Electric cars - the ultimate subsidy for the rich

The winning essay in our contest for exposing environmental pseudoscience takes on the expensive and damaging myth of the electric car

28 September 2013

9:00 AM

28 September 2013

9:00 AM

This morning, Nick Clegg promised to take £500 million from taxpayers, and use it to subsidise electric cars. Last year, the Spectator’s annual Matt Ridley Prize was won by an essay exposing the idiocy of the scheme – and the menacing social implications of subsidingof the rich. 

My wife’s friend Charlotte earns £17,000 a year working as a teaching assistant, lives in a housing association flat and is having sleepless nights about paying her recent £124.78 electricity bill. My friend Toby earns £425,000 a year as a media lawyer, lives in a big house in Putney and every day the no doubt well-meaning but somewhat misguided people of Westminster City Council give him hours and hours of free electricity. This is paid for in part by Charlotte’s council tax.

This absurd situation exists because Toby commutes in to Westminster every day in his government-subsidised electric car, which he parks in his free council-provided parking space and plugs it into his free council-provided charging point.

There are now 83 free charging points in Westminster and the government is planning to spend £400 million building thousands more everywhere else. There is also a handy £5,000 government grant to put towards buying your first electric vehicle irrespective of how much you earn. Again paid for from taxation.

None of this is means-tested because Westminster City Council and the Department of Energy and Climate Change think electric vehicles are such a good thing that the normal principles of progressive state spending, austerity and all of that dreary stuff don’t need to apply. Toby drives an electric car so must be a good chap and his electricity should be paid for by the state. Charlotte travels by bus, so she isn’t and it won’t be.

As well as the economic illiteracy of subsidising rich people’s cars while trying to cut government spending, there are so many environmental objections to electric vehicles that it’s hard to know where to start. Let’s kick off from the unlikely place of Newton’s second law of motion. As you will vaguely recall from your O-level physics, ‘the acceleration of a body is directly proportional to the net force acting on the body, and inversely proportional to its mass’. Or to put it simply, to move something you need to apply energy and the amount of energy you need to apply is proportional to the mass of the something.

Mr Newton’s inexorable law doesn’t stay the same when you shift from fossil fuel cars to electric ones; it actually gets worse. The total amount of energy required to transport people like you or Toby to work doesn’t go down just because you are smugly sitting in an electric car. In fact it actually goes up because you are now lugging along a big 1,000lb lithium battery as well. Everywhere you go. Because of this, the average electric vehicle weighs about 30 per cent more than the petrol equivalent, so every time you turn the key you will use a lot more energy to get to the same place than you would have done had you carried on driving a nasty fossil-fuel-burning Mini. To state the blindingly obvious, just because you cannot see or hear the energy being created any more doesn’t means it is not being used.

What’s more, the lithium that powers the battery is unlikely to have been mined by a fair-trade, minimum-waged, fully unionised worker sitting in an air-conditioned office and working a 35-hour week. It’s possible, of course, but let’s be grown-up about this — it’s pretty unlikely. Most of the world’s limited supply of lithium is in Bolivia and China, where they are perhaps a tad more relaxed than they should be about workers’ rights and the impact on the environment of the huge open-cast lithium mines.

And the energy that you put into your big heavy battery has of course come from a mainly fossil-fuelled grid. This is the absolute showstopper, bring-the-house-down, all-go-home-now point about electric vehicles. Unless pretty much all of the energy they use comes from renewable sources, they make next to no difference to anything at all. As we sit here today, the US grid is 88 per cent powered by fossil or nuclear fuels. The UK is even worse at 91 per cent, and even the super-green Germans only achieve 20 per cent from renewables. A 2009 study by the World Wide Fund for Nature estimated that if the Germans had a million electric vehicles, they would reduce their emissions by 0.1 per cent. Yes, you have read that right. One million hale and hearty Germans could all be tootling around Bavaria in electric cars and Germany’s CO2 emissions would be 99.9 per cent of what they are.

Finally, there is the rarely asked but fundamental question about whether our creaking electricity grid can handle any extra demand placed upon it by substituting fossil-fuelled cars for electric ones. The UK grid is pretty much maxed out at the moment and, thanks to persistent but perhaps not fully thought-through lobbying by the greens, 2 gigawatts of installed nuclear and coal capacity will come off line in the next three years. Demand, meanwhile, will continue to rise inexorably, so the grid is likely to run out of spare capacity in 2015 and we will start to have blackouts.

Unsurprisingly, the energy regulator Ofgem chooses somewhat less direct language and speaks opaquely of situations where ‘margins of spare capacity will not be positive’ and ‘total amount of expected energy unserved’. To you and me, this means getting out the candles, no telly and an unexpected baby boom some time in 2016.

Add in hundreds of thousands of electric vehicles all cheerfully charging up on free council electricity and the situation will get far, far worse. Research undertaken by Arizona State University suggests that if all US passenger cars were replaced by dreary grey electric ones, US generation capacity would need to double just to keep up with demand. It’s a fair assumption that the same dynamics exist in the UK, so that’s an awful lot of new power stations and transmission lines being built in leafy middle England.

Despite all these sensible objections, the middle-class greens remain fixated on electric vehicles and the industry continues to grow. To date about 151,000 have been sold although tellingly, despite the plethora of grants and free electricity, only 1,501 were sold in the UK last year.

What is less understandable is why the hard-nosed investment community remains transfixed by the same headlights. Shares in the electric car-maker Tesla have quadrupled in a year and it now has a market cap of $18 billion. This is about 25 per cent of Ford. To put this into context, Tesla first started making cars about five years ago and sells 25,000  a year. Ford has been going since 1903 and last year sold 5.5 million vehicles.

So why has most of the liberal educated middle class called this one so wrong? I think what lies behind all of the appeal of electric vehicles is that they act as a panacea to the constant white noise of environmental guilt that we feel in the West. We are the first generation in history to be told that we are destroying the planet for our children. To be told that every time we fly on a plane or turn on the aircon, a little bit of the world’s usable energy store has gone for ever. To be told that, because we in the West use at least twice as much energy per head as the rest of the world, pretty soon most of the bees will be dead, half of the developing world flooded and the rainforest gone for ever. We had the keys to the planet for 50 years and we screwed it up. It’s all going to be our fault. All of it. This drip drip of apocalyptic bad news is constant and it makes most of us feel bad and we want it to stop.

Tesla’s marketing says warm fuzzy things like ‘tread more lightly on the planet’ or ‘Roadster owners lead a truly emission-free lifestyle’. Nissan call their car the Nissan Leaf and Citroën call theirs the Citroën Zero. It’s all adspeak nonsense, of course, but it’s a pappy sweet-tasting antidote to the bad stuff we read in the Guardian. If I drive a car called a Leaf, I must be a nicer more caring person than you, and the rest of my energy-consuming materialistic lifestyle is all OK.

