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The technology for a green future is there: Let’s go get it

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”

Readers' comments (1)

  • " I think we should all want one."

    Most journeys are short, under five miles. A family car costs (on average) £5,000 per year. A bicycle can do most of what a car can do, effectively for free, and the remainder of the journeys can be picked up using car clubs or transit. And electric cars are still cars, clogging up the roads, causing accidents, emitting CO2 from power stations, and blighting our towns and cities - only doing all this much quieter.

    So the obvious question is - given the disparity in costs between bicycles and cars, why are people still buying and using cars so much? - why don't I, the author of this comment, cycle more? - I think we can all make an informed guess (hills, weather, safety, theft). If a fraction of the research being done on electric cars was put into making bicycles a realistic form of transport, dealing with the problems that have been ignored for over a century, more CO2 emissions would be prevented at a much lower cost. Electric cars are an expensive distraction from what we should be doing now. If the government is putting in charging facilities for electric cars, they aren't spending that money on sorting out bicycle technology.

    As for what people are doing at the moment - this is a very poor guide to what they will be doing in a few years time. Once upon a time, horse-drawn trams ruled the streets of the UK. A massive investment had been made in the trams, in the tramways, in the stabling, and all of the ancillary services. In the space of about 10 years, almost all of the horse-drawn trams were removed from service and were replaced with electric trams - cleaner, faster, and lit up like a Christmas tree. The horse-drawn trams weren't banned - quite simply, something better came along.

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