Sunday, June 3, 2012

Electric cars will save us all (not)

James Henderson at The Standard has kindly given permission to syndicate this post - the original is found here.

You know how, whenever someone points out that spending $12 billion on highways that make no economic sense makes even less sense when you consider that people are driving less because of the price of petrol and will only reduce their driving more in the face of even higher petrol prices, some idiot says ‘we’ll just invent alternatives, drive electric!’. Yeah, it ain’t happening.

Leaving aside the problem that there’s not enough lithium producable for all the batteries we would need, there’s just no way that the take-up of electric cars is going to be sufficiently fast to make a big difference to the oil-intensity of driving in New Zealand.

There are 46 electric cars registered in New Zealand, out of 3.4 million. That’s up from 25 in 2007. At the current (let’s assume exponential) rate of increase, it will reach 350 by 2022.

By that time, petrol prices will be $5 a litre.

Even if every car registered from now on was electric (and that wouldn’t be possible even if New Zealand bought the world’s whole electric car production), over half the fleet in 2022 would be oil-driven because most cars that will be on the road in 2022 are already on the road. The average age of the car fleet is 13.59 years and that’s increased by 1.5 years in the past five years and 2 years in the past ten.

People aren’t responding to high oil prices by buying electric cars: they’re responding by keeping their old cars and driving them less (traffic volumes have been falling for nearly all of the past four years and vehicle kilometres travelled are down about 7% per capita from peak)

MoT projects that 85-90% of vehicles will still be conventional in 2030. Indeed, the likelihood of ongoing weak growth and high fuel prices leaves businesses and families with less capital for investment in new vehicles.

All of which makes the daydreams of people who say ‘yeah, we should spend $12 billion on uneconomic roads, because we’ll all drive on them in electric cars’ even more fanciful.

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