So electric vehicles are the opium of the greens. They don’t makes things better, in fact they probably make things much worse but they do give you a nice warm fuzzy view of your personal impact upon the planet. The laws of physics that govern your trip to the shops remain stubbornly immutable, but the nasty process of actually creating the energy that gets you there takes place somewhere else out of sight, out of mind. This is the placebo answer to the reality of climate change. Don’t stop consuming so much, don’t stop flying to your ski chalet or drinking bottled water and wines shipped halfway across the world. Don’t stop doing any of that stuff, just buy a $100,000 Tesla Roadster and you will instantly be treading more lightly on the planet.

This would all be fine if our politicians were brave enough to say that the emperor has got no clothes, but they are not. Toby and the rest of the Nissan Leaf drivers may be burying their head in the sand about the environmental cost of their ludicrously high-consumption western lifestyles — but it is Westminster City Council and the government who buy the sand and build the sandpit.

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  • Daniel Gorringe

    There is a global shift from combustion
    transport to low emission vehicles, which is backed by literally thousands of independent
    academic research studies, and by governments all over the world, using peer
    reviewed scientific research and a number of very rigorous pilot studies and robust real life scenarios now that the networks are being installed
    and the vehicles are becoming mass-market.

    To suggest that it’s a merely an affectation
    for the middle classes or wealthy is about as rational as any other conspiracy theory.
    I would suggest looking at bit deeper at the research.

    Electric drive is inherently
    more efficient than internal combustion – much less energy wasted as heat:
    Combustion engines only use 15% to 20% off the fuel energy to move the vehicle,
    versus electric drive vehicles where it’s nearer 80%, so yes: you have to move
    the extra weight, but the overall NET energy use is lower. And there is less
    local pollution from exhaust gasses, and because more nations have some
    degree of grid energy self-sufficiency than have oil self-sufficiency, grid
    powered transport makes economic sense to a lot of countries, both in terms of
    security of supply and stable prices for consumers.

    There are many issues to
    address, and localised policies are rarely perfect, but this is a necessary,
    beneficial, inevitable and massive shift from internal combustion to electric
    and other energy storage and drive solutions – it’s time to take your head out
    of the sand and to properly research the subject before abusing your position
    as an influencer of public opinion.

    • Bonkim

      Electric vehicles may be more efficient than those powered by internal engines (and many petrol and diesel engines are much more efficient than the 15 to 20% you suggest) but you forget that to produce electricity you have to burn fossil fuels with a thermal efficiency of less than 40%, and then transmit electricity over long distances all of which add to the costs and environmental inefficiencies. Production of the batteries also incur substantial carbon emissions, and you will find the overall life cycle environmental vehicles poor, and costs two three times that of petrol or diesel vehicles. In theory it might break even if electric power is produced using renewables but these sources are at present not competitive and total potential insufficient to meet demand. Nuclear and fossil power appear to be an essential component of our energy equation and electric vehicles not affordable for the average citizen.

      • Daniel Gorringe

        Refining and transporting fuels uses energy, as does the manufacture of combustion engines and cars. The overall life cycle of all cars including electric ones is improving and there are studies which suggest parity in that respect will be achieved, if in fact it hasn’t been achieved already by some manufacturers – this is something that the car industry is investing billions in to addressing, because policy is driving them in that direction, just as policy is forcing them to produce ultra low emission vehicles.

        The partial transition to grid powered transport is inevitable and brings many benefits – the overwhelming evidence from many credible research studies supports this, and the research is focussing on life time impact, not just driving efficiency, which is why it has huge support from governments globally. There are many downsides and debate is healthy. The downsides need to be addressed and are being addressed as a result of this continued debate and ongoing research, pilot studies and full scale roll out.

        We wont solve any of these issues without attempting to translate technology in to the real world – more than 20 major manufacturers are producing electric vehicles, and selling them: we are stumbling from time to time, and we are finding innovative ways to address the problems. Costs will come down – they have come down considerably – life time ownership costs in the UK for a Nissan Leaf for example; they are lower compared to equivalent combustion cars, they are cheaper to own already over a reasonable period of time, which is quite some achievement.

        In the UK we are reaching the limit of our grid capability – we need more power, or to use less of it, most likely both. This is even more of an issue as we start to use grid power for personal transport. It’s an problem that needs to be addressed, but to reject electric vehicles on that basis is short sighted. Electric vehicles are part a much broader transition to a more energy efficient society, with greater energy security, lower pollution and less waste.

        • Bonkim

          yes transport and space heating is the major part of energy use. Electricity is high value energy as it requires use of significant quantity of the primary fuels to convert from.

          Transformation from the dwindling and pollution causing fossil fuels to electricity does not really amount to much and renewable potential is insufficient to meet demand.

          Whilst smart grid, additional capacity and regulating local networks to maximise solar and wind utilisation, you will find the numbers don’t add up to demand – only way is to reduce per capita consumption, and also population.

          Even then mankind’s tenure on earth limited – and in a century or two man will be history.

      • Tom M

        I agree with your points on efficiency and environmental issues. I understand the opposition’s view on exhaust emissions etc but the point they all miss is that as long as you are carting a battery around in the boot the vehicle will have a very limited range. Batteries, or their inverse equivalent fuel cells, are the only practical method of mobile energy storage and in terms or energy requirements they just don’t store sufficient to make a battery powered car practical.

        Electric cars will never replace petrol or diesel engines until some other method of energy storage comes along (and there doesn’t seem to be one on the horizon yet).

        • Bonkim

          This whole discussion is on the wrong track. Science and technology always looks at alternatives to depleting resources or failing processes. Science and technology evolved during a time when the earth was sparsely populated, new continents and mineral and energy resources were being discovered and exploited. That era is coming to a close and we need to have other priorities and develop strategies to do with less, and also to curb populations and consumption.

          Based on history man only changes track when hit by forces outside his control – or perishes in the process. Technology requires material resources – and that is the limitation.

          Regardless of alternative sources, methods of storage or efficiencies in the processes involved – you will hit limits of one or the other factors in the equation – the greatest contributor to this destructive process is man who following natural laws will be eliminated. Nature is a more powerful force than man’s science and technology and it is a no-brainer who will win.

          • Tom M

            “…or perishes in the process…” that sounds like the past tense to me. When did that ever happen?
            As the discussion now seems to be in the realms of the far away future can I suggest we just carry on as we always have done and time our departure from this planet to coincide with the last of the earth’s natural reserves. This is what you do with coal mines why treat planets any differently?
            Stephen Hawking said some time ago that we should be bending our efforts to get off the planet. I suggest to the climate change/Malthusian lobby that they listen to this man, he’s clever and that makes more sense to me.

          • Bonkim

            I suppose one is not too careful regards grammar when posting; human societies had perished in isolation at many locations on earth – that logic extended to the ultimate extinction.

