Electric cars - Possibilities we should exploit fully

ENERGY Minister Eamon Ryan has said that more than 200,000 Irish motorists will drive electric cars in just over a decade.

This is an astounding target when you consider that, if it is realised, less than half a century will separate that achievement from the completion of rural electrification in this country. That timeframe is shorter than an average lifetime today and represents a pace of change utterly incomprehensible a few decades ago.

The electric car target has been endorsed by Fine Gael energy spokesman Simon Coveney who, in a report to the Dáil committee on climate change, pointed out that we need to be more proactive if we are to be ready for this inevitability and exploit the economic opportunities it will present.

By 2020, if carbon emissions from Irish vehicles persist at current levels, they will rise by 256% in 30 years. Despite our green self-image, we have the fifth highest per capita emissions of greenhouse gases in the world. If that does not confirm that we are in some sort of Tír na nÓg denial maybe this will: we import 93% of our energy compared to 80% dependency across the EU. The consequences of all this are looming EU and Kyoto sanctions. Stripped of the diplomacy, this means huge fines for not doing what we should have done to help ourselves. Schools and hospital beds gone because we don’t recognise the realities of 2009.

In contrast Sweden has declared that, despite the worldwide economic catastrophe, climate change “will be an absolute focus” of that country’s presidency of the European Union from July 1. Sweden has already said it hopes to be oil free in less than a decade. Their environment minister, Andreas Carlgren, said last week that the EU hoped to reach agreement on a successor to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol at next December’s UN climate change summit in Copenhagen. If that commitment is not enough to get us to change out attitudes maybe we should consider decisions made by China last week.

China aims to be one of the leading producers of hybrid and all-electric vehicles within three years. That suggests that European and American car manufacturers face even greater challenges than a collapse in sales.

By skipping today’s sunset technology — going from sail to diesel, skipping steam — China hopes to be in a position to reap the benefits when oil becomes too expensive for private motoring.

This is not the first time, even in our very recent history, that we have been warned that we need to dramatically change our ways or face dire consequences.

Eamon Ryan believes that we can power these cars to a large degree by electricity generated through wind. Fine Gael’s energy spokesman has largely agreed. The rest of the world is already working on these issues and if ever there was a time for huge ambition — no more than courage really — and big-picture thinking it is now. This is a project we should embrace, a development we should exploit. As an aspirant leader confronted by huge problems said recently: “Yes, we can.”


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