What’s the Future for Electric Vehicles?

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The petrol-fuelled motor vehicle kills and maims our children, clogs ups our streets, pollutes the air we breathe and contributes to global warming.

Is the electric vehicle (EV) therefore a possible solution to reduce the environmental impact of road transport?

A number of different categories of EV currently exist. These include ‘plug-in’ EVs which like other domestic appliances require you to plug them in to recharge the battery. Some EVs are solely dependent on the battery as its main source of power. In these vehicles if you don’t use heating or air conditioning and drive sensibly you can travel up 80 -120 miles.

If you wanted more certainty in driving then ‘plug-in’ hybrids allow you to switch between electric or traditional fuel.

These tend to have smaller batteries which means you can only undertake electric travel for about 10-40 miles. Hybrid EVs tend to have a smaller battery which is charged while driving and can therefore be used only over short distances.

The Toyota Pirus is a successful example of a hybrid. Although it has been referred to as the ‘hippie car’ it has been the car of choice for a number of Hollywood celebrities. Finally, there are fuel-cell vehicles which generate their own on-board electricity by using fuels such as hydrogen and therefore do not need to be plugged-in.

Although the UK EV market is the early stages of development, the government’s Committee on Climate Change recommends we should aim to have 1.7 million EVs on the road by 2020 if progress is be made towards achieving the national target of an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Battery operated EVs tend to be more energy efficient when in use as 80% of the stored energy goes to driving wheels. This is compared to cars with internal combustion engines which are about 20% efficient with most of the energy lost as heat.

Although when loss from energy generation is considered, the energy efficiency of EVs is reduced. On the whole carbon emissions from driving EVs are comparable with the most efficient diesel cars and are about 30% less than the average for new fossil fuel cars.

In addition, EVs produce no tail-pipe emissions when in electric mode so poor air quality will not be experienced in congested urban areas. This is particularly important for large urban conurbations which are grappling with high levels of vehicle-related particulate matter and nitrogen oxides emissions that exceed EU limits.

In London an estimated 4,000 extra deaths occur each year due to airborne particulates costing up to £20 billion a year – twice the cost of obesity. EVs contribute less to noise pollution as they are much quieter that traditional cars – perhaps a reason why many milk floats were battery operated in the heyday of doorstep milk delivery. However, concerns have been raised with regard to pedestrian safety especially of the visually impaired.

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The Toyota Pirus

So is the EV a greener option? Researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology undertook a life cycle assessment of the EV and highlighted the ‘toxicity’ of EV manufacturing process compared to conventional vehicles (e.g. extraction of minerals for the battery).

They calculated that the ‘global warming potential’ of manufacturing is about twice as high as conventional vehicles. They argue that promotion of EVs does not make sense in regions where electricity is produced from oil, coal and lignite combustion.

We still have a long way to go before the EV is seen as desirable option by the majority. The public image of EVs needs to be improved and recharging infrastructure needs to be targeted, convenient and safe. For example, the majority of recharging taking place at home, at night, after the peak in electricity demand as well at the workplace for commuters and these need to be available. We also need to understand how to reduce environmental impact of the EV manufacturing process and improve battery recycling.

Until we are able to make a significant shift to renewable energy sources, EVs are simply a means of reducing roadside emissions rather than global emissions. Improvements in technology will inevitably improve the environmental credentials of EVs.

In the short term emission savings in transport are likely to come from better efficiency of conventional vehicles. Walking, cycling and public transport also have a role to play as well as reducing the need to travel in the first place.

© Gary Haq 2013

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The Challenge of Transport in Sub-Saharan Africa

ImageTRANSPORT is a key challenge for Sub-Saharan Africa. It is critical importance to the delivery of sustainable cities, healthy citizens, poverty eradication and achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. So how can Sub-Saharan African (SSA) countries address the challenge of sustainable transport?

Road safety in Africa as a whole is extremely poor having approximately 3 per cent of the world’s motor vehicles yet accounting for 11 per cent of global road fatalities. Traffic congestion in SSA cities is on the rise with some cities approaching gridlock. The urban populations of SSA are growing rapidly, faster than in all other regions of the world, and this situation is expected to continue over the next two decades.