            Well we better build a shuttle service to the nearest habitable planet wherever it is – some sort of a mass transit system.

          • rats

            Bonkim,don`t you mean bonkers,got your free tin foil hat from the guardian, Free when you get the bad thing of the week in the Sunday Guardian

          • Bonkim

            Don’t read newspapers.

      • Richard Ellicott

        you don’t really get out much do you

      • Rockne O’Bannon

        If I may interject:
        A guy who lives down the street has a plug in vehicle that he powers from a solar array or at night with off peak power. That solar is being produced at grid parity from his rooftop.
        So, he is translating technology into practice in the real world, and not stumbling.
        If he wanted to, he could go to a gas station and fill up, but there are costs and taxes associated with petrol that make electricity cheaper for him to use. Whether he “thinks green” or “thinks money”, he simply has more choices than you do. Either way, he is going to get better gas mileage than you do, so I fail to see the problem.

        Part of the world seems to be whining about how the future is impossible. Part of the world is already there.

        • Bonkim

          Not at all Rockne – your neighbour is lucky that he generates enough to power his car. There are locations around the world where solar PV, even solar thermal makes sense. That does not translate into solar’s ability to replace fossil fuels for transport everywhere. Not sure where you live – if California or similar desert regions, and population density low, local needs can be met for part of the year – try to stretch it across the whole of the US or rest of the world and you will be in trouble. Locally generated renewable power also has to be used locally as it cannot be transmitted to the high voltage national grid – hence need for local managed distribution or storage.

          • Rockne O’Bannon

            Somebody says, “But all mains electricity comes from fossil fuels!” I say I know a guy who uses solar. Now you say, “But not everybody uses solar.”

            Well, no duh.
            I don’t know if he produces enough to power his car. It is not really the point. The point is that plug in vehicles give people alternatives, and they give grid managers alternatives, and they can’t be dismissed just because other parts of the puzzle have not caught up yet.
            I happen to live near a place where they will soon start to use huge batteries to store renewables-generated power. It changes the whole ball game all of a sudden. The guy down the street is using his car as a battery, but he might just as soon sell his electricity to the grid and charge the vehicle off peak to make more money from the FIT and save more money on fuel.

            Anyway, that future is NOW for me and my neighborhood. I live in a “future” of much higher energy costs that force people to use new technologies, not just cut up the same old pie. In my future, I am waiting for the FIT to go down, and for solar efficiency to increase, and for solar prices to drop, pretty soon we start talking about electricity with marginal costs close to zero. That’s a little better than coal, I think.

            Everyone else in the world is playing around with cheaper fossil fuels (shale gas) and poo-poohing others who are trying to move civilization ahead one or two steps. Eventually, everyone will catch up. Switching from natural gas to hydrogen will be easier than switching from coal to hydrogen. It sure looks weird now, I admit. And risky. The Germans might have higher electrical prices for a while, and people make fun of them just like they used to make fun of caveman Grog, who used a wheelbarrow instead of carrying everything on his head. Eventually, the Germans will look like geniuses when we are all using “wheelbarrows”. Infrastructural changes are always controversial, but we went from “It’ll never fly!” to “Coffee, tea, or me?” in two generations.

            Anyway, I don’t have to argue. I don’t need to convince you. This renewables/electric car thing is not all hype. Here and there around the world, it is already happening. Electric cars are not a fad, they are helping to move us along.

          • Alexsandr

            what about the carbon footprint of manufacturing, transporting, installing and maintaining the solar. They are full of rare earth metals that are expensive to extract. But like the electric car miles from the coal fire station, the nasty bit is out of mind.

          • Rockne O’Bannon

            Oh, there is a carbon footprint for anything, that is for sure. It is a pretty tired objection. I doubt that the carbon footprint of 10 kg of coal is less than the production of a square meter of PV film. The former will be turned into CO and CO2 in a microsecond, and the latter will last for 50 years. People can take their pick.

            And no, they aren’t “full of” rare earth metals, which aren’t so rare anyway. This is another tired objection. These films are paper thin, new materials are being adopted, there is a market glut of rare earth metals.

            These are non problems. Or, if you want to say that “carbon is necessary to produce them, and they are made of scarce materials” well, you can say that for anything. Toasters, microwave ovens, toothbrushes, spoons, toilet paper, telephones. So pardon me for shrugging.

  • fred quimby

    Arggghhhhh what a horrible horrible blinkered article. This author must surely be a shill for the Govt and the oil industry. Such old and tired arguments with no thought for the future and where we will be in 20 years.

    I live somewhere where ALL of the towns buses are electric. And silent. And not smelly at all. It is really, really, nice. Those alone are reason enough to change to electric vehicles no?!

    I also have a barn roof covered in new thin-film solar-panel shingles. It makes enough energy to power 25 homes. Yes, you read that correctly. 25 homes. Your “we can only make electricity by nukes or fossils” is now amazingly outdated, and patently wrong.

    Micro-power generation on the local level is being pushed strongly forwards and will surely revolutionise the power generation industry in the coming years. You only have to catch a train through Germany or France to see the incredible amount of panels already up and running in Europe.

    Finally, your perception of a “typical” electric vehicle driver is condecending, pathetically blinkered and mostly…. wrong! I drive an electric car because it is practically silent, doesn’t smell of exhaust fumes and best of all, I don’t need to ever pay foreign dictatorships/regimes for the petrol to power it (or the Govt’s tax on that petrol either)! I also really don’t give a whats-it what others think they know about my reasons for driving one (Although mostly I get lots of thumbs ups and “go on mate, floor-it!”).

    Anyway, Mr. Ware, next time you do a hit piece on a subject, you may want to TRY one of the things you are “reporting” on. I would bet you a healthy vegan-lunch (just kidding, not necessarily vegan) that you have never even driven an electric car, let alone an amazing Tesla Roadster or their new Model S?



    • The Laughing Cavalier

      What is the cost per kilowatt of your environmentally friendly solar energy and what is your subsidy? Where does the electricity powering your car come from, what fuel does it use and where does it come from?

      • Jackthesmilingblack


        • The Laughing Cavalier


          • Jackthesmilingblack

            You`re up to speed with technology or you`re a slipshod Liberal Arts Muppet for whom near enough is good enough. No prizes as to which category you fall into.

      • fred quimby

        My fuel is 100% from renewable energy. It is called ökostrom and it comes from local hydro and solar production. Google “okostrom EWL Luzern” and you will find it if this link is killed: http://www.ewl-luzern.ch/upload/docs/pdf/Produktblatt.pdf

        • Tom M

          Unfortunately we don’t all live next door to a hydro-electric power station and indeed there are severe limits upon how many you can fit into the UK. Solar panels produce electricity agreed. But as the man asked you at what price and subsidy? If you read the article you would reach the conclusion that we can’t all run electric vehicles because the network capacity doesn’t exist and neither do “green” sources as always when you want them.
          The article’s points on government subsidies are spot on but not answered by you. The Lithium mines point also remains unanswered. Carting the weight of batteries might be something you would like to comment on as well.
          The only point I would agree with you on is the electric vehicles eliminate no odours in towns.

