By the close of this decade it will be illegal to buy a new petrol car, and within another decade or so they will have been completely eliminated, except perhaps for a few die-hard Jeremy Clarkson fans taking their vintage motor for a spin on a Sunday afternoon. The air will be cleaner, the roads will be quieter, and Britain will be lauded as the first major economy to make driving carbon neutral. There is just one problem with this vision: we aren’t building enough chargers or generating enough electricity for it to work. This great electric car con is becoming emblematic of a government machine that prioritises pious virtual signaling over the needs of its citizens.
According to figures published this week by the Department of Transport the UK is currently adding 800 new charging points for electric vehicles a month. That may sound like a lot but we will need an estimated 300,000 chargers by the end of the decade. That is the bare minimum, given that most of us don’t want to drive desperately around the M25 or the M6 late at night looking for somewhere we can plug in. And to get anywhere near it, we will need to start installing new charging stations at a rate of more than 3,000 every month for the next seven years. That’s triple the current rate, starting next month. Given everything we know about the ability of the British government to hit any kind of a target on time the chances of that happening are roughly zero – absolute, not net.
And even if we did have the chargers, we wouldn’t have enough electricity to use them. Only this week, the National Grid started paying people to switch off their washing machines and kettles during peak hours to save on power. Some charging stations already have higher prices at peak times to ration consumption, and it is surely only a matter of time before London’s Sadiq Khan or some other show-boating local mayor introduces peak-time driving charges, even though five o’clock is when most of us collect the kids from school or head out of the office. On top of that, there aren’t even enough cars on the market – or at least not at a price most ordinary families can afford. The UK boss of the Korean giant Kia, a leader in the market, noted this week that the cost of batteries made it economically challenging to produce cheap electric vehicles.
The pattern is dismally familiar. The government machine, made up of ministers, civil servants and think tanks, loves to sign up to grand-sounding pledges. Strutting on the world stage and being hailed as a global leader makes everyone in power feel good about themselves. But when it comes to implementation – building infrastructure that actually works and allows ordinary people to get about at reasonable cost – there is a complete failure to deliver.
Electric vehicles can be great, and there is no question they can be better for the environment. And when the technology is right and costs have come down, people will adopt them for themselves. The Government’s rushed target will end in chaos.