Matt Ridley: I’ll be buying a brand new petrol car just before the 2030 ban
“The rush to electric vehicles risks killing our car industry, shackling us to China and bumping up our taxes to reduce global emissions by just 0.044%. That’s why I’ll be buying a brand new petrol car just before the 2030 ban” Daily Mail, 8 July 2023
by MATT RIDLEY
Britain’s electric vehicle transition and the ban on petrol car sales from 2030 are a slow-motion car crash. The technology is not ready, the cost will be vast, the logistics are forbidding, the reliance on China is worrying and the backlash from the public is likely to be harsh.
Worst of all, the benefits are derisory at best and may not even exist.
Yes, you read that right. It is possible that we could replace all of Britain’s cars and vans with electric vehicles and still find that carbon dioxide emissions are higher, not lower. Cost-benefit, hello?
First, though, consider the politics. Most electric-car batteries are being made in China and its hold on the market is growing thanks to huge investment in lithium and other minerals, low labour costs and a cheap, coal-fired grid. Chinese company BYD overtook Tesla as the biggest manufacturer of electric vehicles last year and, in a truly sinister development, has just agreed with Tesla to jointly promote ‘core socialist values’ while dominating the market and apparently fixing prices.
Switching transport to electric in a short timescale will inevitably mean buying Chinese. Are we really about to force ourselves to become even more reliant on a totalitarian regime that stamps out freedom in Hong Kong, commits genocide against the Uighurs, threatens war on Taiwan and refuses to be transparent about how a pandemic began near its leading virus laboratory?
To wean ourselves off China over the next seven years would require 100 times as much battery capacity as we have now, which is neither affordable nor feasible. To lure battery-makers to the UK, despite our sky-high energy prices (caused by the massive investment in wind power and the refusal to tap shale gas), the Government is having to throw armfuls of taxpayers’ money at battery and car manufacturers.
Britishvolt failed to build its ‘Gigafactory’ in Blyth for lack of taxpayer subsidies.
Lord (Zac) Goldsmith thinks we are falling behind in the race to subsidise ‘green’ energy. Yet handouts rarely make industries competitive. If America and the European Union want to spend a fortune trying — and probably failing — to catch up with the Chinese, why should we join in?
But don’t expect industry bosses to tell you the truth about the impossibility of this transition. Huge taxpayer subsidies to force consumers to switch products are just what they love, whether the plan makes sense or not.
To paraphrase Gulliver’s Travels, if you asked Rolls-Royce or Tata to devise a plan to make sunbeams from cucumbers, they would have a jolly good crack at it — and only tell you it was impossible after spending a couple of billion pounds of your money.
This raises the question: why are we doing this again? We’re deliberately killing a profitable British car industry for minimal benefit to please a few posh activists and crony capitalists.
There is no sign of ordinary people demanding this transition. Electric cars still cost almost double their petrol equivalent.
So, just as producers need taxpayer subsidies to supply electric cars, consumers need subsidies to buy them. An industry dependent on taxpayer support at both ends of the chain is not sustainable.
Nor can Britain’s electricity infrastructure be adapted easily or quickly to cope with the extra demand implied by the transition — without further subsidies.
Just to supply the extra electricity for a fully electric fleet would mean a near-doubling of the number of wind farms (plus necessary gas-fired back-up), or an equivalent new supply from nuclear, a technology that takes decades to build.
Then there’s the practicality of distributing that energy. On our current grid, people are struggling to get fast chargers installed at home because of lack of capacity in the wires and transformers. That will only get worse as that capacity is taken up with demand from heat pumps.
So, unless the Government throws yet more money at upgrading the network, after 2030 we will be faced with five-hour recharge times, compared with five-minute petrol or diesel refuels today.
As Andrew Montford of Net Zero Watch argues, upgrading the distribution grid on these timescales is impossible, so meeting the target will mean many people will be forced to forgo a car entirely.
These are practical reasons why the transition cannot and won’t happen. But would it even help if it did? Let’s do a simple sum. Suppose the UK does manage to shift all cars and vans to electric in the 2030s, banning petrol and diesel cars as it does so. Cars and vans generate about 70 per cent of transport emissions and transport is 25 per cent of all emissions.
Meanwhile, an optimistic estimate of the emissions savings of electric cars over petrol or diesel is 25 per cent per vehicle and the UK generates 1 per cent of worldwide emissions, then that means we will have reduced global emissions of carbon dioxide by — wait for it — [0.7 x 0.25 x 0.25 x 0.01 = 0.0004375 or] 0.044 per cent.
Less than one half of one tenth of one per cent. You would probably have more effect on the climate if you dropped a couple of ice cubes in the Thames once a week.
And that’s the best we can hope for. In reality the effect will be even smaller. The notion that switching from petrol to electric saves 25 per cent of emissions is, as I say, optimistic, perhaps wildly so. In fact, the number may actually be negative.
Here’s why. First, it requires a lot more carbon dioxide emissions in a lot of extractive industries to make an electric car than a petrol car. This is especially true for the battery.