    • chilly

      I’m with you 100% Fred but, do you know that in Spain you must now
      pay a tax to use solar panels? That’s right ( El Pais ) if you don’t pay
      the subsidy you risk being fined up to 200 000 euros. Even though you’ve
      bought and installed the P.V. kit yourself, you still gotta pay.
      They’ve taxed the Sun. THEY’VE TAXED THE SUN.
      T H E Y H A V E T A X E D T H E S U N.
      In Spain you have to pay to use the Sun.
      Solar power is not free in some parts of Europe.
      You have to pay to use the Sun over here.

      • rtj1211

        That’s crazy, they should realise that the money they take from those folks won’t get spent in the local economy. They’d get more money back by letting those people have money to spend in local restaurants, buying a new car etc etc.

      • cc

        Here in sunny California, the govt describes this as ‘Revenue Equalization’, simply stated, the govt must exact and collect at least as much tax in the future as it does in the present. When conservation and alternate energy deprive the tax receipts of gasoline/petrol consumption, new taxes are enacted on solar generation and electric vehicles. No net benefit to anyone, and we wonder why there is such a blase response to electrics aside from the rich toyboys.

    • rtj1211

      You’re right, for domestic usage, it’s pretty possible to use micro-generation in many parts of the UK.

      I don’t see your solar cells powering every business premises, manufacturing plants and smelting concerns, though.

    • serguei_p

      Fred, you did not try to understand the article, did you?

      It states correctly a very true fact that the electric cars in no way decrease CO2 emissions, they simply move them from one place to another. This might be useful if our purpose is to improve air quality in cities, but it in no way does anything for total CO2 emissions.
      As for been on “a shill for the Govt and the oil industry”, those are the very people belonging to the Green lobby. The companies in energy industry are also major players in renewable energy industry. They are profiting from from government subsidies.

      • Rockne O’Bannon

        Actually, the article states that, but it is not true.
        Even given the extra weight of the battery, more EFFICIENT use of more EFFICIENTLY generated and transmitted energy means that electric vehicles can be operated more efficiently than a vehicle with a combustion engine.
        PLUS, some fraction of the electrical energy produced in most countries is NOT generated by fossil fuels. Therefore, in the aggregate, plug in vehicles will derive less of their energy from fossil fuels than combustion based vehicles will.
        PLUS, electric vehicles can be charged at night, or at other times when demand is not at peak. Therefore, they can actually have no effect on grids whatsoever. And if they use more energy from the grid when the sun is shining, that helps to balance supply and demand on the grid.
        Go ahead and quibble about the fine points, but this “the world is so stupid” way of arguing things is not very convincing. There are good reasons for encouraging the wider use of plug in vehicles. As with anything, your mileage may vary.

        • IanH

          Absolute rubbish. Half of the electric power generated is dissipated as heat in the power lines, unlike a petrol/diesel powered vehicle where 80-90% of the fuel is turned into effective energy.

          • Rockne O’Bannon

            Half? Do you really think that HALF of all the energy generated is dissipated as Joule heating? What a universe that would be! Someone in that universe might agree with you, but I happen to know that the figure for the US overall is about 7%. Anywhere in Europe would be much less, simply because of the distances involved.
            I think the “absolute rubbish” you are referring to is all in your head.
            I don’t know what you mean by “effective” energy, but supposing for a minute that you were right, then how could it be that hybrid and plug in vehicles get such EXCELLENT gas mileage? Internal combustion engines are great space heaters. They have to be geared and controlled if you want to use them for propulsion. They have to be big enough to move themselves. The world is moving away from petrol/diesel for reasons that have nothing to do with politics. Even allowing for the added weight of the battery, rigging an engine to generate power for a battery is easier, cheaper, and more efficient than trying to use the engine to run a drive train.
            I don’t blame you for not understanding it. It was revolutionary about 20 years ago, but for someone who does not understand Joule heating, well, it is a bit of a stretch.

          • RichardBriscoe

            It’s not just the transmission lines that leak energy. First fuel must be consumed in a power station to generate electricity. Then the electricity must be sent over power lines to a charging point. Then the power must be transferred to the car battery. None of these processes is anywhere near 100% efficient. If 50% of the original energy is delivered to the car’s battery, I would be astonished. By contrast, when you fill the fuel tank on a conventional car, 100% ends up in the car.
            Granted, electrical motors are more efficient than internal combustion engines, but the difference would have to be truly immense to overcome the inherent inefficiency of the energy transfer process.
            It should be borne in mind that there is nothing remotely new about electric cars. People were building them in the 19th century, along with the very first petrol-driven ones. Electric motors are preferable in every way to internal combustion engines. The stumbling block was energy storage, and this problem has still not been solved.
            By the way, did you know that if you ever allow a Tesla to fully discharge, it becomes immovable ? It has to be towed away and fitted with a new battery at a cost of around $40,000. Oh, and it loses around 1% of its charge per day, even when parked and not in use.

          • Rockne O’Bannon

            OK. Let’s play the efficiency game with your false dichotomy.

            I guess you need to be astonished.

            You want to tell me that generating electricity from coal or solar or shale gas and transmitting that to your vehicle is going to lose more power than transporting all that oil from the mid East to be refined in the US, then transported as gasoline to a terminal in Blighty, then sent by tanker lorry to a petrol station, and then dispensed a few liters at a time into your tank? And let’s not even count all the labor and wear on highways and spilled diesel into the ocean and your time sitting there waiting for your petrol pump to go DING!!! And let’s ignore all the processing necessary to take that icky sticky crude and turn it into high-octane elixir for your smoking clunker.

            I mean, really?

            I already told you that you can send current halfway across the US and lose only about 7%, and you think you lose half going from your mains pole to your TV? You need to get that checked.

            Electricity generation and transmission are, by definition, the most efficient means society has of transmitting power. If you can improve efficiency 1%, go claim your billion pounds from the utilities, because you will have earned it. So much energy is generated and transmitted that, quite seriously, if half were lost as you say it is, it would be a national crisis. It might surprise you to know that Joule heating on power lines IS enough of a problem that generation facilities are planned close to where the electricity is demanded, but not enough of a problem that we are putting nuclear plants in central London. So don’t hope for any improvement there. I think 1% improvement would be a challenge for you, but good luck anyway.

