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New Zealand's longest-running online daily news and commentary publication, now in its 23rd year. The opinion pieces presented here are not purported to be fact but reasonable effort is made to ensure accuracy.

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EVs could make renewable energy practical

27 July 2017

You might think that the benefits of electric vehicles would guarantee the death of the old dino-juice guzzlers at some stage in the near future.

Politicians however, seem to be not so sure and, as a result, the UK has announced its plans to ban the sales of new petrol and diesel vehicles from 2040.

Hmmm... whatever happened to the carbon-neutral biofuel alternative I wonder?

In fact, when you think of it, such a move is pure lunacy, at least from an environmental perspective.

Why is that?

Well let me explain...

According to the Energy UK website, "Most of the UK’s electricity is produced by burning fossil fuels, mainly natural gas (30% in 2015) and coal (22%). A very small amount is produced from oil (under 1%)".

Okay, this somewhat high percentage of electricity produced by fossil fuels (over 50%) may be a bit lower by the time 2040 rolls around but even with the switch to renewables, I can't see the UK's electricity generation infrastructure being carbon-neutral by then.

However, it is possible to get a pretty low carbon footprint from vehicles run on waste vegetable oil, ethanol and other biofuels.

This means that the banning of diesel and petrol-fueled vehicles (which also presumably includes those which will run on any liquid fuel) could produce more CO2 emissions than if such a ban were not implemented.

Okay, even biodiesel vehicles have unacceptable levels of particulates and these have proven to be very bad for people's health -- but CO2 is still the planet-killer that we should all be concerned about (if the AGW community are to be believed).

Twenty three years is a long time in terms of technological advancement but what happens if we simply can't improve much on the storage, efficiency or performance of the batteries we're using now? How will the UK survive if everyone is forced to go EV?

Of course bans can be repealed or deferred if it's looking like they may be impractical but what if the ICE manufacturers have already planned to shut down production and, as a result, not reinvested in maintenance and planned for such continued operation? It's no good repealing a ban if there are no ICE vehicles to buy, is it?

The rationale for this ban is the effect that ICEs are having on health -- but surely, by effectively changing from relatively clean burning liquid fuels to coal and natural gas by, way of EVs, the UK government is swapping one problem for another and the "other" is a global one.

Indeed, while we like to think that EVs are clean, green and sustainable... we have to remember that in most countries, that electricity comes primarily from fossil fuels and although there's a trend towards renewables such as solar and wind, these will never replace thermal power stations until such time as we have cheap, effective, safe and reliable long-term electricity storage on a national scale.

Having said that... of course we'll have this storage... it's in the boot of every EV that is made.

I wonder if governments will be forced to require EV owners to connect them up to the grid whenever they're not actually being driven -- so as to supply that massive amount of battery storage needed to make renewables a practical replacement for thermal and nuclear.

It's not a stupid idea, is it?

Distributed electricity storage! Could EVs be the solution, not only to our pollution problems and reliance on fossil fuels, but also to the energy storage problem that limits the practicality of wind and solar in most areas?

Might this be a far more practical solution to electricity storage for the national grid than farting around with liquid flow batteries or massive banks of traditional lithium cells (as proposed by Tesla in Australia)?

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