Electric vehicles: Not an immediate solution

Many manufacturers advertise electric vehicles as if they are zero carbon, but there are may problems with this idea, and electric vehicles can play only a limited role in the short term.

Instead, people need to travel much less if they want to stay within 1.5° of global warming.

The problems include
  • the electricity will be generated from fossil fuels in the sort term
  • the changeover cannot be done in the few years that we have left before the UK's carbon budget runs out
  • increased emissions in manufacture
  • limitations in the supply of the minerals needed for batteries
  • electric vehicles still cause particulate pollution from brakes and from road wear
  • electric vehicles still deter walking and cycling and contribute to ill-health related to inactivity

The electricity will be generated from fossil fuels

If a vehicle powered by a petrol or diesel engine is scrapped and replaced by a new electric one powered from the national grid, there will be an additional load on the grid. This additional electricity will be generated from the spare capacity. This spare capacity is not not wind turbines, hydro-electric power stations, or solar panels since these run continuously (except for repairs). Instead, the spare capacity will be a power station using either gas or coal (usually gas). So the electricity used will be generated by burning fossil fuel. The CO2 emissions will be comparable to those from the petrol or diesel vehicle used previously.

In the longer term, building of renewable generating capacity will potentially allow a return to greater vehicle mileages, but the priorities in the short term are food supply, keeping warm and healthcare.

First published: 7 Nov 2021
Last updated: 1 Dec 2022