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Electric Cars

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16th April 2009

Rt.Hon. Geoffrey Robinson

Dear Sir,

I would be obliged if you would forward this to the Prime Minister and the appropriate ministers for the Environment and/or Transport.

The manufacturers of electric cars are bombarding you with claims that they are about to achieve a revolution in vehicle emissions. These claims should be treated with great caution and scepticism.

Only to the extent that an electric car might be driven more sedately than a petrol driven model can such a car possibly achieve a reduction in emissions. The vehicle technology may well transfer the emissions away from urban areas but it will in no way reduce the amount of energy expended on driving. On the contrary – it is highly likely to increase energy expenditure overall.

There is no battery on earth – and probably never will be – that is more than 90% efficient. This means that at least ten percent of the transmitted power is wasted just in charging and discharging the batteries. This waste costs both money and carbon discharge to the atmosphere.

The capital cost of an electric car verses a petrol car is, in carbon terms, probably neutral but is, in any case, quite small compared to the lifetime cost of fuel for the vehicle. The batteries must be charged with electricity produced using oil, gas or coal or nuclear. The overall efficiency of the process is almost certainly less than with using a petrol or diesel engine. Cost in both fuel and carbon will thereby be increased. Only indirect government subsidies currently make the electric car seem viable.

Some might claim that the electricity required can be made using “green” methods but it is quite clear than there are no methods that are going to be able to provide our future electricity requirements without a massive – and expensive and controversial and unpopular - investment in nuclear power. The present grid and generation capacity cannot handle the massive potential demand for charging even a small percentage of our current car population. It will not happen without massive and urgent investment.

As a Chartered Engineer I have to conclude the makers of electric cars do not know what they are talking about. It is to be hoped that you will seek and get better advice than they are offering. Electric cars are a red herring. The oil and gas will still run out just as fast. Global warming will not be reduced by one iota. Taxpayer’s subsidies will not change this truth. Our electricity supply might well be overwhelmed. The lights will then go out. How long do you think you could remain in office then? How long do you think we can maintain a civilisation then? I neither joke nor exaggerate.

I recently had a chat with a lady driving an electric car. She was a member of a team of supervisors working for the local council that is operating an electric car testing scheme in co-operation with a motor manufacturer. She described her operation of the car and explained that she had ‘14 bars’ of battery life when fully charged. On a winter morning it required 8 bars to heat the car and get her to work. She had to get the car back to a charger before she reached 2 bars. She used over half the battery’s life just to get to work. She was dressed in work clothes and battle dress but still used most of her available energy to heat the car.

I have previously addressed the problem of heating a car in correspondence but have never managed to get any proponent of the electric car to address this serious problem. People will just not use cold (or hot) cars. For much of the northern hemisphere, in winter, the average electric car battery will not even get the car warm enough to use. Those who live in hot climates and insist on using air conditioning will be in a much worse predicament.

It did occur to me that the electric car might have three advantages. Firstly it is very quiet so could provide a useful and welcome reduction in traffic noise. Secondly it could remove a lot of polluting fumes from the inner city and thirdly its poor performance might help reduce the boy racer activities of a frightening proportion of young drivers who might have learned to drive but have never learned responsibility or courtesy. Maybe electric cars should be compulsory for anyone under 30 years of age and those convicted of motoring offenses which involve the abuse of the enormous power available from the carbon fuel engine.

Yours sincerely

Colin Walker.


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