Will electric cars save the world?

posted in: Life and things | 2
From Kindel Media on Pexels

Much has been said about electric cars of late. If you believe the main argument, they’re going to save the world by stopping all those nasty exhaust fumes going into the atmosphere. And, you know, we Australians are a slack mob. Take-up of electric cars here is only about 2%, as compared to places like the UK (7%) and Norway.

I don’t have a problem with electric cars. They’re clean, quiet, and cheap to maintain. But let’s not kid ourselves. Australia is a huge country with a small population. Although EVs are completely feasible in the big cities, people tend to be wary about traveling the long distances you’ll find in the outback. Or not even that far. We live about 300km from Brisbane. Even the expensive Tesla models (see below) wouldn’t get us home without a recharge if we wanted to use the air conditioner. Yes, that runs off the battery, too.

“At a third of the price of a Tesla, the Nissan Leaf and BMW i3 have ranges of between 170km and 200km when they are fully charged, and are primarily designed for city commutes. For consumers willing to spend upwards of $100,000, the Tesla models can go distances more like 350km and 613km when they are fully charged.” [source]

And here’s a story from the UK to think about. “A couple from Kent have described how it took them more than nine hours to drive 130 miles home from Bournemouth as they struggled to find a working charger capable of producing enough power to [recharge] their electric car.” [source]

And out in the never-never it’s the recharge that’s the thing. With our diesel 4WD the furthest we travelled on one tank of fuel was just over 1,000km – and we still had 11 litres in the tank. When we did need to fill up, we would stop at a servo, grab a coffee, fill the tank, and carry on. If the servo has a fast charging station, that would work, too. A battery would fill in fifteen minutes or so. Otherwise, you would have to plug into a power point for hours to top up. So, as a few people have proved, long distance travel can be done in an EV ā€“ even across the Nullarbor – if you plan your trip carefully. Here’s the story of how one woman drove around Australia in her EV.

However.

Although you can drive around Australia on the bitumen, I can’t see an EV take on the Gibb River Road across the Kimberley, or the Old Telegraph Track up to Cape York any time soon. Or tow one of those caravans best pulled by a Land Cruiser V8.

While they may be the way of the future, at the moment EVs are expensive to buy (see above). In Europe they are heavily subsidized so the poorer people are helping richer people to afford them.

Then there are the hidden costs. We’ll need a vast expansion of the network of recharging stations right across the country. A couple of fast charging points at a big roadhouse won’t be enough. Can you imagine the queues building up over Christmas and Easter? And then we need to think about where all that electricity is going to come from. (Hopefully nuclear power plants, but that’s another story.)

Then there’s that battery. A lithium-ion battery lasts for about ten years, which isn’t bad. But are we going to run out of the materials needed to make them? Yes ā€“ yes we are. The amount of lithium on Earth is finite. Some estimates suggest we could run short as early as 2040, as stated in this article from Motor Biscuit. And when their life is over, what then? This article explains the difficulties in properly disposing of lithium-ion batteries. Quite a few manufacturers are developing recycling regimes as explained in this BBC article,  but there’s a very, very long way to go.

Our next car will be a hybrid, a petrol engine with a battery that is charged when the vehicle brakes. We won’t have to plug it in. Fuel economy in a hybrid is much better than you’ll get from a petrol/diesel only. But if we run out of petrol we can walk to the nearest petrol station with a jerry can. For an EV I suppose you have to hope the RAC turns up with a generator.

And now for some pretties.

What happens if I press this? We don’t often get corellas in the garden and this one was curious.
Cuddles. They always come in pairs and the bond is strong. Mutual grooming is important.
A gladiolus in the very welcome rain.

2 Responses

  1. Barrie Lloyd

    Clearly the viability of electric cars is directly linked to the take up, i.e. there is a chicken and egg situation. Electric cars are only a viable solution for the motorist if there are enough charging stations and it is only viable to invest in the provision of charging stations if they are capable of making a profit whilst not charging motorists an unreasonable price for electricity.

    Of course electricity does have the advantage that it doesn’t need to be transported like petrol or diesel. Also, in the case of Australia, where you have a copious supply of sun all the year round, exisiting filling stations could probably adapt relatively cheaply to producing their own solar energy. Indeed, it remains a mystery to me that Australia continues to produce such a high proportion of its electricity from coal powered power stations. (Hopefully, when it does get around to replacing these, it will avoid building nuclear power stations, which have the as yet unsolved problem that their waste remains radioactive for about a quarter of a million years, which means that, alongside the problem of global warming that will render large parts of the Earth uninhabitable, we will have areas rendered uninhabitable by the storage of nuclear waste.)

    Another factor is that as time goes on less fossil fuelled cars and more electric ones will be produced, with the result that the former will become more expensive and the latter cheaper. By way of comparison, in Switzerland this year 55% of new cars sold so far have been electric, compared with the 3% takeup in Australia. This is understandeable, because here you’re never far from civilisation and we already have a good network of recharging stations at garages and in public car parks, etc.

    Obviously, distances are a huge problem in Australia and in some other parts of the world. My expectation would be that a far higher proportion of the population would go through the intermediate stage of hybrid (although probably rechargeable hybrid) to allow the gradual growth of the necessary infrastructure to accommodate full electrification. I would also expect that when full electrification arrives, it might be by the exchangeable battery route to avoid undue delays on long journeys.

    I think long distance travel in Australia will continue to be by air, bearing in mind that a train journey from Perth to Sydney takes ages and is not particularly scenic and driving across the Nullabor is not everybody’s idea of fun.

    • Greta

      You make some good points. Certainly the price of cars will reduce as they become more common. The thing is, whenever these notions are discussed, there is a tendency to concentrate on the benefits – but not the costs. For example, what is the REAL cost of solar power? You have to build solar panels. How much does it cost to produce them? They last for a finite time and then they must be disposed of. Where and how? The same with wind power. For both of those, they are dependent on the weather. Storage is in lithium batteries, which at the grid level don’t provide power for very long at all. And that brings me back to lithium batteries. They are being used for all sorts of appliances, not just cars. What happens when we run out of lithium? As with so many of these climate change discussions, to make a difference we must rely on tech that hasn’t been invented yet. Which is fine. Let’s just recognize that fact.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.