Electric cars: Plug in, drive off
The government is promoting the use of electric cars through a subsidy for new purchases. Is this really the way to save
Prime minister and London mayor launch initiatives Gordon Brown revealed last week that the government plans to subsidise
electric-car use, offering purchasers £2,000 towards the cost of an electric car because “it’s good for the environment”.
Boris Johnson, the London mayor, followed up the announcement by unveiling his scheme to turn the capital’s roads electric.
His programme would include 25,000 “juice points”, charging stations for electric cars, across the city. Britain has
agreed to cut its CO2 emissions by 80% before 2050. For that target to be met, 40% of all vehicles in Britain would have
to be either electric or hybrid (powered by a combination of electricity and petrol), according to Lord Turner of
Ecchinswell, chairman of the government’s climate change committee.
Electric cars are expensive and difficult to charge Even with the government’s planned subsidy, the cost of electric
cars is still high: the two-seater G-Wiz Lion model, for example, starts at £15,795. The high-performance Tesla Roadster
has a starting price of £87,100. There is also little infrastructure in place to support the recharging that such cars need.
Even state-of-the-art batteries need to be charged roughly every 100 miles, and this has to be done at the car owner’s home.
It is estimated that a normal household electrical circuit takes 10 hours to charge one car fully. Other difficulties could
result from overuse of the national grid, which could short-circuit household fuses and cause blackouts nationally.
Electricity would be derived from coal power A bigger problem is the source of the electricity needed to run the cars.
They would inevitably be partly powered by coal-fired power stations, which produce about a third of UK energy; renewables
account for only 4%. Richard George of the Campaign for Better Transport said: “You’re not solving the CO2 problem at all.
You’re just shifting it somewhere else.” Other critics queried the government’s focus on cars as bad carbon emitters.
According to a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, agriculture accounts for 14% of greenhouse gas
emissions, more than the combined global emissions of cars, trains, ships and planes. Recent research also suggests that
one giant container ship emits the same amount of pollution as 50m cars.
FUTURE IS HYDROGEN
Ecofriendly cars with no emissions already exist Many believe the future belongs to hydrogen-powered cars. They work by
combining hydrogen with oxygen within the car’s own fuel cell and emit nothing but water. Britain’s first hydrogen fuel
station opened in April last year at Birmingham University but Japan is ahead of the game: it finished building a
hydrogen highway in 2005, which included the installation of 12 hydrogen-fuelling stations in 11 cities. Last summer
Honda launched the FCX Clarity in the US, the first commercially produced hydrogen car, while Mercedes-Benz and BMW
also have hydrogen-powered cars in the testing stages. The FCX Clarity costs $600 (£410) a month to rent and is not
available to buy.
C. 500 words
By Helen Brooks
Source: TimesOnline of April 12, 2009
1a. What incentive will the British government offer potential car buyers if they buy an electric car?
b. What is the government hoping to achieve by this?
2. What disadvantages are there for owners of electric cars?
3. Why will electricity driven cars not necessarily be more environmental-friendly?
4. Where are emissions of CO2, according to the IPCC, higher than with vehicles of all kinds?
5.Which cars will be the most ecofriendly and why is this so?