British politicians advocate electric cars

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Top figures from both side of the political spectrum in Britain have spoken out in favor of electric vehicles this week, saying consumers need to be encouraged to switch to low carbon cars.

The Prime Minister Gordon Brown hinted at a potential 2,000 GBP subsidy for those choosing to exchange their current car for an electric equivalent while London Mayor Boris Johnson said he wants to make the city the European capital for electric vehicles.

Government is currently considering the grants for those purchasing electric cars, as well as a 'scrappage' scheme which would pay out to those scrapping their old cars in favor of more environmentally efficient models.

Mayor Johnson has said he wants to see 100,000 electric vehicles on the streets of London.

Both announcements are slightly vague - details on the government scheme are thin on the ground while Mr Johnson has simply said he wants to see more electric vehicles out there 'as soon as possible' - but both also promise political support for low carbon vehicles.

This is not surprising, the vagueness I mean, for it would appear that the British government, on all levels, just is rather vague when it comes to green issues. Strong on rhetoric but very little specific and definitely even less action. That is something that We The People should be able to address though if we but would dare to do so. Think elections, folks.

Reaction to Mr Brown's announcement has been mixed, with the car manufacturers saying that a similar scrappage system in measures in Germany have simply led to people trading up to bigger cars and claiming that the incentive will not encourage many motorists to go electric due to the current lack of choice in the market.

This claim by the car industry is also not really correct. They apparently think that the general public do not read or listen to news. In Germany the problem is more that the people trading in their cars, primarily, went for foreign made cars rather than German made ones and that has upset the makers there. Mostly for cars that has a better gas mileage and such. So, not as much bigger cars but foreign cars and often more efficient cars is the state of affairs in Germany, it would appear.

Green energy groups have pointed out that electric vehicles are only as environmentally friendly as their power source.

"This move is only as green as the electricity that charges the batteries," said Gaynor Hartnell the Renwable Energy Association's director of policy.

"It is vital that the electric vehicles push ties in directly with an even greater expansion of renewable electricity at all scales, otherwise we will be building yet more dirty power stations.

"The government will need to bring renewables, the network infrastructure and car industries together to ensure that this happens."

This, on the other hand is a load a garbage as well. While it is true the power source must be taken into consideration that is being use to charge the vehicles electric cars and vans at least cause little or no pollution while they are being driven.

Another environmental consideration that seems to be missed, however, is the battery or batteries and their components. How environmentally friendly are they and their manufacturing processes?

The question, therefore, is as to how green electric cars can be in this equation, especially if and when we consider their components. Plastics for the bodywork – to make the cars lighter – the batteries, the motors, etc. Many of those are toxic components too. Here we encounter the great “hmm???”, don't we.

Meanwhile Boris Johnson has said he will work with businesses, boroughs and other public sector organizations to deliver 25,000 charging points in London's workplaces, retail outlets, streets, public car parks and station car parks by 2015 and attempt to alter planning guidance in the capital so that 20% of parking places in new developments should be equipped with charging points.

Mayor Johnson said: "The time for simply talking about electric vehicles is over - we need real action on the ground to make the electric vehicle an easy choice for Londoners.

"I am today committing millions to install the infrastructure needed for when, in just a few years time, these vehicles become much more widely available.

"This is an unprecedented package of measures to make London the electric car capital of Europe.

"By taking these steps, we will not only create green collar jobs, but also smooth the way for less polluting transport choices which will improve our air quality, reduce traffic noise and contribute significantly to my carbon emissions reduction target."

The estimated cost of the 25,000 charging points and conversion of the Greater London Authority fleet is £60million - the Mayor has pledged to fund a third of this and is calling for the Government and the private sector to commit the remainder.

This all sounds very grand indeed but... and here comes the but... the technology has not been given enough boost to be developed to a standard that will make electric cars and vans viable for longer distances and for rural areas and such.

The electric car the size of, say, the Smart Car from Mercedes Benz (I know it presently is still gasoline powered) is fine and good for a runabout and for going into the cities and living and driving in the cities as a single person or a couple. As soon as you add a few kids there is a problem in the offing which has not, as yet, been sufficiently addressed.

On the other hand we should, especially in towns and cities promote the use of bicycles a lot more – the way it is done in Denmark, the Netherlands and Germany – rather than always the car, whether electric, biofuel or still gas and diesel.

However, the great love affair that we all, and especially the governments, and they very much so as the taxes on the gas and diesel give them a nice little earner, have with motorcar and the internal combustion engine that runs gas or diesel that powers it, I think it highly unlikely that alternative means of transport will be pushed, especially that of the human-powered variety. Shame rather.

The only way this will ever change if we, the people, change our approach and tell our elected representatives to do as we ask or else.

© 2009