Politics, Technology, and Electric Cars

I suppose this is what passes for leadership these days:

France is set to ban the sale of any car that uses petrol or diesel fuel by 2040, in what the ecology minister called a “revolution”.

Nicolas Hulot announced the planned ban on fossil fuel vehicles as part of a renewed commitment to the Paris climate deal.

He said France planned to become carbon neutral by 2050.

Hybrid cars make up about 3.5% of the French market, with pure electric vehicles accounting for just 1.2%.

Firstly, a policy that will only come into force years after the government has left office should be ignored as a matter of course: it’s posturing, nothing more. It’s akin to the schoolkid who boasts he can do a double back-flip but not today, and tomorrow is a Saturday.

Secondly, the announcement implies that everything is on course for electric cars to eventually replace petrol or diesel cars, and all that’s needed is a government push to fund the infrastructure and overcome the inertia. Indeed, that’s what most people seem to think, that electric cars are inevitable and the only thing standing in the way of a wholesale switchover is the mindset of the public, hence the government should intervene to forcibly change it.

Nothing could be further from the truth. There are several massive hurdles to be overcome before electric cars will become widespread.

1. Where is the electricity going to come from? Charging a few thousand cars is one thing, millions is something else. Whatever energy is currently being expended by burning petrol will have to be generated as electricity, minus any efficiency gains. The current grid is woefully undersized to meet such a demand, probably by an order of magnitude when you consider peak loadings. We could build lots of nuclear plants, but the people who want electric cars don’t like them. Wind is never, ever going to generate much useful power and dependence on solar power requires a step-change in technology which I think will come, but we’re not there yet. Will we be there in 2040? I don’t know, and nor does anyone. Otherwise, we’ll have to build more gas-driven power stations. Will this be better or worse for the environment than the internal combustion engine? Nobody knows.

2. As I wrote here, the problem with electric cars is not so much their range but the charging times. Nobody is going to want to sit around for more than ten minutes waiting for their car to charge unless it’s overnight or while at work, but that seriously restricts the car’s use to regular, short journeys. To overcome this we need a step-change in battery or energy storage technology which isn’t even on the horizon yet. So that’s two technological step-changes we need by 2040.

3. Nobody has really looked at the environmental and economic costs of tens of millions of electric cars. The batteries are big, heavy, and expensive and contain nasty substances. They don’t last long, so how will they be disposed of? How much will they cost to replace? What effect will this have on the used value of the car? Electric cars require nickel, copper, and cobalt. Where do we get this from? Where are the mines? All these issues can be solved but only once the real costs and externalities are known and compared with the situation today. Right now nobody has a clue, but governments have picked a winner anyway. That rarely works out well. In their efforts to improve the quality of air in western cities, politicians might well be make the environment in the developing world worse, especially around the mines. Also, the upgrade of infrastructure to handle mass car charging is enormous. Thousands of miles of new copper cabling will have to be installed, but at what cost – both in cash and environmental terms? Apparently this is something governments think they can do – the same governments that can’t manage to install proper cladding on apartment blocks.

Some humility wouldn’t go amiss, would it? Slim chance of seeing any, though:

Mr Hulot, a veteran environmental campaigner, was appointed by new French President Emmanuel Macron. Mr Macron has openly criticised US environmental policy, urging Donald Trump to “make our planet great again”.

I don’t know if today’s politicians are so thick they believe the bullshit they come out with, or they’re simply adept at saying whatever their core voters want to hear. What amuses me is so many people think this immature posturing is leadership, and cheer it loudly.

Norway, which is the leader in the use of electric cars in Europe, wants to move to electric-only vehicles by 2025, as does the Netherlands. Both Germany and India have proposed similar measures with a target of 2030.

None of this will happen. The idiots who proposed it will either start lying about what they promised, or they’ll be turfed out of office.

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39 thoughts on “Politics, Technology, and Electric Cars

  1. The EU said by 2060 eight years ago was it? I remember ‘avin’ a laugh at the time that the EU thought it would still be around in 2060. But why not aim for all hybrids instead? Then you can make the lecky bit bigger and the petrol bit smaller as the tech improves. Too sensible?