Urban air pollution in major SSA cities is rapidly worsening due to vehicle fleet growth, increasing distances travelled, and high rates of polluting vehicle emissions from vehicles. Globally, transport accounts for approximately 25 per cent of energy-related carbon dioxide emissions and reducing emissions from the on-road transportation sector can yield rapid and longer-term climate benefits. Yet published data on traffic congestion, air pollution, including greenhouse gases, and road safety tend to be of poor quality in SSA.

This is an issue which is partly being addressed by the Transport Environment-Science Technology (TEST) Network. A EU funded Network led by the Stockholm Environment Institute Institute and European Institute for Sustainable Transport working in partnership with universities in South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zimbabwe and Zambia. The TEST Network aims to support Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) countries in formulating and implementing sustainable transport policies which contribute to poverty reduction and sustainable economic development.

ImageA new report written by a panel of international experts, examines the transport and environment challenges in SSA countries. The report states that transport policy decisions and the detailed spatial, sectoral and social beneficiaries of transport spending and strategies have a hugely important impact on the lives of hundreds of millions of people in SSA.

There are a large number of well documented ways in which we can improve the quality of life of Africa’s citizens. We can improve air quality and public health, remove the scourge and distress caused by death, injury and disability as a result of road crashes and increase the likelihood of widely disseminated economic gains to all sections of society.

In this social-technical-economic complex there are important democratic considerations. What do African citizens want for the future of their families, their communities their regions and their country? Given a choice of living in poverty, pollution, traffic danger and poor quality access to important health, education and training opportunities or living in a thriving, opportunity-rich, clean and safe environment it is already very clear that the latter is preferable to the former.

ImageThe TEST report argues that transport policy for SSA must be embedded in a poverty eradication policy and poverty eradication must deliver real gains in transport as it affects 800 million SSA citizens. This policy synergy provides a huge opportunity to deliver successful outcomes and they will not deliver if they move along in non-communicating parallel tracks.

The report  makes recommendations for the development of sustainable transport policies in SSA based on five central principles:

  1. Maximizing transport accessibility for all social groups, genders and income levels, so that all citizens can access health care, education, training and jobs with minimal effort, costs and journey time;
  2. Creating a safe, secure urban environment with the minimum possible risk of death and injury from road accidents;
  3. Ensuring that all public health measures deal with the debilitating and costly consequences of air pollution on human health;
  4. Freeing up urban road space by improving traffic flow conditions in a way that stimulates economic activity and job creation and avoids the generation of new traffic; and
  5. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

SSA has some very serious transport problems but these present all decision-takers and policy makers with opportunities to re-shape traditional policies to produce a step-change improvement in quality of life for citizens and to deliver the urgently needed poverty alleviation outcomes already agreed.

Policies and interventions can be re-shaped and the task now is to orchestrate the political and professional support and unwavering commitment to deliver all these virtuous outcomes.

© Gary Haq 2012

A Zero Carbon Transport Vision

The transport sector has enormous potential to deliver greenhouse gas reductions. However, just how much can we reduce carbon dioxide emissions from transport?

The transport sector has enormous potential to deliver greenhouse gas reductions. However, just how much can we reduce carbon dioxide emissions from transport?

Transport offers many benefits in terms of freedom, independent mobility and accessibility. Yet this comes at a cost such as air polluting emissions which contribute to local air pollution and climate change.

There are two key challenges that require the reduction of oil use within transport and resulting carbon dioxide emissions to be kept to an absolute minimum. Firstly, transport is extremely dependent on oil and there is a likelihood that there will be not be much oil left in 2050 compared to today. Secondly, climate change rises important issues around re-engineering transport systems so that they are less vulnerable to the damaging consequences of climate change and can play a full role in reducing greenhouse gases.

A number of studies have attempted to look at reducing carbon dioxide emissions from the transport sector. These include the OECD Environmentally Sustainable Transport study(2002), Visioning and Backcasting for UK Transport Policy study (2007) and the Campaign for Better Transport study on a Low Carbon UK Transport Policy (2008).

A study by the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) has outlined how a phased programme of technological, financial and behavioural changes could secure the potential cuts in carbon dioxide emissions compared to a business-as-usual approach:
• 100 per cent in road transport (cars and lorries)
• 100 per cent in rail transport
• 56 per cent in aviation
• 49 per cent in shipping

Under this programme road transport will be completely carbon neutral by 2050 due to a combination of reduced demand (approximately 75 per cent from spatial, fiscal and behavioural measures), and a whole-scale shift in technology to plug-in electric vehicles and hydrogen fuel cells, both of which will utilise decarbonised UK electricity supply.

