An entertaining piece in the Telegraph by chief city commentator Ben Marlow had it that “The electric car ‘revolution’ is a disaster before it’s begun”, with the man writing that politicians were “forcing electric cars on a public that doesn’t want them”.
This commentary followed in the wake of the news that the car-making giant, Volkswagen, had cut back production of electric vehicles in its Emden plant in Germany because of “strong customer reluctance”.
Company executives said demand for EVs had fallen short of forecasts by 30 percent, forcing the company to lay off 300 of 1,500 employees working on EVs, while production of a range of new electric models is to be delayed.
As to the production of conventional internal combustion engine cars, Marlow reflects that an entire industry is not only being forced to abandon a product that the vast majority of people still want and use but is also being bullied into channelling all its resources into making something on a colossal scale for which there simply isn’t a market.
This, Marlow describes, in a fine turn of phrase, as “industrial self-sabotage and a commercial, economic and social catastrophe in the making”, made worse, he says, by the UK government’s myopic obsession with arbitrary net zero targets, bringing forward the deadline for phasing out the sale of diesel and petrol-driven cars from 2035, set in the rest of the industrial world, to an inexplicably early 2030.
Globally, reports of increased sales are largely illusory. As the car industry breaks out from its Covid-induced slump, sales across the board are increasing but pure EVs are struggling to maintain their limited market share, while extravagent claims of increased sales need to be measured against the very low base.
Self-sabotage apart, it is perhaps just as well for us all that EV sales are not meeting expectations. Not only is battery production capacity massively short of projected need, but the charging infrastructure is woefully inadequate at several levels.
This is not just a case of insufficient public charging points, with only just over 40,000 fitted against the 2030 requirement of between 280,000 and 480,000, with councils, amongst others, failing to step up to the plate.
It is estimated that the installation programme is 20 years behind schedule yet, even if the sites and equipment could be provided at a sufficient rate – which seems unlikely – the cabling required for grid connections is inadequate and creates a major barrier to the successful completion of the programme.
According to a report from Deloitte, between £8 and £18 billion of investment is needed just to supply a projected 280,000 sites by 2030.
At the moment, there is only a pilot under consideration, aimed at funding a portion of the cost of upgrading the electricity grid at motorway service areas (MSAs) where it is not commercially viable to do so, leaving no provision for sites throughout the rest of the country.
Should the hurdle of inadequate grid connections be overcome – which also seems unlikely – then there is the small matter of generating sufficient electricity to power the national EV fleet, estimated at almost three quarters of today’s typical household
Much of this increase will have to come from the 50GW of offshore wind generating capacity targeted for 2030 which, at the time of the target inception, even the most optimistic of estimates raised doubts as to whether it could be achieved.
And that was before the problems to which I alluded in a post at the end of June, when I picked up reports of serious technical problems with the larger wind turbines currently being installed.
At the time, it seemed that the problems could be confined to one manufacturer, Siemens Gamesa – although even then that was a dubious proposition. But now, additional reports tend to confirm that we are experiencing an industry-wide issue.
Christoph Zipf, spokesman for industry body WindEurope, remarks that the wind industry has expanded rapidly over the past two decades, achieving significant reductions in capital costs per unit of electricity generated. But these cost reductions, Zipf says, have been achieved with innovations in turbine technology and by pushing the boundaries of engineering.
Twenty years ago, Zipf adds, what would then have been considered a large wind turbine would have 1 MW capacity. Today, manufacturers are testing 15 MW turbines.
In fact, according to another source, over the past five years, the race to scale turbine technologies has seen the leap from 8MW to 18MW turbines occurring in a fraction of the time it took to go from 3MW to 8MW.