News this week that the electric car is on the cusp of becoming a serious alternative to petrol or diesel is very exciting. I want one. I think we should all want one.
If we believe the reports – and the enthusiasm of business secretary Peter Mandelson who has been driving one – they are fast, clean, quiet and efficient. And they will soon also look like “normal” cars. And apparently the next generation of batteries will revolutionise power storage to give huge range and fast charge times.
In short, the technologies are all coming together. We can look forward to a massive drop in our fossil fuel consumption, a drop in urban pollution and a huge boost to the economy over the next decade as the nation shifts from petrol power to electric. OK, we will have to ramp up our electricity generation capacity but that is no bad thing.
The move to electric powered personal transport will underpin renewable generation aspirations, and play a crucial role in the development of localised and centralised power generation strategies. It is this link with the UK’s overarching low carbon energy policy that makes the birth of the electric car so exciting.
Tackling the car is a massive social and political milestone. At last we appear to have a genuine way to reduce our transport carbon footprint without having to ban the car. Because despite a report by motoring lobby group the RAC Foundation, pointing out that car use has reached a growth plateau, cars remain a vital part of our lives.
According to the RAC report some 75% of average UK households now have access to a car. Two thirds of the average person’s trips, it adds, are made by car. So while it is vital to continue to encourage the growth in walking, cycling and public transport, the car is very far from dead – it remains the preferred way to get around.
It is a point accepted this week by the Department for Transport as it announced plans for a third Thames river crossing at Dartford. Of course by the time this issue of NCE reaches you chancellor Alistair Darling will have already delivered his 2009 Budget. And no doubt in his speech at least, he will have committed the UK to a period of extreme public spending prudence. But he cannot afford to switch off investment in the so-called “new green deal”.
With or without “the green shoots of recovery”, what is clear is that to succeed as a nation we have to keep pushing forward with this global agenda. Electric car technology will be the vital and exciting catalyst to drive forward the UK’s new generation of clean and renewable energy generation. But only serious and sustained public investment will ensure the UK stays at the forefront of this technology.
Antony Oliver is NCE’s editor “At last we appear to have a genuine way to reduce our transport carbon footprint without having to ban the car”