Clearly, a carbon neutral electricity supply would be much more likely to be able to meet the increased needs of road transport sector entirely composed of plug-in electric vehicles and/or hydrogen cells. The measure causing the greatest reduction in demand is the annual increase in fuel costs due to the re-introduction of a fuel price escalator.

With regard to rail, all passenger and freight will be powered by 100 per cent electricity that is carbon neutral.

Carbon dioxide emissions of from aviation will be reduced by 59 per cent, which represents a significant progress in bringing aviation in line with the implications of the UK national commitment to an 80 per cent reduction by 2050 compared to 1990. However, the scale of the reduction is still not enough despite the applications of measures.

It is clear that a combination of measures to reduce demand such as air increases, no additional runways, modal shift to railways (High Speed Train) and video substitution would deliver a considerably greater reduction than could be achieved by advances in aircraft technology and air traffic management alone. It follows that a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions from aviation of this scale could not be delivered by policy that encouraged technological solutions alone whist allowing demand to continue to grow.

Carbon dioxide emissions from shipping will be reduced by 49 per cent through changes in ship size, routing, fuel, speed and a number of other promising technologies have been assumed.

Although road and rail transport could both achieve the zero carbon dioxide emissions target, emissions from aviation and shipping are problematic. Although a 76 per cent reduction is a considerable achievement it still falls short of a zero carbon target. To improve on this figure carbon dioxide reduction would require more radical interventions or technological innovations for these two sectors than those envisaged in the SEI study. This would require fundamental changes in globalisation and patterns of international trade and mobility if aviation and shipping is to make a larger contribution to the zero carbon target.

The decarbonisation of the road and rail sector is dependent on the decarbonisation of the electricity supply system. However, if the electrical power sector decarbonisation is less than 100 per cent by 2050 carbon dioxide emissions from road and rail transport will be substantially higher.

The SEI study has shown that the potential to reduce carbon dioxide emissions form the UK transport sector is much greater than anyone previously thought and that reductions in emissions go hand in hand with improvements in air quality, health and economic success.

The policy recommendations include a number of radical but achievable measures including:

Spatial planning to create neighbourhoods and communities where it is possible to reach destinations on foot or by bicycle and public transport

New approaches to the regionalisation of production and consumption to bring about reductions in road freight

Increases in the cost of transport to implement the so-called “polluter pays principle”

Full de-carbonisation of the UK electricity supply system (as envisaged by the Climate Change Committee)

Full conversion of all cars to Plug In Electric Vehicles or Hydrogen Fuel Cells utilising de-carbonised electricity.

A zero carbon transport future will provide better access for more people to more things this is currently is the case. Traffic congestion and time wasted in traffic jams will be a thing of he past and the time currently wasted in commuter trips will be spent on rewarding and enriching activities.

The study has set out a vision of a zero carbon future and how to achieve it. What we need now is to convince decision-makers to move boldly and decisively to make this vision for UK transport a reality.

© Gary Haq 2010

Photo credits: Shutterstock

Air Pollution – The Silent Killer

IR pollution is estimated to cause 600,000 premature deaths worldwide each year. It is a silent killer that is affecting the health, well-being and life chances of hundreds of men, women and children every day

AIR pollution is estimated to cause 600,000 premature deaths worldwide each year. It is a silent killer that is affecting the health, well-being and life chances of hundreds of men, women and children every day.

Poor air quality is a problem not confined solely to cities in the developing world. The majority of developed nations still have an urban air pollution problem.

In China and South Korea citizens are being ordered to stay in doors while authorities struggle to deal with the effects of dust storms – orange dust blown hundreds of miles from drought-struck northern China.

In the UK, a report by the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee claims that poor air quality in British cities is responsible for up to 50,000 premature deaths. On average poor air quality reduces the life expectancy of the average Briton by up to 7-8 months. Not only is air pollution affecting human health, it is causing significant damage to our natural environment.

The Environmental Audit Committee states that the UK government is not giving adequate priority to air quality. Britain is one of ten European Union (EU) member states that have recently been warned over excessive levels of health-damaging fine particles know as PM10, which can can stay int the lungs for days.

The UK together with Cyprus, Estonia, Germany, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden could face court action if it fails to meet a European directive limiting these harmful airborne particles.

In the report the Committee argues that the quantified costs of poor air quality used to inform policy are out-dated. Not sufficient account is given to known health effects, treatment costs and environmental damage. In addition, the costs do not take into account the EU fines incurred for failing to meet EU air quality standards.

