A few years ago at a conference on Electric Vehicles I posed the following question
If we believe the following three things
1) EVs are the future and will quickly displace diesel and petrol cars
2) EVs will usher in autonomous cars but we don’t yet know when
3) The arrival of autonomous cars will accelerate an existing trend of lower car ownership and introduce broader car sharing and subscription models
1) how much should we invest in wiring the U.K. to support widespread and local charging of EVs?
2) when should we switch our investment plan to cater for AVs that drive themselves to a charging spot (and so are in in use perhaps 70-80% of the time) and that don’t need to be parked outside a house (unused 90% of the time)
3) what would we do with the space that was freed up, particularly, say in the streets of South London where single lane roads with two lanes of parked cars would suddenly have wide streets, no longer need traffic control measures and would be safe for the young and the old to wander around in?
There is no easy answer to those questions. We are so early in the world of EV take up, not just in the U.K. but elsewhere (though other countries – Norway and China for instance are far ahead). There are plenty of scenarios, of course. My sense is that we are only really dealing with Q1 above as everything else likely falls into the top hard box.
There are lots of challenges with EVs. I’ve written here about some of them over the last 12-18 months.
One of the bigger challenges is around the ethics of the components that are used in EVs, particularly around where many of them come from and how they are mined or produced.
An EV needs nearly double the amount of copper a traditional car uses. Cobalt is physically mined by huge numbers of workers, often involving child labour; death rates are off the scale. Lithium is perhaps a little better, but not much, and if delivered at the volumes needed to put a battery into every car, would be worse. There are plenty of other rare earth materials involved – all of which are also used (in vastly different quantities at an individual level but huge quantities at a macro level) to make jet fighters, mobile phones, submarines and computers.
What then, if we asked a different question and said “what would it take to make hydrogen a viable fuel source?” and when could we, or should we, make the switch to backing that as the best option?
Norway is already trialling this. Japanese car makers have long been sceptical of EVs (notwithstanding the hybrid Prius and the Leaf EV) and have invested heavily.
The big cost is affordable extraction using solely renewable energy sources. The big challenge is likely erasing memories of the Hindenburg from the minds of potential customers.
But what if?