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07/09/2017

France's ban on petrol and diesel engines could spark a revolution in the UK

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Electric car

The UK has followed France by pledging to ban petrol and diesel engines. This will require serious investment in alternative energy generation and storage, says Dan Jestico

In 23 years’ time every Thomas, Richárd et Henri could be driving electric vehicles, following the French government’s decision ban sales of petrol and diesel cars by 2040. The UK followed suit three weeks later. These moves are the boldest steps taken to tackle road transport emissions while improving air quality. 

Here, carbon dioxide emissions from transport are unchanged since 1990 and now make up the largest single source of UK CO2 emissions – and poor air quality accounts for 40,000 early deaths a year. 

If the UK is to achieve its pledged 80 per cent cut in CO2 emissions by 2050, transport emissions will have to be cut.

These policy targets appear to be ambitious legislative stances, set out by proactive governments keen to tackle pollution. Or is the market going to get there first? Only 0.6 per cent of new vehicle registrations in the EU in 2016 were for pure electric vehicles, but the market is growing rapidly. And sales of diesel cars are falling. By 2040 it may be that the idea of banning fossil fuel cars will be extraneous. 

"By 2040 it may be that the idea of banning fossil fuel cars will be extraneous"

Our cities will become more pleasant places to live. Reduced smog and traffic noise will mean we’re more willing to open windows to ventilate buildings instead of relying on air conditioning. Less heat rejected from buildings will reduce the urban heat island effect.

But for this to happen we need serious investment in our electricity grid. The government has also announced a £246 million investment in battery technology. Along with adoption of electric vehicles and falling costs in photovoltaic panels, this means more people will be able to generate and store energy in their homes and cars. 

With smart meters and demand-side response technologies, traditional consumers will become ‘prosumers’ – both producing and consuming electricity. This will cause significant disruption to the ‘big six’ energy suppliers: the nationwide electricity infrastructure still needs to be in place, but reduced consumption from centralised sources will mean fewer people paying for it.  

The grid needs to become a lot smarter. None of this is as a result of government policy. It’s down to market forces and falling technology costs. 

Electric vehicles will not solve congestion or our reliance on roads for transport, but as technology improves and infrastructure grows, barriers to entry in the electric vehicle market will fall. The UK and French targets may seem audacious in 2017, but by 2040 the notion of a petrol or diesel car may be met with Gallic shrugs on both sides of the Channel.

Dan Jestico is director, sustainable development, for Iceni Projects

Image | Shutterstock

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