Thursday, October 21, 2021

The idea of nuclear power has lasted for so long because no one wants to do it

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The Home Office in the U.K. wants us to start buying battery-powered cars in order to try to cut our greenhouse gas emissions. Its latest policy document, Renewables and the Renewable Electricity Markets, says that by 2050, the government expects electric cars to account for up to 30 percent of all the new vehicles that are sold — especially high-end vehicles that would first be made in the U.K.

So far, however, uptake of electric vehicles has been tepid. The electricity they produce is expensive and impractical in the United Kingdom. To generate the electricity needed to power an electric car, you have to dig up the earth (i.e., excavate it) or purchase it through an electricity grid. For that, you need to pay for this while also paying bills for other applications you might be interested in. Neither scenario is particularly attractive for consumers.

Of course, you could opt to just start driving gas cars and then magically a world of electric cars awaits. So far, this hasn’t worked.

A total of just 5,000 electric cars were sold in the U.K. in 2017, after more than 50,000 over the years. But if you were to get rid of a car in the United Kingdom, you would save roughly $20,000 in tax. So don’t hold your breath.

What is perhaps most striking about this policy is that it acknowledges that without dramatic change, demand for low-carbon electricity will drive up prices. That’s probably true because renewables themselves aren’t very cheap, particularly when it comes to producing power from the sun, wind, and geothermal, and we’re living in times of energy price spikes. In an attempt to make renewables a sustainable part of our system, though, the U.K. is studying the possibility of charging market entry to those with the most risk. So, you may think, this is why we should be more optimistic about the potential for electric cars.

But when it comes to the jobs that could be created, the policy document in no way seems to think that low-carbon electricity will provide sufficient opportunity to cut the estimated 2.1 million jobs in the U.K. automotive industry, the biggest and most viable source of the jobs that are certainly available.

The U.K. is already well on its way to having more cars on the road than any other nation on Earth (China is now starting to catch up), and a new survey shows that nearly half of drivers might not buy an electric car because they’re worried about the cost of maintenance and repair. Certainly, if we want to start paring down our environmental impact, many of those drivers are going to require more vehicles — even though they’re going to cost more.

Of course, the government’s shift from fossil fuels to renewables is an attempt to tackle greenhouse gas emissions. But we need to go much, much further — and quickly — to understand whether electric cars are going to represent a natural progression, reducing the need for oil and gas. Or if they are going to lead to a new global race for labor or, in the words of Tesla founder Elon Musk, keep the car industry in America.

Lloyd’s of London, which has traditionally moved in lockstep with the people who have run the insurance giant, made waves last year when it backed away from the oil industry. Another, smaller insurer Pembroke, which had been wary of the oil industry, has also begun to move away.

This stunning shift reflects a remarkable turnaround. Before BP became part of the state-controlled Russian government in 2003, it was the oil giant that helped make it the world’s richest country.

If it continues to operate in a world of renewable energy, that corporate legacy will die down. Can you be the builder of a solar panel and pull down the old 747? In short, can you build a car?

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