine.
In urban areas, walking, cycling and public transport should always be the primary transportation system we adopt. As an add on, what we’ll know as taxis will also have to be universally available where we can buy a few miles to travel further when needed.
Fully autonomous cars will be here long before 2040, I’ve been in quite a few now and they work eerily well as mere test vehicles.
Fully autonomous electric cars are inevitable but I’m not saying this is all good. All disruptive technologies have down sides, the word disruptive is very appropriate here.
However, if we have technology available to move us that is in use 30 or even 40% of the life of the machine, the knock-on effects will be profound.
Less cars, less traffic, more space in cities and towns, no more particulate floating into our lungs, no more narrow streets half blocked by parked vehicles.
More efficient deliveries, less pollution and we can still have access to the benefits of using an enclosed, all weather transportation system.