            Think of it another way. If car engines WERE more efficient at generating power than a gas turbine engine at a power plant, then wouldn’t we be better off just hooking up our cars to generators and lowering our electricity costs that way? And we’d fly to work in jets. See how backwards that is? And car engines can’t burn COAL, or refuse, or biomass, for heaven’s sake or natural gas. No they are optimized for this highly refined fuel that takes a lot of energy to crack from crude.

            You include a lot of extra fluff, but your statements about Tesla are just false. In fact, Tesla will haul your car for free, and will replace your battery for free if there is any defect. No need to slander a fit company. Losing 1% of the charge per day? That does not surprise me. Heck, I lose 20% of my charge if I am parked and not used. Who doesn’t? The answer is to keep driving, obviously.

          • HJ777

            Nowhere near half is dissipated in power lines. The correct figure (which includes transformer losses) is around 7%.

            However, much less than half of the calorific value of the original fuel reaches the electricity consumer because the electricity generation process is typically less than 30% efficient.

    • rats


    • SandyS

      What do those 25 houses do at night?

      • Alexsandr

        yes. we had a very cold and windless february in the UK this year. So where does the electric come from for the electric trains and trams taking people home, the street lights (except in northamptonshire where they have turned them off), the ovens and microwaves making peoples evening meals, to light peoples homes, to run their tellys and computers?
        Yes, good old coal fired power from Drax and Eggborough et al, and from the nuclear power stations. Not a whiff of renewables then..

        • Rockne O’Bannon

          I don’t know if you actually HAVE a solar array, but I would guess not.
          Even on cloudy days, panels will generate 16–25% of their capacity.
          That might not seem like a big deal, but if panel prices continue to fall, and as systems become bigger, it will make a big difference. There are various implications, but it will probably lead to VERY high peak output if a sunny day comes along. Meanwhile, they can meet their demands during the day.

          • Alexsandr

            but in feb it goes dark here at 1530…
            even earlier in Scotland.

          • Rockne O’Bannon

            Grim fate. But that just means that you have extra long days in summer, dunnit?
            Seems to me like you either need to move or start burning peat to stay warm. Haha.
            Scotland at least has wind, right?

            Hmm. What can be done in such areas in a renewable world? Fuel cells. Burning hydrogen created with wind power. Wave power for the base load. Methane from sheep dung. Wood pellet stoves. Efficient wood stoves.

            I don’t know. Maybe for three months out of the year, one has to bite the bullet and use natural gas, or nuclear, or bring electricity up the grid from Spain if you can’t.

            I don’t think I personally would use solar at such high latitudes. It would be a challenge at current costs.

      • fred quimby

        Mostly sleep I would guess.

    • manonthebus

      I’m guessing that you may remember the shout that used to go up at the start of the show at ‘The Astra’ (“Good Old Fred”).

      Indeed, many London buses are hybrid, meaning that they too run on ‘free’ electricity (for part of the time). Thus Charlotte is getting a subsidy although it may not feel like it. Anyway, your point is well made, IMHO. We all know that electricity doesn’t come out of thin air and we all know that at the moment it probably takes more energy to build the cars, build the batteries, run the cars (don’t forget the wear on the roads) etc. etc. But one day we will run out of oil and sooner or later we must have a new form of motive power or simply stop moving from A to B. Eventually, battery power will become efficient and we might have some of those nuclear power stations we’ve been promised. We have to start somewhere and the fact of life is that you have to subsidise people (to some extent) if you want them to do something overly expensive to get it started. After all, everybody loves wind farms!

  • Eyesee

    Yep, the anti-capitalists are winning hands down, are they not? It is impossible to over state their achievement; what the Greens claim is simply fantastical and wholly unbelievable and yet look where we are. What is true about the electric car is true about the wind turbine, but still they come. The First World War was the war to end wars and yet we then had another biggie. So, we have had apocalyptic times before, it’s just then they were real and now they are dreamed up by anti-capitalists and sucked up by people who think they are in ‘1984’. Really, guys despite what Miliband is spouting, state control is never the answer. The anti-capitalist Green movement are terrorists by another name, treat them as such.

    • southseabeach

      and the mess we are in now after 40 years of unregulated capitalism?…as are the US, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Spain etc.
      Maybe we should give socialism(or rather ‘regulated’ and fairer capitalism focussed on small businesses rather than the all-powerful multi nationals) a chance for once. The last time we tried it was just after WW2….and look at the success of that era

      • Eyesee

        Yes, let me remember the post WW2 situation. Oh that’s it, Marshall Aid from nasty non socialist America, rebuilding Europe. Why don’t we try remembering an actual British socialist experiment, the 1970’s. I agree that too many big companies are allowed to get away with murder and capitalism can never be a blank cheque, survival of the fittest regime. But socialism is a dream world, it would never, can never work. And it is always easily hijacked by nutters. Modern state control loves big business, look at how the EU works, or why Gordon Brown sucked up to the banks. Finally, socialism has become the default in politics, which is why none of the current lot look any different and why nothing works properly today and corruption is so rife.

        • rtj1211

          Actually, the Americans really didn’t like the UK having a socialist government in 1945. They really didn’t. It wasn’t really their business unless Britain reneged on the repayment of Lend Lease, was it??

    • rtj1211

      They are not terrorists, they just won’t bow down before you playing by your rules.

      It may not have entered your skull but they hate your system as much as you hate theirs.

      So they have as much right to call you a terrorist as you have to say likewise about them.

  • Jon Dunn

    New technology is always ‘pointless’ and expensive at first. We couldn’t have the iPhone now without the room-sized million-dollar IBM mainframes of the 1960s that could nothing other than crunch numbers. The £200k test-tube-grown beefburger created last month will probably one day be in everyone’s freezer. Electric cars are at the same stage, but someone has to get us through to the next level.

  • alleagra

    Lot of discussion points here but worth noting that electricity is indeed a highly refined form of energy and that’s why it’s so useful. The Tesla electric car for instance, does 300 miles for about 12 dollars’ worth of juice (no energy wasted in creating heat) depending on which state you’re in – 30 in Hawaii. Not sure what the driving cost would be while that car is not polluting and generating useless heat via a combustion engine – over here in the UK.

    • Alexsandr

      what about the transmission losses from power station to the car. and the losses in the battery?

  • perdix

    We are in this state because few politicians understand science and those who do want to pretend to the masses that utopia is achievable. The politicians, including the greens, will always be able to afford expensive power. The masses won’t.

    • Alexsandr

      blame Newton!

  • yanquetino

    Oh… my, Michael Ware! You are dredging up nearly every old, worn out, naysayer cliché that was already thoroughly debunked years ago. You’ll forgive me if this question is too pointed, but… what ties do you have to the oil industry? You really do come across as a dyed-in-the-wool petrolpuppet.

    Perhaps a less barbed question is: what EVs have you actually taken for a nice, long, thorough test drive? What features DID you like about them?

