EVs – What’s the deal?
Electric vehicles (EVs) are motorised vehicles powered by an electric motor rather than by an internal combustion engine (ICE) (whether petrol or diesel).
In RBKC a great deal of emphasis is being place on EVs as the main policy for addressing the environmental issues of our transport network. Much less, if any, emphasis is placed on things like reducing volumes of motor traffic (whether EVs or ICEs), and making our streets less congested, safer and better for people and business.
A strategy – like that of RBKC – which is so reliant on EVs as “the” answer won’t work.
- EVs are better than diesel or petrol cars as they produce less harmful emissions locally, and (under most estimates) will produce less CO2 over their lifetime
- Pollution. They do produce harmful emissions, both when they are made (10-20 tons of embedded CO2 in the production of each car), in the power they consume, and also importantly also in the local emissions of highly dangerous particulate matter from tyre wear, brake pad dust and road surface erosion
- Congestion. They don’t fix congestion. If anything, they make it worse by making people think car journeys are “guilt-free” and reducing the cost of travelling by car.
- Road danger. Motor vehicles (which includes EVs) are the cause of all the over 100 Killed or Seriously Injured in RBKC’s roads each year. EVs are large, heavy, fast and potentially lethal
- Sedentary lifestyles. We have a national and local health crisis, driven in part by inactive lifestyles. Encouraging further car dominance of our streets discourages people from walking or cycling instead, and makes streets dangerous for kids to play in
- Transport inequality. Most people in RBKC don’t have a car (about 80% don’t have a car), and most households (just over half) don’t have access to a car either. In RBKC it can cost just £21/year to park your EV, but it’s £72 to store a bike securely
- Pavement clutter. EV charging equipment can cause serious accessibility issues on our pavements
- Excuse. EVs can give politicians something good to talk about, while doing nothing, or too little on other things. In RBKC for example, there are EV chargepoints within 200m of everyone. Their goal though is to have a “cycle way” of some sort within 400m – so twice the distance, meaning obviously that their priority is for those who have and/or can afford a car to travel by car, rather than making it a realistic option for people to travel by bike
EVs – What’s good about them?
There are some good things about EVs.
ICEs – that’s diesel or petrol cars – give out a lot of emissions through their exhaust pipes. These are known as “tailpipe emissions”. There are lots of nasty things in here – reduced to some extent by technology over the years, but still an unpleasant cocktail of gases and particulates that harm health locally and contribute to global warming.
Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) is one key pollutant. This has been substantially reduced in recent years in inner London through the introduction of the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ). The ULEZ has now extended to include RBKC. For a detailed review of air pollution in London, and the impact of ULEZ, see here https://www.london.gov.uk/sites/default/files/air_quality_in_london_2016-2020_october2020final.pdf
Because EVs don’t have a combustion engine, they don’t have an exhaust pipe, and so they don’t have any of these emissions. This is great!
EVs do of course use a lot of energy though to move around. After all, they weigh between 1.5 – 3 tonnes, and so that does take a lot of energy. In London mostly they are just carrying a person weighing (say) between 60 – 90 kilos, and so most of the energy used is to move the car around, rather than the person. In that sense, they are really not efficient at all in their use of energy.
On the positive side, electric motors are much more efficient than internal combustion engines, which waste a lot of energy in the process of running the energy (over half is lost just in heat). Also, the source of energy for a combustion engine has to be petrochemicals of some sort (biofuels being pretty marginal). The extraction, refining and transport of these has a large climate cost. EVs are powered by electricity, and that electricity can be generated by many different ways. In the UK, the proportion that is fossil fuels continues to fall.
Of course, building an EV means lots of metals and minerals need to be extracted from the ground, and turned into usable products. This has a very large carbon footprint as well as other impacts on the earth through mining. This applies to the batteries as much as to the rest of the car.
Estimates of the carbon footprint of the production of an EV vary, and of course, will vary depending on the particular vehicle. This estimate is about 15 tonnes of CO2 – or about 60 flights from London to Mallorca. So if you want to reduce your carbon footprint, not buying a car will help a lot.
EVs generally have a bigger carbon footprint in production than ICEs. So their overall carbon footprint impact depends on how much they are used, and what the source of energy is. Generally speaking though, a normally used EV in the UK should, over the course of its lifetime, have a lower carbon footprint than an ICE. But both will be large.