Climate change has become the sexy air pollution issue that has grabbed the attention of government, media and the public. It is therefore not surprising that local air pollution to some extent has been downgraded and is now considered to be of a lower priority. Unlike climate change, which has long-term effects, urban air pollution tends to have more immediate impact on human health and the environment.

The air pollution we experience today in the majority of Britain’s large cities is a far cry from the very visible smog that London experienced in the times of Sherlock Holmes. The 1952 Great London Smog was a thick “peas souper” that reduced visibility and caused major disruption to the city. The London smog is estimated to have killed about 12,000 people.

Modern air pollution is invisible and is mainly fine particulate matter that is imperceptible to the human eye but deleterious to human health. Industry is responsible for 36 per cent of PM10 followed by road transport which is responsible for 18 per cent. The majority of industrial sources are far away from city centres. Therefore road transport contributes more to public exposure to PM10 in urban areas.

Awareness of air quality is a key challenge. The Environmental Audit Committee highlights that many government departments do not seem to fully understand how their policies might affect air quality, the health and environmental impact of poor air quality and associated economic costs.

The Committee’s report calls for local authorities to do more to tackle poor air quality. They recommend that local authorities be given more information to develop local air quality strategies.

Despite major advances and investment in cleaning the air, the silent killer of air pollution is still prevalent in many developed cities. Since about 61% of the world’s population now live in cities, we urgently need to improve the quality of the air we breath.

After all to breathe clean air is a basic human right that we should all respect.

© Gary Haq 2010
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Selling a Greener Future

ENVIRONMENTALISTS are often perceived as spoiling the fun by reminding people of the ecological consequences of their actions and asking them to make “sacrifices” for the common good. If we are to make significant progress towards a low-carbon future and prevent irreparable damage to the climate system, then both the public and politicians needs to be inspired by the idea of a greener future.

ENVIRONMENTALISTS are often perceived as spoilsports by reminding people of the ecological consequences of their actions and asking them to make “sacrifices” for the common good.

If we are to make significant progress towards a low-carbon future and prevent irreparable damage to the climate system, then both the public and politicians needs to be inspired by the idea of a future which is greener, richer and happier for all.

The transport sector is massively dependent on oil and is one of the fastest growing sources of greenhouse gases. It accounts for about 24 per cent of the UK’s domestic carbon dioxide emissions, the majority of which come from road transport.

Depleting global oil reserves, together with increasing transport emissions, will require us to radically rethink how we travel in the future especially if we have any hope of achieving the government’s target to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 80 per cent by 2050.

So what will life be like in a low-carbon future? Sit back, close your eyes and imagine a greener future.

In 2050, the railway system will be completely powered by electricity provided by non-fossil fuel sources such as wind and biomass. Better and more compact spatial planning will have reduced the distances to travel to work, school and other local facilities.

The high cost of fuel will have encouraged us to walk, cycle and use public transport more as this will be cheapest way to get around. Gas guzzling enthusiasts such as Jeremy Clarkson will be driving electric cars or vehicles powered by fuel cells.

High-speed rail and video conferencing will be a common feature of our greener world. Improvements in aircraft technology and air traffic management will have reduced aviation emissions.

However, air travel will be expensive. Long-haul holidays will be an occasional luxury rather than an annual event and staycations will be the norm. Flying to European capitals to hold hen and stag-dos will be replaced by “Party Trains” as there will be more accessible improved train services with overnight trains.

Travelling to a destination will be just as much part of the holiday experience as time spent at the holiday resort itself.

Changes in ship size, routing, fuel, speed and application of new technologies will have decreased emissions from shipping.

In this greener future, we will have made significant progress in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and will have averted runaway climate change.

While this vision of a low-carbon future may feel like an infringement of personal liberty, it does offer a number of socio-economic and environmental benefits. Imagine for a second that traffic congestion is a thing of the past.

The time saved not being stuck in traffic jams is spent enjoying the company of family and friends. Imagine a clean, efficient and cheap public transport system comparable to that in any other European city. And imagine opting to be car-free and being better off due to having saved thousands of pounds a year by avoiding the cost of running a car.

Our greener future will be a happier and richer future. There will be a community renaissance with people spending time and money locally due to more people walking, cycling and using public transport.

Lower levels of motorised traffic on our streets travelling at a maximum of 20mph in all residential areas will make them safer.