    I suggest that you look at the actual data for comparable EVs and ICEs:

    Long Tailpipe Petrolganda

    As for costs, here is a comparison between my EV and backup ICE, with and without solar panels:

    18 Months Driving on Sunshine

    After you examine these data, please publish a correction to the assertions you make in this article.

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    Electric motor passenger cars will surely compel motoring journalists (and other Liberal Arts Muppets) to get up to speed with the metric system. Brake horse power (bhp) does seem a tad illogical for an electric motor while kilowatt (kW) would seem the way to go even with the Luddites running interference in mishmash UK. Just about all passenger car brochures here give power output in kilowatts. Time to raise your game, Britisher pals.
    Jack, Japan Alps

  • tjshire

    England’s grid sounds very dirty, which undercuts the inherent efficiencies of electric cars. And it’s true that all cars, be they gas, diesel, or electric, are energy intensive by nature. But studies have shown that electric vehicles are anywhere from slightly to
    significantly cleaner than gas or diesel, depending on the local grid’s fuel source. Here is one such study..


    • Alexsandr

      The UK’s grid is national, so the electric you get is a mix of everything. you cant pick and choose what power you get.

      We have a mix of coal fired, neuclear, gas, wood pellet hydro and renewables The mox depends on the load. There are base load stations that just sit there day after day chucking out full power, and are very cheap to run. mostly coal and neuclear.
      then there are other stations, less efficient that can be turned on and off to cope with demand over the base load.
      lastly there is pump storage, for very short term hgh peak demand.

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    Plenty of hybrid cars in this neck of the woods. In fact it`s your passport to the green middle class. Most will sell on before battery replacement time, when reality imposes itself in the rudest possible way. The cost to change the batteries is more than the car`s worth; now that`s a knee-buckler.
    Jack, Japan Alps

    • Toby Esterházy

      If you were such a successful member of the Japanese “green middle class”, then why are we still hearing from you?

      Sorry to poke a hole into your bubble of inflated ego, but there is no true “middle class” in Japan to speak of as what we in the West would recognise, only first-tier “salarymen” (i.e., first-tier wage slaves), unless you or your family were somehow connected in some ways to one or more of the seventeen or so clans or extended families of the Japanese Zaibatsu.

    • Rockne O’Bannon

      Well, as you must know, living in Japan as you do, gasoline is about 160 yen per liter, so a hybrid is not a “passport” to anything. It is just a rational choice to many car buyers who need to save money on medium to long distance transport. What is the big deal? Get a car loan for 2% or whatever, and pay for your loan payment with the gas savings.

      Also, as you must know, the shakken means that EVERY car in Japan eventually leads every car to a point where it is cheaper to replace than to inspect and repair. Although there must be hybrid owners who have had to change out batteries, I have not met one. I have heard it is about a 100,000 yen to make the swap. Knowing that hybrids hold their value very well, I doubt that “the cost to change a battery is more than the car’s worth” would occur within the first 10 years of a vehicle’s life. Also, as you must know, once you make that battery swap, you would basically be DOUBLING the value of the vehicle, right?

      So the knee-buckler here is this: what’s the problem? People can use their vehicles, sell them, or ride the buses and trains to Nagano. Everybody knows that from the outset. I guess that is why I don’t see Japanese people tearing their clothes and flogging themselves daily. People buy hybrids and love them. It is no big deal.

      • Jackthesmilingblack

        As I said, the hybrid passenger car is the passport to middle-class acceptability. The middle class are accustomed to paying through the nose, so often trade in at the end of three years when the first Shaken runs out. But when using, you have to be conscious of the electrical load, which means running the engine at night.
        But to cases, it’s the Shaken coupled with the expensive 100,000km service that’s the last straw when it often becomes cheaper to scrap and replace, rather than stick to the old clunker. Specifically, it’s the timing belt change that’s the real deal
        breaker, unless of course you can do it yourself. No chance in the case of those white-collar armchair experts. Of course if you do have the practical skills and facilities, you’re well on the way to being a last owner. And with auction prices are so low, and scrapping especially in the countryside essentially FoC,
        … Here in the Japan Alps with heavy snow several months of the year, getting to spring without damage would be a minor miracle. 

        “once you make that battery swap, you would basically be DOUBLING the value of the vehicle, right?” Wrong. You clearly know sod all about the motor trade here in Japan.
        I appreciate it’s difficulty to get your head around a new situation, but assuming you reside in the US, scrapping at 100,000 km (62,000 miles) must be an unusual concept. But bottom line America pals, when it comes to passenger cars, you’re paying too
        much and expecting too much. And that goes double for those losers washed up on Treasure Island. As we say in sunny Japan, if it ain`t broke don’t fix it. If it is broke, replace it.
        Any second now, Mad Jock McNutter (cyber stalker and xenophobic racist bigot) will be telling you that only pucker Brits are eligible to post comments on a British publication. You
        will tell him to shove his ultra-nationalist kant up his donkey won’t you?
        Jack, Japan Alps

        • Rockne O’Bannon

          Nice try Jack.
          Hybrids aren’t that expensive, even in Japan. They are good reliable vehicles in a country where gas prices are very high. I have not met a person yet with any complaint about them. Any complaint.

          If anyone is interested, one wrinkle to this whole affair is that electricity is SO EXPENSIVE in Japan that plug in vehicles do not give great fuel savings. The fuel economy is great. The range is great, but beating the system by trying to use cheap electricity does not work. People buy them anyway for all kinds of reasons.

          You don’t know what the shakken is, do you? You live in Japan and own a car and you don’t know what a shakken is? You made the comment that I don’t know the Japanese auto market. I assure you that if you don’t know what a shakken is and how it affects auto prices in Japan, you are outside looking in.

          And no, hybrids don’t have timing belts. So you don’t have to change them. The gasoline engines are so simple that they just don’t break down. Maintenance is about nil. And all the rest is batteries and electrical motors, so…. there ain’t a lot of friction and grime there.

          And no, it is not necessary to run the engine at night to charge an electric vehicle.

          Heavy snow several months in the Japan Alps? Sounds like a big deal to someone from old Blighty, unless you consider that hybrids have been running for a decade in the Rockies and Sierra Nevadas with no problem. I don’t think Nagano is any more of a challenge than Sapporo or Akita might be. If you want to buy a cheaper vehicle to play bumper cars, go ahead, but most Japanese people drive slowly and safely. I don’t see a lot of junkers of any kind on Japan’s highways. It gets back to my point above. Japanese people have all the choice in the world, what’s the problem?

          I know plenty about the auto trade in Japan, thank you, and YOU SAID that the battery change would be higher than the cost of the vehicle. THEREFORE, YOU MUST ADMIT that with a new battery, the value of the vehicle would double. It is simple maths, my friend. I am just using your own words.

