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Post No.: 0845electric vehicles


Furrywisepuppy says:


Electric vehicles (EVs) are gradually replacing internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles because of the environmental benefits if they’re charged from renewable energy sources. That’s brilliant!


But investment into EV infrastructure (e.g. more public charging points across the country) will not increase rapidly unless more consumers buy electric vehicles. But more consumers won’t buy electric vehicles unless there’s more investment into EV infrastructure. Hence a catch-22!


Some things are things we don’t really want to do but feel we must because everyone else is, but doing it only perpetuates the problem for everyone – like panic buying and hoarding goods during national emergencies. And some things are things we do want to do but feel we must individually hesitate because not enough others are doing it, but not doing it only prolongs the problem for everyone – like putting off buying an electric vehicle because the fast-charging infrastructure isn’t extensive enough yet, when investment into that infrastructure is slow because not enough people are buying and using electric vehicles yet.


This is why the government setting a date when the sale of new petrol and diesel engine vehicles (including hybrids) will be banned is a sound idea – it signals to the market that at least by then it’s worth investing into the infrastructure as well as in electric vehicles. Private companies should spot the opportunity to enter or expand in this area, and private consumers in turn should feel more confident that it’s worth buying electric vehicles sooner rather than later.


Laws and banning things can therefore promote private sector investment and growth. It also signals that everyone should start divesting in developing, catering for or buying petrol and diesel vehicles, for the sake of benefiting the local and wider furry environment for everyone.


So all in all it’s a smart move, as long as it will be enforced by whoever will be in government in 2030 or whenever (since governments often set long-range targets knowing full well that they’ll really fall onto the responsibility of a future government/leader if they’re missed; or a future government can simply reverse that target because future governments in democracies aren’t bound by the policies of their predecessors).


Electric vehicles mightn’t be perfect but they just need to be cleaner and safer than the alternatives, and that means petrol and diesel vehicles of similar size. They don’t need a perfectly spotless record, like zero cars setting alight after a crash. Battery fires are harder to extinguish and stay extinguished but petrol catches alight far more easily and frequently. However, one could contend that this is a very low bar to beat – should we also count bicycles, buses and other modes of transport in such comparisons too?


And at present, the relatively higher upfront costs of purchasing an electric vehicle compared to an equivalent-sized petrol or diesel vehicle, or of installing solar panels on one’s roof, means that only the rich enough can benefit from the long-run savings since the running costs are lower. (Despite this, wealthier people, overall, are still disproportionately polluting far more than poorer people around the world per head on average. According to the UN Environment Programme in 2020 – the richest 1% of income earners would need to reduce their carbon footprints to at least a 30th to stay within the 2016 Paris Agreement targets, whilst the poorest 50% could actually increase theirs by several times.) Electric vehicles are gradually getting cheaper though as development, demand and competition increases.


Electric vehicles do still present their own environmental problems too. Even if the electricity to charge them comes from renewable energy sources rather than fossil fuels (where the latter would wipe out much of the benefits and just shift the problem elsewhere) – they require a lot of batteries, which, when analysing their product life cycle (extracting the raw materials, manufacturing, transporting, recycling them, etc.), they still release carbon dioxide and impart other environmental impacts. They have a bigger upfront carbon footprint, although it’s smaller in the long run. Electric vehicles still ultimately use energy and other consumables, and need to be made with raw materials in the first place, maintained, and be eventually dealt with at the end of their lives.


Mining lithium for the batteries can wreck the local environment. It uses tons of fresh water. (Desalination is hugely energy intensive, although nuclear-powered desalination plants are being considered.) Recycling lithium batteries is also dangerous and currently difficult, yet this must be done.


Many electric vehicles cannot be towed away easily if they breakdown or have a flat battery too because the wheels lock with no power, or if the wheels can move then their motors can get damaged through being towed. You also cannot coast for as far if their motors cut out on the road. Charging stations vary in reliability. Fast chargers can be far more expensive, and it’s ultimately still far slower to ‘fill a tank’ compared to an ICE car.


Lots of users will want to charge their vehicles during the evenings, which will place a spike in demand on the electricity grid. We’ll need to account for this, which might mean non-renewable energy sources will be used to help cover these spikes. Alternatively, if the charging rates are shaped to avoid demand spikes then this’d mean only those who can pay more (i.e. the richest again) can get priority and the best charging speeds. If a management system is contained within the vehicle itself then could this be hacked?


To maximise the life of a lithium-ion battery (as in the life of the unit, not each charge), it’s recommended to stay within 20-80% of full charge, especially during heat waves to prevent overheating and cell degradation. Both very hot and cold temperatures adversely affect their charging and drain rates. You’ve probably noticed how the battery endurances of your electronic devices severely shorten under temperatures of >30°C or <10°C, hence during extreme temperature events we’ll all be charging more, which uses more energy too. We see, in general, the compounding effects of rising temperatures and extreme weather events – like on food availability, disease outbreaks, economic crashes and conflicts.