As Mark Mills, an energy expert with the Manhattan Institute, explained in a recent article: ‘To match the energy stored in one pound of crude oil [from which petrol and diesel are produced] requires 15 pounds of lithium battery, which entails digging up about 7,000 pounds of rock and dirt to get the minerals needed — lithium, graphite, copper, nickel, aluminium, zinc, neodymium, manganese and so on.
‘Thus, fabricating a typical single half-ton EV battery requires mining and processing about 250 tons of materials.’
That requires a lot of diesel and electricity.
So there’s a huge up-front emissions disadvantage before an electric car even takes to the road. As Professor of Engineering Science at Oxford University Gautam Kalghatgi calculates, an electric car with a 60 kWh battery will start with a deficit of 7.5 tons of carbon dioxide-equivalent emissions, before it has driven a single mile.
Even when running, an electric vehicle is not ‘zero-emission’ because Britain’s electric grid is powered by gas (which emits some carbon dioxide) and wind turbines (whose manufacture requires a lot of coal and which get replaced every 20 or 30 years). Even nuclear has a carbon footprint (all that concrete and steel), though it’s much the smallest.
Take all that into account and you can calculate how many miles an electric car has to drive before it has ‘broken even’ with a petrol car on emissions.
Many estimates of this number are not worth the paper they are written on, because they make absurdly unrealistic assumptions about the size of battery needed, the scale of the up-front emissions and other factors.
But some are a bit better. Volkswagen compared a diesel Golf with an electric Golf and estimated that the electric car has to be driven 80,000 miles before its emissions are lower than the diesel car in a typical European country.
In Germany, where the grid still depends partly on coal, it’s more like 125,000 miles. In China, you would never reach break even and electric cars might as well be called coal cars. This emperor has no clothes.
The break-even mileage is even higher for larger batteries in bigger cars, but lower for a comparison with petrol. Volvo compared its electric car with a petrol equivalent and concluded that the break-even came at 50,000 miles in a typical European country, though the emissions savings are still just 15 per cent after 120,000 miles.
So the average driver would take 12 years to reach the point where he is saving 15 per cent of his emissions.
But the batteries are designed to last about 100,000 miles. So just when the emissions savings come into sight, you will be scrapping the car or paying an exorbitant sum to replace its battery — long before you get to 25 per cent emissions savings.
Either way, you will reset the clock on emissions and for the next five years your emissions will again be higher than if you had stuck to petrol. If you swap cars every five years, you would never see any savings.
Yet even these numbers are probably too optimistic. The energy cost of refining ores into metals for the manufacture of batteries is going up, not down.
As the ore quality declines over time, especially in the case of copper, so the up-front emissions of battery manufacture are getting worse and the break-even mileage longer.
Nor have we thought this through from the consumer’s point of view. A petrol or diesel car with 60,000 miles on the clock has some second-hand value. An electric car approaching the end of its battery life is going to be worth nothing. So people will probably trade them in a lot earlier. But second-hand buyers of electric cars will not get the up-front subsidy.
Indeed second-hand electric vehicles are already starting to flood on to the market at cheap prices, some of them from disillusioned buyers perhaps contemplating the ruins of their marriages after rows over flat batteries while trying to find a working charge point on the way to a family wedding.
Living 300 miles from London, I am already familiar with southern friends panicking about where to charge their cars en route.
If you think we need to go electric to improve urban air quality, think again.
The latest studies suggest that internal combustion engines are continuing to get cleaner at a rapid rate and that electric cars, with their extra weight, may soon be contributing more particulate pollution from the wear on their tyres than comes out of the engines of petrol cars, according to Professor Kalghatgi.
Last week Toyota claimed that solid-state batteries would start transforming the electric-car market from 2027.
Yet not only is this a delay of two years on previous promises, we have heard that before: the solid-state battery has been five years away for 15 years, with even Sir James Dyson losing patience with it. Even then, making it affordable and reliable will not be easy.
But if Toyota is right, it is all the more reason to delay the UK’s target lest we dash into a premature technology and find it’s obsolete.
Yet governments have form for prematurely championing technologies for ideological reasons. Back in 2007 Tony Blair’s government announced that Britain would choose a unilaterally fast path to banning incandescent light bulbs in favour of compact fluorescent ones, with the aim of helping ‘tackle climate change’.
This gave Philips and other manufacturers a rich reward on their lobbying, but made all our lives worse. The new bulbs were costly, slow to light up, made us look ill, had a much shorter lifetime than expected and were dangerous to dispose of.
Worst of all, the enforced switch to an inferior technology probably delayed the arrival of the LED, which soon proved far cheaper to buy and run as well as working much better and lasting for ages. Consumers needed no subsidy or compulsion to buy LEDs.
Yet the £3 billion switch to fluorescent light bulbs is peanuts compared with the cost of banning the sale of petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2030.
Just as I hoarded incandescent bulbs in 2009, so I will probably choose to buy a new petrol or diesel car just before the ban.
This time, I expect everybody else, especially up here in the North, will be doing the same, so don’t expect it to be cheap.
Matthew White Ridley, 5th Viscount Ridley, DL, FRSL, FMedSci, is a British science writer, journalist and businessman. Wikipedia
Please visit his website for more great articles
The above article came to us from those extremely smart people at Net Zero Watch
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