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21 June, 2006

Displacement activity

The Guardian provides a brief update on the current state of electric cars available in Britain, essentially concluding that the technology for 'zero-emissions' motoring is progressing rapidly, but there's an image problem (blame 'Top Gear') and in finding locations where one can plug cars into the domestic electricity supply for recharging.

The glaring flaw in the argument, which rarely seems to occur to journalists and the proponents of electric cars, is that the zero-emissions claim is bogus at present.

How is the electricity generated in the first place? If it's the product of a coal-, oil- or natural gas-burning power station, are the resulting emissions significantly better than those emitted by a petrol/diesel engine? This is geographically displacing the problem, but not eliminating it and, worse, inviting complacency.

If the electricity was from nuclear or wind sources, that'd be better, of course, but UK energy policy would need considerable revision.

I feel much the same way about hydrogen fuel cell engines. They're also promoted as zero-emission, but really rely on electricity, and ultimately that's fossil-fuel power stations again. The technology is also only worthwhile if more than 100% efficient (i.e. if usable energy output exceeds energy input), which isn't the case yet.
That's not a reason to abandon research – anything but – but I'm not celebrating just yet, and I still think a better solution is to minimise usage altogether.

[Via Spinneyhead.]

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