The flaws in the electric car scheme - George Monbiot

16/4/2009 Guardian A government subsidy for electric cars is a start, but it is not the best way to decarbonise our transport system.First the good news: if you want to decarbonise private transport, this is the right way to do it. Electric cars are not necessarily low-carbon. The figures published by suggest that an electric sedan car that gets its juice from the grid produces around 160 grams of CO2 per kilometre: roughly the same as its petrol-powered equivalent. But at least they are low-carbon-ready.

If thermal power plants are replaced with renewables, electric cars could deliver something in the order of a 90% cut in emissions. That remains a big if.  It’s also reassuring to see that the government, at last, has understood the
significance of some of the new technologies available, especially the battery-changing infrastructure promoted by the company Better Place. I’ve been bellyaching about this for a few years because it offers two interesting
advantages. The first and most obvious is that it gives electric cars the same range and flexibility as conventional cars. The second is that the battery banks the filling stations must maintain offer a boost to the concept of
vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technology.

V2G proposes that electric car batteries could become a useful store of electricity for balancing a grid largely supplied by renewables, whose output is variable. As most of the country’s batteries are in use only for short periods, car owners could reduce their bills by storing electricity and selling it back to the grid when it’s needed. This concept becomes much more viable if the grid makes use of the battery banks owned by a few thousand filling stations, rather
than the individual batteries owned by a few million drivers.

Now for the less good news. Yet again, our money is being channelled into cars rather than any other form of transport. The government uses the terms low-carbon transport and low-carbon vehicles interchangeably. But they are not the same thing. The most cost-effective measures for reducing fossil fuel use have nothing to do with cars. Some of them – such as better timetabling for buses and encouraging children to walk to school – cost next to nothing. Others – such as safe bicycle lanes, taxi buses, bell buses and the other innovative schemes Lynn Sloman explains in her book Car Sick – are much cheaper than decarbonising cars and can be used by everyone, not just the drivers lucky enough to harvest a state subsidy.

They’re also likely to produce bigger cuts in emissions per kilometre. The 90% cut an electric car might offer does not take account of the carbon costs of manufacturing. The batteries alone require a great deal of energy and other
resources to produce.But the government does not have a transport policy; it has a car policy. It appears to hate public transport and love the car almost as much as Mrs Thatcher did. Perhaps buses, trains and bicycles look too much like Old   Labour.

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