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Electric Car
Image: Pembina Institute

Could electric cars kill the UK economy?

We know that electric cars are good for the environment.  And with improvements in efficiency, the latest generation of electric cars can provide a range of 200-300 miles… more than enough for almost all of our journeys.  With battery technology improving, electric car sales are starting to take off.

Since the UK is a car exporting country, we would have to view this as positive news.  But, as the switch from oil-powered vehicles gathers momentum, it will place increasing strain on the UK’s already over-stretched energy generators.  This is because the overwhelming majority of electric car users will opt to charge their batteries overnight.

Currently, the night hours are the time when the National Grid can take capacity offline for maintenance and repair, or simply to allow for cooling.  As more of us plug our car chargers in overnight, the natural slump in energy demand will start to flatten out.  Power stations will have to be run at full capacity for longer, and maintenance schedules will have to be lengthened.  This makes Britain more vulnerable to mechanical failure.  Worse still, any large-scale adoption of electric vehicles will add to the UK’s current energy capacity deficit (the gap between supply and demand), with the likelihood that key industries and businesses will be cut off.  If this begins to happen on a regular – but unpredictable – basis, it is bound to affect future investment.

The real problem is that UK energy policy is faltering at today’s level of demand.  Nobody in a position to make a difference has even begun to think about the additional levels demand that is inevitable in a decarbonising economy.

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