In some places we are trying to keep up with the whole world. And now in Russia they want to ban the use of gasoline cars in resort cities. Only abroad is more and more doubt heard about the correctness of the transition to electric vehicles, especially after the recent announcement of the British government.
Does Electric Britain have a future?
By the middle of the century, many leading countries plan to ban gasoline and diesel vehicles. Several European states and some US states have already announced their readiness to take such a step. So the British government plans to ban the sale of new cars with internal combustion engines from 2040. This was recently announced by the British Minister for the Environment Michael Gove. By 2050, there will be no gas or diesel vehicles on UK roads.
And it seems that the issue of the electromobility revolution has been resolved. It goes and captures more and more countries and territories. So among the measures aimed at supporting electric transport, it was proposed to limit the use of cars with internal combustion engines in resort areas and cities with a population of over one million.
But it is the UK's planned switch to electric transport that has exacerbated the debate about the rush to introduce electric vehicles, and it could have far-reaching implications not only for Foggy Albion.
Ahead of the minister’s statement, in early July this year, Matt Ridley, a columnist for the British edition of The Times, criticized the upcoming plans of his government in his column. At that time, they were known only by rumors circulated in the media. In addition, a loud statement was made from France before this. On this bank of the English Channel, the sale of gasoline and diesel vehicles will be completely discontinued from 2040. This was stated by the French Minister for Energy Transition Nicolas Hulot.
Matt Ridley is a Ph.D. from the University of Oxford, his books have sold in the millions and have been translated into over 30 languages. He writes mainly about science, economics and the environment. In his column, he admits that electric motors are fantastic devices. They are quiet and do not emit emissions where they are used. Therefore, their implementation can significantly improve the quality of life of people living near roads and in urban areas. And in the future, of course, we must use them even more. But the current transport revolution could backfire.
The technology used in electric vehicles today carries certain risks. Modern electric vehicles need to be wireless, which means a car needs a battery. Lithium, one of the lightest metals, has made batteries lighter and more spacious, but they are still bulky, charge slowly, and can explode if charged too quickly.
In addition, the production of an electric vehicle emits significantly more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than the creation of a similar vehicle, but with an internal combustion engine. Too much energy is required to mine and process lithium, nickel and other materials used in battery production. The battery accounts for more than half of the harmful emissions generated by an electric vehicle during operation.And if the electricity, which will be "fueled" by the car, is generated at a coal-fired power plant, which is widespread in China and India, then the amount of harmful emissions into the atmosphere will increase.
Human rights organizations also see the problem in the production of batteries, but they approach it from a different angle. Cobalt is an important component of lithium-ion batteries. However, most of it is produced in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire). But its extraction is carried out in inhuman conditions. At the same time, not only adults, but also children participate in it. In fact, they pay for the transition to electric vehicles with their lives and health, risking death or injury or serious chronic illness every day.
By the way, lithium itself is not so available. Here it is worth recalling the words of Elon Musk himself. Last March, he announced that Tesla would have to buy all the world's lithium to produce half a million vehicles a year. The investment bank Goldman Sachs also announced that demand for lithium could triple by 2025. But lithium is not only batteries for cars. At the very least, these are also the smartphones that everyone needs.
These and many other problems have not yet been resolved. And the technology to avoid them is not known today. By banning hydrocarbon-fueled cars, we are forcing automakers to invest in technologies that already exist. And in fact, on a global scale, we are betting on a still raw technology that is not able to solve all problems, but which can create new ones.
If the government is particularly strong in supporting one type of technology, this can lead to the closure of opportunities for the emergence of a more efficient alternative.
There are also financial risks. As an example, Ridley cites how Britain said goodbye to incandescent lamps ten years ago. Then the country announced a ban on conventional lamps in favor of energy-saving fluorescent lamps. This will help tackle climate change and reduce electricity bills, it said. But now it is already clear that the LED technology that followed is more efficient, cheaper and safer. Then the government backed the wrong technology. But the losses from this choice were not so great. It will be much worse if we choose the wrong battery technology for electric vehicles, Ridley said.