    PfP, I bet if he had a euro for every time he’d heard that…

  2. ‘…and all that’s needed is a government push to fund the infrastructure and overcome the inertia. ‘

    The three biggest supermarkets near me built charging points about 6-7 years ago. I can count on the fingers of one hand how many times I’ve seen them in use.

  3. I can count on the fingers of one hand how many times I’ve seen them in use.

    And can you imagine what would happen if suddenly 50 cars per hour were showing up? Reckon they’d need a bigger cable?

  4. What is missing from the whole electric vehicle momentum argument is that it aint revolutionary and hasn’t been for the hundred odd years that it has been around. Revolutionary things drive revolutionary demand such as the invention of steam engine or the combustion engine and they also create new fuel demand that never previously existed. Where’s the revolution with electric vehicles?

    There is only one thing that has been revolutionary post WWII and chances are it’s in your pocket or bag, or you are looking at it now, information transformation is revolutionary and its driving huge increases in electrical demand, that’s the revolution man, yes the cloud aint green and they don’t want to talk about that either.

    Smart cars maybe, fuel cells maybe, electric vehicles don’t make me laugh.

    Here is my prediction Macron’s missus wont live long enough to see an electrical car manufacture turn a profit.

  5. What is missing from the whole electric vehicle momentum argument is that it aint revolutionary and hasn’t been for the hundred odd years that it has been around.

    Exactly.

    Here is my prediction Macron’s missus wont live long enough to see an electrical car manufacture turn a profit.

    LOL!

  6. Bring back trolleybuses and milk floats!

    Also, aren’t most petrol cars in parts of many western cities set on fire? Can you do that with electric? Asking for a revolutionary friend

  7. I wonder how many people will die and how many lives and nations will be ruined during the course of the green and red “environmentalism”. The final toll may surpass even pure blood communism.

  8. When I’m Prime Minister I’m going to make a law that bans tobacco in 2057.

    By the way, to Bardon’s point, I’m pretty sure every glass of milk I drank as a kid was delivered by an electric vehicle.

  9. If you want to reduce car based pollution, you can do it with hybrids, electric cars, smaller engines. But there’s probably been more of an impact because of things like smartphones and the internet than any big government ideas.

    I drive far less than I use to. I don’t drive to say, a wine merchant. I get it delivered. It’s easy to do it with the internet. I don’t drive to Blockbusters to rent a movie. I get it streamed. I’ve worked with clients via Teamviewer, Skype, Jira and Git, rather than driving miles to see them. And this has all helped public transport, too. Being able to pay with Android Pay rather than having cash, and being able to use an app to find a bus route and when it’s going means I’m more likely to opt for the bus than I used to.

    All of this works and has gains for everyone. I’d much rather get a box of shirts delivered and try them on at home and send them back than spend time driving, parking and walking around shops. The shop owner would prefer this, too. It means less staffing, less expensive premises. There’s more shirts being delivered and picked up, but that’s by a delivery van doing dozens, hundreds of things. The “per package” delivery distance is small.

  10. If you want to reduce car based pollution, you can do it with hybrids, electric cars, smaller engines.

    Frankly, I’d start by taking a damned good and hard look at what all those people do in modern offices all day and ask:

    1) Is this really necessary? Answer: No, 50% of the time.
    2) Do you really need to be in an office with other people to do it?

    Get rid of the useless, bureaucratic shite that regulations demand people do in offices in cities and you’d solve a chunk of the problem right there. Trouble is, what do people do instead?

  11. @marc, nice article, which prompted me to compare Tesla to other comparable car manufactures from a financial performance angle, I know that sounds cheap but it kind of counts, but wow, I didn’t think it was that striking.

    https://www.businessinsider.com.au/tesla-value-vs-ford-gm-chart-2017-4?r=US&IR=T

    Nice share price, huge cash burn and supports the extinction theory and the fact that Mrs Macrons hearse will have a combustion engine, unless its a state funeral!

    Don’t get me wrong Tesla’s are nice, I got taxied in one from Schipol airport and it was quite spacious, especially for Europe, stylish, high tech and it felt quite punchy on the tarmac performance score as well. But even with all of this functionality the notion of buying one just didn’t cross my mind, and you simply cannot legislate for more demand.

