Thursday, April 16, 2009

The road to decarbonising road transport

As yesterday's post makes clear ethanol is certainly not the answer to weaning the world's transportation systems from their addiction to fossil fuels. So what is our best option?

UK officials are betting on electric vehicles -- and they're doing it with real money. This makes their ambitious goals for expanding their offshore wind resources more important than ever. (GW)

Labour's £5,000 sweetener to launch electric car revolution

By Alok Jha
April 16, 2009

Ultra-green vehicles at heart of £250m plan to slash UK's carbon emissions

The proposals are part of a £250m strategy, seen by the Guardian, spelling out a revolution in Britain's road transport network based on ultra-low carbon vehicles. It will be launched today by Geoff Hoon, the transport secretary, and Lord Mandelson, the business secretary, with the aim of kickstarting the market for cleaner road vehicles and slashing the UK's CO2 emisisons.

Hoon said yesterday that decarbonising road transport had a big role in helping the UK meet its targets of reducing CO2 emissions by 26% by 2020 and 80% by 2050. "Something like 35% of all our carbon emissions are caused by domestic transport," he said. "Of that, 58% of the emissions are caused by motor cars."

The focus of the strategy, in the first instance, would be on urban transport. "Given that 60% of journeys by car are under 25 miles, there's no reason why someone using a car for commuting on a regular basis will not be able to charge up their car at home, take it to work and come home again well within the distance an electric vehicle should be able to travel," Hoon said.

The cash incentive for consumers would be available to offset the higher upfront costs of electric cars, in particular the price of the batteries in modern vehicles. How the money would be distributed is yet to be decided but Hoon said it would be available only to people buying cars that ran entirely, or for the vast majority of their time, on electricity. The scheme, which would be enforced by setting a ceiling for the amount of CO2 a car emits, will become operational in 2011.

"What we've got to get people used to is the idea that electric cars will become quite normal, quite usual," said Hoon. "That it won't be exceptional and, without being unkind to existing electric vehicles, they won't be slightly odd, they will be cars that conform to appropriate safety standards and we can use on an everyday basis."

Part of this attempt to habitualise people to electric cars will be to offer various models to the public to try out. The government's strategy proposes £20m to foster a core of cities and regions interested in developing an infrastructure to charge electric vehicles.

In addition, about 200 electric cars will be available in city centres across the country for the public to try out.

"It may well be that one of the ways forward is for a city to offer itself as a model for demonstration because we're still at that stage where we've got to persuade people that this can be something that is easy, regular, predictable and not something difficult," said Hoon.

Last week Boris Johnson, the London mayor, announced his intention to make the capital a showcase for electric car technology by putting 100,000 electric cars on the roads. Hoon said he was looking at ways of contributing to the mayor's £60m plan. The government aims to begin work on a national infrastructure but expects the private sector to take the lead in building the charging networks needed for mass adoption of electric vehicles.

Car manufacturers are a key part of the strategy: £100m will be available for research to car makers. "What we want to see is the UK firmly in the lead in the manufacturing sense because we want to ensure the incentives ... benefit, broadly, manufacturing in the UK," said Hoon.

The government also wants to find ways to support the ongoing costs of electric cars. "We are looking at ways we can continue to support [electric car owners], perhaps, the cost of the batteries - leasing or renting them - there are various options around," said Hoon. "It's that part that could incentivise consumers to buy an electric vehicle." John Loughhead, executive director of the UK Energy Research Centre, welcomed the government's move. "It has developed for itself some high aspirations in the role the UK is going to play ..." he said. "But the question really is it doesn't tell you exactly how they're going to do it."

Consumers are to be offered incentives of up to £5,000 to purchase an electric car under government plans to be unveiled today that will also see the creation of electric car cities across the UK and the launch of large-scale experiments with ultra-green vehicles.


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