At the same time, he notes that Tesla's decision to build a Gigafactory could set a new standard for the manufacture of car batteries for a long time, and this could pause the search for other, possibly better technologies. And if they do appear, then Tesla will end up with outdated technology in its hands. But this is the market, and if one company gambles and gets hit, it will only be harmed and everyone will learn from it. By interfering with market mechanisms, urging manufacturers to switch to electric vehicles, the state can put everyone at risk.
Plus electric cars, minus taxes
Ridley isn't alone in questioning the rush to electric vehicles. John Bryson and Thassos Kitsos of the University of Birmingham (UK) believe the shift from petrochemicals to electric vehicles will be devastating and extremely expensive
The problem that arises in the first place is that the national taxation system in the UK will experience a big shock from such a transition. The government raised about £ 28 billion in fuel duties during 2016-2017. This is the largest component of indirect taxation in Britain. More than 4 million British government pensions are paid on fuel tax income. The disappearance of diesel and gasoline vehicles is undermining this tax flow and will need to be replaced. One option to replace a lost fuel tax could be an electric vehicle charging tax.And this, of course, will increase the cost of their operation, but will this increase their popularity?
Will electric cars be so attractive if we shift the budget revenues down onto the shoulders of their owners?
Tax is not the only cause for concern. The massive shift to electric transport requires the construction of charging stations across the country. There are now about 150 thousand of them in Britain, and only 12 thousand of them are in the public domain. If more than 31 million UK diesel and gasoline vehicles are replaced with electric vehicles, many more charging stations will need to be built. Of course, electric cars can also be charged at home. But more than 25 million households in England and Wales are not ready for this. Their internal electrical networks also need to be replaced. Otherwise, they simply will not withstand the load, which can lead to failures and fires.
But the problem is not only in batteries for electric vehicles and stations for charging them with electricity, but also in where to get so much electricity. National Grid, the company that manages the UK's energy supply, said in its report that peak electricity demand could increase by 50 percent if the country switches to electric vehicles. At the same time, the UK has been suffering from underfunding in the field of electricity generation for more than two decades.
To meet the growing demand for electricity, Britain will need to build 10,000 wind turbines, or ten new nuclear power plants. There are no other options, according to the Minister of Energy, and cannot be. The construction of a nuclear power plant could cost the treasury more than £ 200 billion.
The move to electric vehicles will affect transportation, urban infrastructure, power generation and taxation and will be the most significant technological and social revolution since the advent of personal computers and the Internet, experts say. This is also true for other countries. Not to mention Russia.
Of course, the way out of the problem of energy deficit is seen in alternative energy. Electric cars and green energy are part of the vision of the future. But, perhaps, this is not a solution to the problem, but another problem. For example, Per Wimmer, a former Goldman Sachs employee and founder of natural resources consulting firm Wimmer Financial LLP, believes that green energy is a new financial bubble that could have similar consequences to the dot-com bubble of the late 1990s. and bubbles in the US housing market in 2007-2008. Unfortunately, modern alternative energy is ineffective without allocating a larger amount of state support funds. According to Wimmer, we must support and subsidize technologies that have a chance to become commercially subsidized within a reasonable time frame of seven to ten years. This is said in relation to green energy, but it is also true for electric vehicles.
It might seem that all of this criticism comes from people on the sidelines of the auto industry. But here's an insider's opinion. Don Walker heads the Canadian company Magna International. It is one of the world's largest manufacturers of auto parts. Walker recently made a statement that forecasts for the development of electric vehicles, and autopilots, are too optimistic. Car companies want to appear progressive. They need to show that they are in step with the times. Therefore, they constantly present their innovations in the field of electric and self-driving cars. But this is more PR than real progress. Carmakers are very inert, and the announced deadlines for the introduction of electric vehicles are unlikely to be met.
Walker made his own prediction. In his opinion, by 2025 the share of electric vehicles in total sales will amount to a maximum of 3-6%. And reaching the upper limit depends to a large extent on the situation in the Chinese market.This is a very modest prediction against the general background. Even weighted optimistic forecasts suggest that by 2025 a quarter of new cars will be electric. Maybe Walker is not saying something, and automakers understand better than others what the transition to electric cars will actually cost, and therefore, making high-profile presentations, they are not really rushing into a bright electric future.