Due to the weight of the batteries, small electric cars are better for the environment than large electric cars, thus the demand for large SUVs or pickups, where they’ll seldom go off-road or fully utilised, needs to drop rather than rise. Their heavier weight means they need more energy to move just themselves (never mind the passengers and cargo) and they’re less efficient unless their practical functions are fully utilised on most trips. It’s likewise not the best to use a powerful performance electric vehicle that has 750bhp but that mostly only carries one occupant per trip.


It’s not just about the carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gas emissions but the particulate matter (PM) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that are emitted, from the exhausts of internal combustion engines, as well as the tyres and brakes of any vehicle. And, because of the batteries, electric vehicles are typically heavier than the equivalent-sized ICE vehicles thus generate more tyre wear. Research suggests that microscopic pollutants that come from the regular wear and tear of rubber tyres and brake discs contributes to ill health, and contribute significantly to the amount of microplastics that wash into rivers and into the water supply and food chain too (see Post No.: 0380). A road tax would therefore still be justifiable for electric vehicles because of these polluting factors, as well as of course to pay for the upkeep of the regular public road infrastructure that all vehicle users benefit from.


We need to be careful about where renewable energy facilities are built as they may affect the local fluffy wildlife and habitats. Hydroelectric dams can prevent the flow and migration of nutrients and marine life downstream along rivers, and other forms of renewable energy use more land than equivalent fossil fuel or nuclear power stations. So we need to watch out for the side-effects. This is not to say that they’re not still overall better than fossil fuel power stations! And note that nuclear power and low levels of radiation isn’t as risky to life as many people think, and coal-fired power stations release more radioactivity into the environment due to traces of uranium and thorium found in coal anyway; albeit there’s the significant problem of dealing with the nuclear waste. The psychological effects of the fear of nuclear radiation after the 1986 Chernobyl disaster have been far greater than the physical effects of it. The biodiversity within the exclusion zone has thrived since the disaster, due to the lack of human presence there – hence humans are far worse than the radiation from the disaster(!)


Hydrogen power, for vehicles and for buildings, could be part of the picture too, particularly if the hydrogen is produced via electrolysis by using surplus renewable and clean sources of energy (‘green hydrogen’), instead of fossil fuels (‘grey hydrogen’), even with carbon capture and storage (‘blue hydrogen’). Hydrogen power is better for large vehicles, like lorries, where the weight of batteries alone would be considerable. However, electrolysis (splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen) is currently inefficient compared to charging lithium batteries, and stored hydrogen canisters present a risk of explosion in vehicle accidents (but then again so does petrol). Hydrogen could be stored under lower pressures, but that takes up more space. Refilling a hydrogen-powered vehicle will be faster than charging an electric-powered one – but like for charging electric vehicles, hydrogen-refilling stations would require infrastructure investments too.


If we want to stick with the internal combustion engine, then burning ‘biofuels’ for bioenergy, like rapeseed or palm oil, or even used cooking oil, won’t work if scaled up because it’d need too much land to fulfil demand – especially if this means deforestation to clear the land for producing the crop. A monoculture approach is highly risky too since one disease or pest could wipe out an entire crop. Although considered renewable compared to fossil fuels, it still involves releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Land used for biofuels, bioplastics and other organic resources will take land away from food production too, and food security is more challenging than ever.


Synthetic fuels – some of which can be made from using carbon dioxide captured from the atmosphere in a sustainable closed carbon cycle – are another possibility. But right now, generating these hydrocarbons takes lots of energy (although this could utilise renewable sources) and it’s quite expensive for commercial use. The local air pollution problems will remain too.


Other tech, like compressed ‘liquid air’ as an alternative power storage means to chemical batteries, are being devised and developed. Solid-state batteries are another avenue. If we keep innovating then we could get there in combination with lifestyle and industry behavioural changes. Perhaps the future is moving away from vehicle ownership (either driver or driverless) and towards a subscription model or sharing clubs? Perhaps we need to rely less on motorised transport altogether and work from home more?


We must be careful with ill-thought-out schemes however, like low traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs) that encourage drivers to take lengthy detours to avoid a particular road and save the cost of an expensive permit or fine! This concerns the freedom of driving in the neighbourhood versus the freedom of cleaner air quality.


Overall, electric vehicles are better for the environment than petrol or diesel vehicles. Yet one shouldn’t think of them as, say, better than walking, cycling or taking public transport where possible. (It’s like e-cigarettes are overall better than tobacco cigarettes but it doesn’t mean they’re the absolute best option one could take.) And that’s why laws that place a greater onus on drivers of cars to make way for cyclists, as well as creating more dedicated cycling routes, are good ways to encourage more cycling, for instance.


Woof. The right laws and regulations are incredibly useful to help tackle environmental and other challenges.


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