Children will be able to discover the delights of independent mobility and going to and from school, friends and local clubs on their own.

Older people will find it easier to cross roads, chit-chat on the street and engage with friends and neighbours, thus reducing social isolation.

The long work commute will be distant memory as all kinds of businesses will have introduced flexible working, video conferencing, and more family- and child-friendly working practices.

There will be local area offices using digital technology which will provide the link to businesses, customers and workers at home.

Less vehicle traffic will mean cleaner air as well as reduced noise and stress. This together with high levels of physical activity will have lowered rates of obesity and heart disease and improved our overall general health and sense of wellbeing.

All these factors will have contributed to the creation of high quality living environments where community life will be much improved. This vision of a low-carbon future is not a green pipe dream but a possible reality. There are no technical, financial, organisational or other obstacles in our way. Many of the building blocks to create our alternative future already exist.

The future of our climate and our way of life will be dependent on the choices we are willing to make today. A vision of a greener future needs to be communicated and sold as positive and aspirational goal for all. Once we have sold the concept then we will need to move boldly and decisively to achieve this vision for ourselves and future generations.

© Gary Haq 2009

Staying Green in a Global Recession

Drax Power Station in YorkshireWHERE there is a will, there is a way. Unfortunately, when it comes to tackling climate change, the Government and the public may not have the will to make the radical changes necessary to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Faced with the credit crunch, global recession and a decline in personal finances, we may feel more inclined to abandon our green intentions.

In the short-term, this may provide some financial and political relief but we will have to pay in the long-term when faced with the human, environmental and economic cost of climate change.

The Stern report on the economic impact of climate change showed that the dangers of unabated climate change would cost the equivalent of at least five per cent of global gross domestic product (GDP) each year.

In contrast, the costs of action to avoid the worst impacts of climate change can be limited to around one per cent of global GDP each year. People would pay a little more for carbon-intensive goods, but
our economies could essentially continue to grow strongly.

The UK has shown some leadership with the Climate Change Bill. We are the only country in the world that has made the national long-term goal of a 80 per cent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2050 a legally binding target.

In contrast, the idea of personal carbon allowances, whereby people would have to trade in credits if they wanted to exceed their own carbon quota, has been shelved. Carbon allowances are seen as being effective and fairer than green taxes. However, the Government claims that while the scheme has appeal, it would be too expensive and complicated to implement.

For the past year, Louise, a 52-year-old secondary school teacher from York, has been struggling to reduce her carbon footprint. From fitting energy efficient light bulbs, recycling waste to reducing her car use – she has followed the advice. While she has made considerable progress, she has not found it easy. “I keep finding really good reasons why everyone else should be doing the hard work,” says Louise.

She is not alone. While we may rush to embrace the fashionable
idea of being green, our enthusiasm begins to waver when faced with the many small, but numerous difficulties we encounter in practice. A report by the Worldwide Fund for Nature questions whether promoting what it calls “simple and painless steps” for reasons of self-interest (e.g. lower heating bills) may be preventing us from engaging in more significant and potentially inconvenient and costly changes to our lifestyles.

It claims that those who engage in environmentally friendly behaviour in pursuit of goals such as personal growth and community
involvement tend to be more motivated and are likely to sustain their behaviour in the long term. While this may be the case, not everyone has the ability, time or inclination to lead a green lifestyle.

Cycling in HollandSetting emission reduction targets is easy; it is more difficult to implement the changes that will result in the required emission reductions. We only need to look to our European neighbours to see that the knowledge and technology exists to reduce carbon emissions. The Netherlands has an integrated transport system where walking, cycling and public transport provides realistic and affordable alternatives to the car.

The German green dot system requires manufacturers to take back the packaging of their goods, requiring them to reuse or recycle. In Scandinavia, energy-efficient homes are the norm rather than the exception. We can no longer claim ignorance on how to achieve a low carbon society. What is lacking is political will.

Politicians need to show leadership and take the tough decisions to make a low carbon society a reality. If we are to kick the carbon habit, then the low carbon option needs to be the cheaper, convenient and easier option for all. We will not longer have to think about being green, as it will be the only option.

In the face of economic difficulties, we should not be distracted by short-term issues but focus on the long-term consequences of our actions. We will need to accept that if we are to avoid the worst impacts of climate change then fundamental changes are required to reduce our carbon dependency.

© Gary Haq 2009