          Nobody in Japan says, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Can you tell me what they say in Japanese? I doubt it. Enjoy Japan, but don’t paint yourself as an authority … well… on anything you have discussed so far.

          • Alexsandr

            what happens on a cold day when you need to defrost the windows, run the wipers, and have the lights on, and also need the heater. whats the range then? 100 yards?

          • Rockne O’Bannon

            I know you are trying to be funny, but I will tell you what I know for two vehicles, one is a hybrid, and another is a plug in hybrid. The latter has a bigger battery. Both of the vehicles I know of are in cold environments. One has winter lows of -40C and the other gets down to -5C.

            defrost, 5 min. heater about 10 min with a little bit thereafter, wipers, lights will be constant. That is a big load on a battery, but the range and gas mileage are not going to be affected to any great degree because they are hybrids. Battery alone, the hybrid might be reduced to a range of 10 km. The plug in hybrid, battery alone, will be good for 40-50 km. Of course, that is immaterial because each has a gas engine to recharge the battery. So the range would be 400-600 km. That is 4000 to 6000 times your estimate. A GM Volt has an engine too. I think a LEAF and a Tesla don’t.

            A vehicle I don’t personally know about is the Tesla, which is electric only. If you believe Elon Musk and 99% of Tesla owners, then cold weather is only a small problem. If you believe the New York Times, then it is a big problem. Still, I think that neither would disagree that 150 km is certain under those conditions, which is about 1500 times more than your estimate. So, as I said, you must be trying to be funny.

          • Jackthesmilingblack

            Taking a Toyota Prius as an example, the best battery replacement quote I got was 600,000 yen. So if you know where you can get the batteries for 100,000 yen, would you kindly so advise? And sadly in Japan, nothing ever seems to fall of the back of the lorry. Any chance of running into you at the USS Noda auctions tomorrow?
            Only been resident in Japan for 30 years. Bought cars at auction and shipped to UK for selling on when the exchange rate was over 200 yen to the pound. Won’t work now however. Talk about baby, bathwater. Oh and it’s “Shaken”, which means I seriously doubt that you’ve put a car through the Shaken yourself.
            “once you make that battery swap, you would basically be DOUBLING the value of the vehicle, right?” I didn’t say that; I was quoting you as an example of a wrong-headed assumption. That sounds like the Lada old joke:
            How do you double the value of a Lada?”
            “Fill it up with petrol.”
            However, I did say that a replacement battery could easily be more than the vehicle is worth. Which would make it a scrapping candidate destined for that great carpark in the sky.
            “I know plenty about the auto trade in Japan…”
            Then act like it.
            Jack, Japan Alps
            If I wanted to argue with a know-it-all ignoramus, I don’t have to look further than Jock McNutter (Toby the poison dwarf). In fact I’m starting to wonder if you’re not his evil twin brother. Not from Rochdale are you?

          • Rockne O’Bannon

            Ugh. I already told you I don’t know of anyone who has needed to change out a battery. The person with the non-Prius plug in I have written about was quoted much less than 600,000 when he bought his vehicle.

            OK. The rest of your post is jargon and patois. I sincerely doubt a lot of it, but to be polite, and just to show you how LITTLE I know about Japan, let me just advise you that having a relationship with a reputable dealer in Japan will get you a lot further than looking for deals from fly by nighters, sketchy foreigners, and import export experts. It is Japan, not Uruguay. Do it right and by the book and you will find that people will give you good dependable service at a fair price. Now I don’t know what you have been doing in Japan for 30 years, but if you have not figured that out yet, then I really feel sorry for you because life must be hard. Especially in Nagano. I have many good stories to illustrate what I know about the Japanese auto market, but they are boring stories. No drama. Good clean business, that’s all.

            Living life by cutting corners in Japan might be entertaining, but it is hard to get anywhere doing that. Doing it when you are 50? Yikes.

            Kind of in that vein, we could sit here and speculate about all of the terrible problems that will arise when the batteries go bad, but they don’t seem to be going bad, and amortizing the cost over 10 years or so, it does not appear to be a huge expense anyway, and there might be refurbishing, trades, etc. that people can do. Heck, you could even think of it as an upgrade because the new batteries are better than the old ones. I am just not concerned. The risk of colon cancer bothers me a lot more.

            OK. The Lada joke is funny, and that is kind of what I am talking about. If replacing the battery is worth more than the car, then replacing the battery at least doubles the value of the car. Stands to reason, right? Or of course you could scrap it, as you say, but Toyota makes good cars and Japanese people drive them like grandmothers. I would probably keep it, not junk it. But that is just me.

          • Toby Esterházy

            He is a 30-something Japanese who had been to some kind of a boarding school in Oxfordshire, but claims instead to be a 60/70-something British “freelancer” and “rally driver” in Japan for the last 40 years barring a 10-year absence “back in England”, who somehow managed to get on the Transsiberian all the way from London directly (via unspecified ports and stations) to Vladivostok, in 1970/1971, when most of the USSR was in lockdown. (He never seems to be able to decide on the actual, precise year.) He lives in Chiba, but claims to be either living in Zushi, Yokohama, Karuizawa or simply “Japan Alps”. He used to call himself “Andrew Milner” from 2004 to 2009. Also calls himself Jason and a whole host of other names. Definitely certifiable and notifiable.

          • Rockne O’Bannon

            Yikes. You have a whole dossier on the poor guy. The NSA thanks you for your thoroughness. Personally, I don’t really care. I suppose Japan is full of characters. No. I KNOW Japan is full of characters.

            But if anything, it all comes back to this, Japan is also full of good decent people, and if you take the time and don’t cut corners, they won’t cut corners with you. A few yen here and there, overpaid in good faith, buy a lot of good will that comes back eventually.

            It sounds crazy, but I just don’t think Toyota would willingly push a crummy product at people to make a buck. In the news today, they say that they just don’t think the world is ready for electric cars, and I think they are right. Who knows better than they do? And why would they lie? If they cared about the money, they would work someplace else (Did you know that Toyota’s top 20 executives combined make less than GM’s CEO?). But hybrids and plug ins? Sure. And people who want to punt on electric cars? Well they have their vendors. They are ok for some people. Rich people and municipal governments can afford the risk and they can reap the rewards. Suits me fine. Eventually electric cars might be ok for all people. I can wait and see.

          • Jackthesmilingblack

            You know less than half of FA. If they gave you an enema you could be buried in a matchbox. Only the mug punter pays retail.

          • Toby Esterházy

            You haven’t even got a car! You live with your stupid Japanese peasant parents in Chiba!

          • Jackthesmilingblack

            Eat shit and die, looney.

    • Bonkim

      But good for business.

  • lighthouse10

    RE “exposing environmental pseudoscience”
    – also in relation to electricity usage
    Don’t forget the light bulb ban!

