Lomborg: Electric cars are good fun for wealthy virtue signallers, but a dreadful way to save the planet
Electric cars are good fun for wealthy virtue signallers, but a dreadful way to save the planetNOT A LOT OF PEOPLE KNOW THAT / by Paul Homewood / 5h
By Paul Homewood
h/t Philip Bratby
A dose of reality from Bjorn Lomborg:
In a move to burnish Britain’s green credentials, Boris Johnson is to announce a ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars from 2030. He is following other political leaders, including Joe Biden, in promising lavish carrots to energise the market for electric cars along with sticks to outlaw petrol cars. Unfortunately, electric cars will achieve only tiny emissions savings at a very high price.
Electric cars are certainly fun, but almost everywhere cost more across their lifetime than their petrol counterparts. That is why subsidies are needed. And consumers are still anxious because of their short range and long recharging times. Despite the US handing out up to $10,000 (£7,600) for each electric car, for example, fewer than 0.5 per cent of its cars are battery electric. And almost all the support goes to the rich. Ninety per cent of electric car owners also have a fossil-fuel driven car they drive further. Indeed, electric vehicles are mostly a “second car” used for shorter trips and virtue signalling.
If you subsidise electric cars enough, people will buy them. Almost 10 per cent of all Norway’s passenger cars are now electric because of generous policies that waive most costs. Over its lifetime, a £23,000 car might receive benefits worth more than £20,000. But this approach is unsustainable for most nations. Even Norway is starting to worry, losing more than a billion euros a year from exempt drivers.
Innovation will eventually make electric cars economical even without subsidies, but concerns over range and slow recharging will remain. That is why most scientific prognoses show that electric cars will not take over the world. A new study shows that by 2030, just 13 per cent of new cars will be battery-electric. If Johnson bans new petrol cars by then, he would essentially forbid 87 per cent of consumers from buying the cars they want. It is hard to imagine that could be politically viable.
The International Energy Agency estimates that by 2030, if all countries live up to their promises, the world will have 140 million electric cars on the road. Yet, this would not make a significant impact on emissions for two reasons. First, electric cars require large batteries, often produced in China using coal power. Just producing the battery for an electric car can emit almost as much as a quarter of the greenhouse gasses emitted from a petrol car across its entire lifetime.
Second, the electric car is recharged on electricity that almost everywhere is significantly fossil-fuel based. Together, this means that a long-range electric car will emit more CO2 for its first 60,000km than a petrol car. This is why having a second electric car for short trips could mean higher overall emissions. Comparing electric and petrol, the International Energy Agency estimates the electric car will save six tons of CO2 over its lifetime, assuming global average electricity emissions. Even if the electric car has a short range and its battery is made in Europe mostly using renewable energy, its savings will be at most 10 tons.
To use America as an example, if Biden restores the full electric car tax credit, he will essentially pay £5,700 to reduce emissions by at most 10 tons. Yet, he can get US power producers to cut 10 tons for just £45. Indeed, if the whole world follows through and gets to 140 million electric cars by 2030, the IEA estimates it will reduce emissions by just 190 million tonnes of CO2 – a mere 0.4 per cent of global emissions.
We need a reality check. First, politicians should stop writing huge cheques just because they believe electric cars are a major climate solution. Second, there is a simpler solution. The hybrid car saves about the same amount of CO2 as an electric car over its lifetime. Third, climate change doesn’t care about where CO2 comes from. Personal cars are only about 7 per cent of global emissions, and electric cars will only help a little.
Right now, electric car subsidies are something wealthy countries can afford to give elites to show virtue. But if we want to fix the climate, we need to focus on the big emitters and drive innovation to create better low-CO2 energy from fusion, fission, geothermal, wind, and solar. Innovations that will make just one of them cheaper than fossil fuels would mean not just rich Londoners changing their habits, but everyone, including China and India, switching large parts of their energy consumption toward zero emissions.