So what are the problems?
Well, there’s the carbon footprint and other extraction related points we just spoke about. It might be better than an ICE, but it still has one (a large one). If you don’t need a 2-3,000 kg vehicle to carry you around, then for the planet it’s better not to have one. Just because it’s an EV, and not a diesel or petrol car, it doesn’t mean it’s “good” for the planet – it still has costs, just less than those of an ICE (usually).
EVs do produce harmful emissions, not only when they are made and in the power they consume as we have described above, but also importantly also in the local emissions of highly dangerous particulate matter from tyre wear, brake pad dust and road surface erosion.
Here’s RBKC’s own statistics on PM10s – small and deadly particles in our air. The main contributor is road transport – and not exhaust fumes, but rather car brake pads, “resuspension” (that is, the effect of a car moving and stirring up all the rubbish
EVs don’t fix congestion. If anything, they make it worse. To start with, they are just another car, and so by definition a fairly large object that is (in London) normally used to carry one (and occasionally two) people. So they take up a lot more space in the transport system than the equivalent number of people travelling by foot, bike or bus. Ironically perhaps Tesla is trying to persuade staff to travel by bike, because it doesn’t have room for parking. https://www.bicycling.com/news/a20003627/tesla-is-paying-employees-to-commute-by-bike/.
It might actually be worse than that. Studies have shown that making cars more affordable/attractive tends to make people use them more. And so an EV, which is cheaper to run (once it’s been purchased) than an ICE, and has sometimes incentives like cheaper parking, may make people actually use cars more. See here for example from the Centre for Research into Energy Demand Solutions https://www.forbes.com/sites/carltonreid/2019/07/05/electric-cars-dont-reduce-congestion-but-bicycles-can-argues-uk-government-funded-report/?sh=2062f434323e
Motor vehicles (which includes EVs) are the cause of all the over 100 Killed or Seriously Injured in RBKC’s roads each year. EVs contribute to these statistics, and the overall state of our streets which is that they are dominated by motor vehicles, and so unpleasant for those on foot or bike, or, for example, children who might otherwise wish to play outside.
RBKC is not getting any better for this. The last report in detail refers to the 2018 statistics, which admit that they are going in the opposite direction to targets – ie, worse each year, not better.
We have a national and local health crisis, driven in part by inactive lifestyles. Encouraging further car dominance of our streets discourages people from walking or cycling instead, and makes streets dangerous for kids to play in.
Most people in RBKC don’t have a car, and most households don’t have access to a car either. Building infrastructure that focuses primarily on a minority isn’t fair and is a subsidy from those with less to those with more. In RBKC it can cost just £21/year to park your EV, but it’s £72 to store a bike.
When RBKC revised its parking permits, we pointed out to them that by reducing the existing cost of a permit to someone who has an EV, they are likely simply subsidising someone who can already afford it at the expense of many in the borough who don’t have a car.
We have asked why cycle storage costs so much. In Lambeth, for example, for exactly the same thing it’s £42/year vs £72 here. Meanwhile, RBKC has spent about £1m we think on EV charge points and about £100,000 on cycle hangars.
By just making it cheaper for a minority of residents to drive and store private cars, are they really helping others – whether bus users whose journeys will be delayed by the ever-increasing amount of car traffic, or those for example who want to travel by bike?
EVs can give politicians something good to talk about, while doing nothing, or too little on other things. In RBKC for example, there are EV charge points within 200m of everyone. Their goal though is to have a “cycleway” (completely undefined – it might just be a sign or a bit of paint) within 400m – so twice the distance, meaning obviously that their priority is for those who have and/or can afford a car to travel by car, rather than making it a realistic option for people to travel by bike.
We’ve done a review of what this commitment by RBKC to cycleways really means. In short, close to nothing – but the full report is here https://betterstreets4kc.org.uk/campaigns/connected-cycle-network-in-kensington-and-chelsea/
We often see from our MP and councillors proud statements about their commitment to climate and so on, and often with EVs at the top of the list. But – for example – nothing is being done on reducing actual volumes of road traffic or enabling (as opposed to empty words of “encouraging”) people to swap cars for bikes.
Compared to bikes, for example, EVs are ten times LESS useful in climate change. And of course, that doesn’t touch on the other topics of road danger, health, congestion and transport inequality. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1361920921000687?via%3Dihub
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