Electric vehicles: Ireland risks being left in the slow lane

THE move towards electric vehicles appears to be unstoppable and it is now entirely feasible that, within a generation or so, petrol and diesel fuelled cars will become as rare as the gramophone.

Paris authorities plan to banish all petrol- and diesel-fuelled cars from the world’s most visited city by 2030.

“Transport is one of the main greenhouse gas producers... so we are planning an exit from combustion engine vehicles, or fossil-energy vehicles, by 2030,” said the city’s mayor, Anne Hidalgo, announcing the policy.

Other cities, including Athens, Madrid, and Mexico, are considering similar moves and China, the world’s biggest polluter after the United States, has announced that it also plans to get rid of combustion-engine cars.

There are, however, some obstacles to that happening. Firstly, the technology itself. While battery power is suitable for small cars in urban areas where journey times are short, the technology does not appear to have advanced enough to offer anxiety-free motoring over long distances.

There is also the challenge of powering big trucks, most of which currently run on highly polluting diesel because battery technology has not developed enough to make electric alternatives viable.

In fact, the greatest contribution to cutting greenhouse gasses could come from electric commercial vehicles. This has already been recognised in Britain, which is leading the way on eliminating the combustion engine and where vans, trucks and buses are driving the electric vehicle revolution. In Europe, fewer than one in 20 vehicles are commercial or heavy duty trucks, but they contribute to almost 20% of greenhouse gas emissions.

In Germany, Deutsche Post has started building its own electric vans while, in the US, the city of Los Angeles plans to make its entire bus fleet emissions-free by 2030 and some London routes now have only electric buses.

Given what is happening elsewhere, Ireland is in danger of being left behind. Exempting electric cars from benefit in kind in the budget was described by AA Ireland as “not a bad idea but not a big idea either”. That is a neat summing-up of the failure of the Government to introduce any radical measure to encourage the purchase of electric cars.

“There were less than 400 electric cars sold last year and there are just over 1,800 electric cars in Ireland. In Norway the figure is 135,000. This modest measure will not do much to close that gap,” said the AA’s Conor Faughnan.

There is also the considerable problem with lack of infrastructure. As Irish Examiner columnist Victoria White pointed out in an amusing polemic yesterday, there are far too few electric vehicle charging points, some don’t work, and so-called fast chargers take at least 20 minutes. This makes a mockery of Transport Minister Shane Ross’s assertion that electric vehicles are now a “reasonable alternative” here.

We need radical thinking and radical action if electric vehicles are to become a reality in Ireland in any sizable number. Otherwise, we will be left in the slow lane.

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