  12. A petrol/diesel pump delivers energy into a car at well over 10MW. I will stick my neck out and say that there is never, ever going to be an electric charging technique which comes close to being equivalent to that. (1kV @ 10kA? 10kV @ 1kA? I don’t think so).

    There is no point hoping for a battery system or (super-mega-ultra-) charger which looks like the current petrol tank + filling station model, unless it involves some kind of battery swap – I suppose you could propose some amazing sci-fi energy density of battery which would make the latter practical.

    I think electric cars will pretty much always need to be charged when and where they’re parked, that’s just inescapable. Once the range is such that you can always do a day’s drive on a single charge, that’s not going to be such a big deal, it’s just different. Hotels can get into selling overpriced electricity in the same way they used to be able to sell overpriced telephone services.

    From a quick look, the current annual electricity production in the UK is about 400TWh, and the annual transport energy consumption is similar, probably a bit higher. Moving all transport to electricity is certainly going to be a bonanza for the electricity generating business…

  13. “Get rid of the useless, bureaucratic shite that regulations demand people do in offices in cities and you’d solve a chunk of the problem right there.”

    Sounds like a great idea for a career for some ruthless, sociopathic cunt.

  14. Sounds like a great idea for a career for some ruthless, sociopathic cunt.

    Have anyone in mind? 🙂

  15. France currently has 59 nuclear reactors supplying 80% of domestic demand, and produces a surplus for export. Therefore France has lowest CO2 emissions from electricity generation of any developed Country – and low electricity prices.

    France is ‘committed’ to replacing 50% of its nuclear power stations with ‘renewables’ (why?) – for this to be practical it means biomass, which of course emits more CO2 per GW than nuclear (approaching zero), or coal and gas.

    France’s electricity grid is fragile – big Country, late investing in it. ErDF tries to restrict most domestic supplies to 6kVA or 9kVA to stop the grid falling over. Some houses with total demand likely to exceed the rated supply – such as with electric heating – have priority circuits so that if total household demand surpasses the rated supply, some circuits automatically are switched off, then restored whilst another is switched off or total power requirement falls.

    So all those electric cars are going to present an interesting situation… n’est-ce pas?

  16. There’s also a huge bunch of political economic issues like:
    1. What do you with all the current cars on the day they become illegal? Government to recompense owners?
    2. What legal framework will support the providers of fuel in the run up to the deadline? Could the government force them to supply at a loss?
    3. If they ban sale will they also ban use? Otherwise all the Frogs will be buying their cars in Belgium!
    4. Of course they won’t/can’t ban diesel lorries. (Even French virtue signallers can’t be that dumb can they?). So France will need to maintain a complete network of petrol (diesel) stations anyway. Plus the electric infrastructure
    5. etc etc ad nauseam
    4. Bye bye Renault/Citroen/Peugeot.

  17. Patrick: “There’s also a huge bunch of political economic issues like:”

    Good list, and there is also the matter of emergency vehicles and especially (above all else) the transporting of politicians and associated hangers-on in high speed convoys.

    In other words, I can’t see people tolerating emergency vehicles running out of power because they aren’t charged properly (“sorry he died on the way to hospital but at least it helped save the planet”) and El Presidente pootling along at five miles an hour through gatherings of the more murderous members of a fair and just society.

    Also, our tanks have run out of juice and the invasion will have to wait while we recharge batteries, but them foreign bastards are using petrol and diesel against us!

    Oh wait.. you mean all those rules are only for the ordinary people? Who knew?

  18. Watcher: Yes emergency vehicles and military vehicles is a very good point!

    Will they ban motorcycles? Maybe invest in BMW or Harley shares.

    I used to work in the oil industry. Tim is right that this will not happen quickly. I think it will eventually become the case – but not until we break a few technological barriers first. By which time purified air-braething E=MC2 nuclear fusion engines will be powering us all back to the future anyway.

  19. “Have anyone in mind?”

    That George Clooney movie was fiction, Tim. Jeesh, sometimes you jump the shark.

    By the way, I love @patrick, I really hope he/she/xhe is under 35 otherwise it’s going shake my world that an old person is still not yet hugely cynical.

  20. TNA I’m 50.

    To be honest I don’t think we’ll have fusion cars before we get electric ones! But I do think we will crack fusion properly at some point. And then the energy world gets an Alt/Ctrl/Delete.

