RSC calls for less spin on electric cars

17 April 2009

The attractive concept of the electric car, right now in the UK, is inadvertently heading for a crash, the Royal Society of Chemistry is warning.

The society's chief executive said today that public relations promotion of the electric car is the hazard in the middle of the road

Dr Richard Pike said: "Electric cars will certainly be part of our future, but without a drastic change in the implementation of UK energy policy, the current spin promoting their use will have been erroneous and misleading."

Dr Pike emphasised that even without these vehicles, the decommissioning of old nuclear power stations, and delays in rebuilding, is exacerbating an energy gap that will be met largely through imported coal and natural gas.

He said: "This is because the UK does not yet have the right regulatory and fiscal regimes in place to encourage research, development and large-scale installation of renewable sources, and other low-carbon alternatives within the necessary time-scale. This contrasts with more imaginative initiatives in countries such as Germany, Denmark, Brazil and Japan." 

The introduction of electric cars will merely increase the demand for power generation, and the use of fossil fuels to provide for this, he added.

"Every new car will, in effect, be burning hydrocarbons, and releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, unless carbon capture and storage (CCS) is used at the power station.

"But, there are delays, too, in these types of projects.

"Separately, television news reports have suggested that running an electric car is much cheaper than a petrol-driven vehicle. But these omit the fact that much of the cost of the latter is attributable to fuel tax. If there were a significant shift to electric cars, it is unlikely that any government would allow the loss of a major income stream, and this simple comparison would inevitably change."

It is essential, he claimed, that a switch to green technologies addresses the entire supply chain of energy provision, and cost comparisons have to be transparent. In the case of electric cars this will require an extraordinary range of research, from improved photo-voltaic cells for capturing the sun's energy more effectively, to high-capacity batteries for storing electricity.

"That means less of the public relations, and more deep thinking and action over where we will really be in 2050, a crucial date by which we must reduce carbon emissions to just one-fifth of their 1990 levels."

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