    Simple bright light bulbs,
    but also popular, cheap, patent expired, and unprofitable,
    substituted for complex alternatives using more energy in mining for mercury and other minerals, in component manufacture, assembly, recycling, and in transport of all stages, including dirty bunker oil powered ship deliveries from China.
    Compare with easier local manufacture of generic simple bulbs by start-ups and small firms with local transport to users (EU Commission admitted thousands of EU job losses in a circulated memorandum).
    “Sustainability” has another meaning….

    …..also given the minimal overall energy saving,
    interestingly on advice by the Cambridge Scientific Alliance under Sir Alec Broers, Chairman of the UK House of Lords Science and Technology Committee, UK government science advisors normally government supporting of “climate change”, in analysis of the EU data underlying the ban decision:

    “The total reduction in EU energy use would be 0.54 x 0.8 x 0.76% = 0.33%,
    This figure is almost certainly an overestimate,
    particularly as the inefficiency of conventional bulbs generates heat which supplements other forms of heating in winter.
    Which begs the question: is it really worth it?

    Politicians are forcing a change to a particular technology which is fine for some applications but not universally liked, and which has disadvantages.
    The problem is that legislators are unable to tackle the big issues of energy use effectively, so go for the soft target of a high profile domestic use of energy…
    …This is gesture politics.”

    That is even ignoring the UK data (DEFRA) showing main incandescent use to be
    off-peak after 7pm when surplus electricity available anyway and the main “culprit” coal likely to be burning regardless of use, given the operative greater cost of shut downs and reloading to heat up and burn more coal in the morning (APTECH) etc refs), via freedomlightbulb org

  • Gavin Griffiths

    Good article, enjoyed reading it. the only point i would make is that investing in electric cars (by tax breaks) shows the electric car industry that the UK govt are serious about it. It’s more than getting well off people driving electric cars. The market simply won’t take off if there isn’t a widespread demand, yet creating that demand in the shadow of the internal combustion engine is almost impossible. Petrol infrastructure and range anxiety will trump electric every time. The vast sums of cash and commitment needed to see electric cars develop needs a substantial nudge to get kick started. So i think rather than making it a rich versus poor, middle classes, greens, etc the topic needs to be seen as part of a 50 year plan to pioneer electric cars. And like all these things once the innovators get on board the cash follows and then then it all starts to move very quickly, gathering momentum as the industry matures. In a few decades time the technology will have surged forward, issues of range and efficiency will have been addressed and hopefully Britain will be at the forefront of it.

    • Rockne O’Bannon

      Good points Gavin. I want to jump in and say three cheers for Toyota because they set out to make cars for people to use, not “electric cars.” Hybrids were created to use existing fuel infrastructure, and plug in hybrids are made to use one of two infrastructures, giving people a choice. Now that the electrical infrastructure is being developed, fully convenient electric vehicles are coming to be developed.

      Where do we go from here? Well, we can change the infrastructure more easily and we can change the vehicles more easily. Natural gas hybrid? Diesel hybrid? Hydrogen hybrid? Alcohol hybrid? No problem. They all use the same battery and drive train and chassis. We can use wind power to generate electricity or generate hydrogen, either of which can make fuel for transportation.

      And the battery on a plug in vehicle holds enough power for a family for one day, so you can power a household with solar panels and a plug in vehicle. So imagine how that changes the meaning of “infrastructure.”

      Certainly hybrid vehicles are not just a product or an accident or a way to make money. They are a technological revolution that will have enormous worldwide benefits. Eventually, people will not call them hybrids or electric cars… they will just be “cars” again, but the insides will be totally different from “smokers”, as the old combustion vehicles might be called.

  • Alexsandr

    or we could encourage people to use electric trains, which use far far less energy.

    • Bonkim

      Or only travel where essential.

  • Dear Mr. Ware:

    Congratulations! I entered too, and so obviously my hat’s off to you for figuring out what they wanted.

    By the way, are you aware that your essay assumes the most basic of greenie assumptions: viz; that high energy life styles are environmentally negative? Not actually true, you know…

    • Bonkim

      High energy use is environmentally harmful, and unsustainable. Despite de-industrialisation Britain’s electricity consumption has increased – much of it leisure use including the huge increase in digital media and mobile communication – totally unnecessary. Huge demand creation by business that is ultimately destructive to mankind.


    Why did you not talk about the efficiency of delivery the electricity to the charge points. At around 19% it makes the use of electric cars look even more ludicrous.

  • Bonkim

    Regardless of green cars, at the rate populations are exploding across the globe and consumption – water, land, energy and minerals – increasing, there won’t be many tomorrows. Give mankind a century or two if not decades for the gravy to run out.

    I wonder why government just does not cut out the production, and consumption cycle, bring in moves to cut down world population and teach people to subsist on basics until such time as population dwindles to sustainable levels – assuming there is a sustainable level..

  • Dan Grover

    I think this article does a disservice re: the energy issue. Yes, a lot of our energy comes from fossil fuels, but that’s not the car’s fault. There are countries with significantly more of their national grid energy coming from renewables. Now I know there’s not always anything we can do about that – some countries are naturally a better fit for wind and hydro and solar energy than others, of course. But there’s also nuclear to think about – in France, the majority of their energy comes from nuclear power which is significantly cleaner than fossil fuels in terms of the air.

    At any rate, ultimately the point is that with normal petrol cars, you *know* that you’re throwing out a load of dirt and carbon and the like. With electric cars, you’re at least making allowances for the fact that our national grid is greener and is likely going to get greener still. Even if this wasn’t the case, there’s certainly an argument to be made for doing all the burning and pollution-releasing away from major population centres, as opposed to out the back of an exhaust pipe.

    This is all a totally separate issue to the subsidising of the cars and the energy, of course. I appreciate that they’ve been neatly wrapped into a bow for the sake of commentary on the UK market specifically, but I think they’re two separate issues really.

  • Chris Kimberley

    and what are the deaths from pollution (mostly motor vehicle exhuast) in the UK every year, 3000?

  • Warren Russell

    There is a company called ‘Good Energy’ which allows you to purchase all your household electricity from renewable sources. It is easy to switch, and thereby power your electric car in an almost totally green way. This somewhat blows Mr. Ware’s article out of the water.

    • Michael Ware

      I think you have misunderstood how the national grid works. Lots of power sources (both renewable and traditional) feed electricity in at different points and the aggregate comes out of your plug. Unless you have a wire straight from a solar panel to your car’s charging point, there is no way anyone can determine which electron came from where.Contrary to your assertion, I think your post nicely illustrates my main point which is that some consumers are so desperate to appear green they will believe anything that that reassures them.

  • Mike_Comments

    Excellent. If you really want to reduce fossil fuel use, drive less, bunch your errands into less trips, buy a smaller car, or even carpool. If you just want to increase your status among your vacuous neighbors and green friends, have poor folks subsidize your electric car.