    And I hope the fusion cracking is on the small scale not the industrial. Have a look at Polywell containment.

    Imagine the Croesus-like unconstrained wealth that will come to the man who builds a viable fusion reactor in his shed and takes down the oil/gas/coal/renewables industries.

  21. And FWIW I have a theory that fusion at the small scale is proceeding faster than we know but in secret. This not a ‘tinfoil on my head’ theory. Polywell was funded by the US Navy and progressing well. It then got mysteriously defunded in 2007 but then Lockheed’s skunkworks announced they had achieved beta=1 quite a few years ago. And since then zip. Nada.
    I wonder if, given the quite astonishing civilian and military advantages that will accrue to the first country to crack fusion properly, this is now forging ahead behind the most tightly closed doors in history. Somewhere in Area 51.

  22. You need to take into account energy density.

    At the moment, battery makers are desperately trying to reach a specific energy of 450 Wh/kg (Watt-hours per kilogram), Petrol already offers 12,000 Wh/kg. One horsepower is 750 W, so turning Watt hours to Horsepower hours, batteries give 0.6 HP*h per kg, while petrol give 16 HP*h/kg. Petrol has over 26 times the energy density.

    Now that means that … let me see. An imperial gallon of petrol weighs 7.2 pounds and my car will do about 40MPG and about 450 miles on a tank full for a total weight carried (and diminishing as I drive) of 81 pounds. To do the same range, (40 miles) I would need to carry a deadweight in batteries of 192 pounds. For a total range of 450 miles, 2160 pounds or nigh on one ton of batteries.

    OK, people will say that most journeys are less than 50 miles (commuting) but not all. I was a motorway comms engineer and drove about 1200 miles a week so needed a car with more than a 200 mile range on a fill up. Speaking of which, I can fill the car in 5 minutes, tops. For a 450 mile range, then I would need to fill up a battery car twice. What would the charging time be, I wonder? Not five minutes, that’s for sure.

    Add in the problems with overloading the existing electrical distribution system and transmission losses, then unless it is a niche application (such as electrical milk floats – does anyone get milk delivered nowadays? I should imagine in most cities, theft of your milk would be extremely likely) it is not viable.

    However, it won’t stop the dreamers, schemers and those greens who know naff all about engineering pushing it through.

  23. Phil B
    Agreed. It’s the energy per weight that counts. A country (such as France?) that has little domestic O&G production could insist all airplanes in its space should be electric then watch them crash on some suburban housing which doesn’t have many of their voters in it. But they don’t because they have a few engineers who are not imbeciles and who realise that kerosene, provided the O2 is free, which it isn’t on spaceships, is the most concentrated energy source possible.

    I’ve got a pal with an electric car. I pointed out to him that it wasn’t fuelled by electric but by a mix of coal, nuclear and gas.
    He looked at me as if I was mad, and changed the subject.
    He gets off the congestion charge and gets free parking.
    Bully for him. How long is that going to last once elec cars have a significant market share.
    He changed the subject again to H2. I remarked that making hydrogen is quite energy intensive, which law of thermodynamics I can’t remember.
    He said there was loads of hydrogen in the universe.
    So we’re going to fire spaceships into stars to mine H2 are we?
    By which time we’d finished our pints and went our separate ways.

  24. My comment is to elicit information rather than contradict the post or previous comments but just two points – Le Mans was won by a Porsche Hybrid this year and I recently saw some footage of a train running on battery power which seemed quite impressive.

  25. If Monsieur Hulot and his counterparts in all the Paris Climate signatory countries, and the legions of EU fonctionnaires are serious that CO2 is the problem that they say it is, then a carbon tax is the solution.

    Set the tax and announce the rate at which it will be increased over 20 years, and allow individuals and companies to adjust.

  26. Swiss radio yesterday. Discussion about electric cars.
    Usually they get two people with pro and con for any debate.
    This time it was pro + pro.Made for weird listening. I’m not fond of echo chambers, I find them a bit disorientating.

  27. @Phil B “You need to take into account energy density.”

    Absolutely and as an earlier poster mentioned, electric vehicles would not reduce the demand for energy just its source. Then we have physics which dictates that all things being equal that a vehicle will consume the same energy per kilometer whether burning a battery’s electrons or barrels of oil.

