The energy crisis risks dooming the electric car – by Andrew Orlowski for The Telegraph – 29.12.22
Western societies are charging into the electrification of transport without actually providing the electricity.
The first cracks have appeared. Two weeks ago, the president of Toyota, Akio Toyoda, committed a stunning heresy. He gave voice to the thoughts of the “silent majority” in the auto industry.
“That silent majority is wondering whether electric vehicles are really OK to have as a single option. But they think it’s the trend so they can’t speak out loudly,” he said.
Bravely, Mr Toyoda made his remarks beside a new range of concept electric cars that Toyota unveiled. By uttering such words, however, he may have opened a fissure much greater than he imagined.
Generally, I make it a rule never to dunk on electric cars, no matter how self-satisfied and smug the owners may be. And not just because hydrogen, the politically-correct alternative, is even more unfeasible, but because all car owners have a common enemy. The car is being assaulted by the bureaucrat whose eyes gleam at the prospect of imposing a “15 minute city” or a low traffic neighbourhood on their fiefdom.
The utopia that these childless millennials imagine for their urban paradises only permits a bike or a scooter. Yet beyond London’s Zone 3, where work requires a car, this is not a viable option.
However, for the EV market the indicators are now flashing red. It’s becoming clear that the number of people who could become a happy EV owner is now reaching a ceiling.
To be a prospective EV owner you must tick many boxes. You will need a high disposable income, for an EV is increasingly expensive, and the taxpayer-funded sweeteners are disappearing. You will need to be able to charge in your driveway, as the public charging network is unreliable and expensive. And your journeys will be predictable and short, while your longer journeys can be planned in a leisurely fashion.
For the entire freight industry where limited ranges and long turnaround times spell commercial suicide – that will not do. With its high energy density and low cost and efficient fuel network, petrol and diesel are the superior consumer technologies. This is simply the point Mr Aiko was making.
Autotrader’s latest EV market survey notes that the price of EVs has risen 36pc from a year ago, with the supply of used electric vehicles now outpacing demand for the first time ever. EVs make up just 3pc of the enquiries sent to retailers, the site’s analysts report. It also notes that the pool of potential buyers, with their own charging spots, is diminishing. “Although current sales figures look positive, the rapid decline in consumer appetite for electric vehicles reveals the market is on thin ice where mass electric adoption is concerned,” it concludes.
While we now have some 36,000 chargers, the portents from the United States are not good. When EV demand stalls, the infrastructure is never completed, and slowly falls into disrepair. For Toyota, stalling EV demand means that the bulk of its products in 2030, which are being designed today, mat not be as competitive as they should.
But the real issue Mr Toyoda has opened up is this: Western societies are charging into the electrification of transport and heating without actually providing the electricity. This cannot be wished away.
In January, the then secretary of state for trade, Anne-Marie Trevelyan, told Parliament that “we are going to be requiring up to four times as much electricity” to meet demand for electrified heating and transport. Yet we are not building four times as much electric generation capacity.
The energy legacy of the Conservatives will be the loss of reliable energy. For example, only two years ago, the UK was running 15 operational nuclear reactors, but by 2030 it will be just three, and that’s assuming no further delays. The reality is that we have created two parallel energy systems; one of which works, while the other does not. The politicised grid mashes them together, making the one that provides reliable and low cost energy both expensive and unstable.
And then along comes a genuine cold snap which exposes our new reliance on nature, and sub-prime energy technologies. Climate change campaigners who are inclined to view any weather event as a policy message dictated personally by an Earth deity should remember this trick works both ways.
During our recent dunkelflaute - a period of high pressure, freezing temperatures and no wind - our onshore wind blades stood still for three weeks, consuming power, but not generating any. What wind power we got, and it wasn’t very much, all came from offshore facilities.
The Germans have bulldozed wind farms to get to the good stuff beneath: coal use in Germany is up 13pc in 2022. But over there, the industrialists and manufacturers have more influence, while our Oxford PPE-dominated policy classes in Whitehall are united in their groupthink – and immune from the consequences of their decisions.
Together with the City spivs, the academics and the broadcast media all selling us the fantasy of a “great green energy transition” they should be worried.
Magical thinking has taken them a long way, but it is possibly as far as they can go.
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Andrew Orlowski is a technology journalist who writes a weekly Telegraph column every Monday. He founded the research network Think of X and previously worked for The Register. You can find him on Twitter @AndrewOrlowski