    So again where is the revolution?

    There isn’t one. The market says no.

    Lastly, another poster mentioned hydrogen. If there was to be an energy revolution then perhaps that is where it may come from. If you look at the energy revolutions over time we have actually being decarbonising our energy source as we develop our economies. High carbon fuel substances have continually being reduced by demand which is now down to a very low carbon content energy source called methane (CH4). We started with very high carbon content wood then coal, then whaleoil, then oil and now methane. The next logical logical transition would be to take the carbon element out of our energy source altogether which would leave us with pure hydrogen which has the highest energy density. Fuel cells are already here and the only waste product is the water that they produce. Yes it has challenges due to its particle size but the technology to capture it has improved since the nazi pipelines and it is feasible that methane could be reformed with the heat output from nuclear cooling.

    If we cracked it, then that would be a revolutionary.

  28. Tim Newman,

    “Get rid of the useless, bureaucratic shite that regulations demand people do in offices in cities and you’d solve a chunk of the problem right there. Trouble is, what do people do instead?”

    There’s tons of useful stuff people could be doing. Improving medical care by raising supply would be good. Plenty of demand for software people and plumbers.

    But the biggest thing is more women staying home and raising families. There’s a lot of narcissism about working women. Not the high flying exec where it makes sense, but a lot of working mothers spend nearly as much on childcare as they make. They then spend the little extra they make. Without that option, they’d raise the kids, maybe spend a bit more time doing some exercise so that they’re more attractive.

  29. Electric cars also have a cost transparency issue.
    When buying normal car, you can find out in seconds about lifetime cost, then add a fudge factor for the government fvcking you over but not so far as to be thrown out of office.

    Elec car. Anyone with a mobile or a cordless drill knows that performance is wildly erratic. Predict when you’ll have to ditch the battery for a new one, whether you’ll be charged for disposal, when the tax breaks will be taken away… etc
    You could teach yourself the internet for days and have the best pocket calculator in the world and it would still be a guess.

  30. A friend of mine in the fusion research business on wind power:
    If you saw a fiver in the street you’d pick it up, but it won’t pay you mortgage.

  31. @Bardon: H2 has a high specific energy (ie energy per unit mass), but a low energy density (is energy per unit volume) compared to hydrocarbons. More volume for fuel means bigger storage vessels, which take up both space and add mass. It is a proper bugger to condense and store H2 (needing both high pressure and a low temp) which is why we continue to use hydrocarbons.

  32. @Tom “It is a proper bugger to condense and store H2”

    I wouldn’t argue with that, it supports my argument that energy revolutions are not created through a socially controlling political imperative via the implementation of the ten planks of its manifesto, quite the opposite. History has taught us that energy revolutions come through scientific discovery and breakthroughs in what was previously unknown.

    For example, take the challenge of hydrogen, let’s move on from what we now know including its many constraints. Let’s throw our best minds and investment into unlocking the yet undiscovered advanced chemistry and catalysts that will enable us to produce cheap and readily available hydrogen from water. A mere fraction of the resources that have been allocated to supporting AGW would in my view have a far higher return on investment if it were dedicated to this type of scientific research.

  33. Thanks everyone! Sorry for my lack of interaction and replies: rugby, cricket, and nice weather are distracting me!

  34. ““Get rid of the useless, bureaucratic shite that regulations demand people do in offices in cities and you’d solve a chunk of the problem right there.”

    Sounds like a great idea for a career for some ruthless, sociopathic cunt.”

    I’m available for hire.

    But I have to tell you–I don’t work cheap.

  35. @Tom “It is a proper bugger to condense and store H2”

    I’ve only recently come across the concept of Green Ammonia being the answer to a lot of this in combination with Hydrogen fuel cells.

    A lot of the transportation and delivery infrastructure associated with large volumes of hydrocarbons could be adapted to deal with this it seems (plus lots of continuing employment for engineers of all types and safety wonks).

    How you produce your ammonia is open to various interpretations but it’s not as if it’s untested tech is it? From what I’ve seen so far it’s a much more viable proposition than lithium cells and vast upgrades to grids etc.

    Not to mention if you run an ammonia tanker aground it’d actually make the beach CLEANER!

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