Electric cars are rapidly becoming commonplace. With generous government subsidies, rising levels of air pollution becoming a daily concern for the public, and the alluring style of the Tesla Model 3, electric-powered vehicles are set to skyrocket in popularity in the coming years.
Despite their future-harking ideals, electric-powered vehicles were first invented in the 1800s, by 1900 a third of all cars on the roads were electric. But succumbing to the accessibly priced mass-production of Ford’s Model T, transports electric dreams were put on hold.
When electric cars re-entered the market in the 2010s, they had a host of problems that stopped them flooding a market saturated with oil fuelled vehicles that were desperate for innovation. Despite low running costs, the high price tags of electric cars put them out of reach for the majority of the public. Questions of range and the availability of charging points then made them unrealistic for many peoples commutes and every day driving needs.
In recent years, however, innovation in all of these areas have led them to explode in popularity. Fuel-powered hybrids that led to plug-in hybrids lured people into the idea of electric powered cars. In the meantime, fully electric cars and their associated infrastructure crept onto the scene. They got a new look, more similar to the cars we’re used to seeing on the roads and less like a concept vehicle for the future. Tesla broke the EV market by becoming an elite status symbol, far away from the environmental statement that electrically powered vehicles were associated with.
Electric vehicles have just reached 2 million in production. While this equates to just a 3% of all cars on the road, the market is expected to grow exponentially, with estimates saying that by 2040, over half of all new car sales and a third of the global fleet will be electric.
Governments around the world have been encouraging the uptake of electric vehicles in a bid to reach lowering emissions targets. With the US electric car market share of 0.9%, China, France and the United Kingdom shares close to 1.5% each, Northern Europe is leading the way with Sweden accounting for 3.4%, the Netherlands 6.4%, and Norway, the incontestable market leader with 29% of the market share.
Norway’s achievement is down to liberal tax cuts and incentives to help the nation achieve its ambitious green targets. In Oslo, electric car owners receive free parking, access to the HOV lane that has far less traffic, tax reductions on income tax, and no sales tax on electric vehicles makes it far cheaper to finance an electric vehicle than anywhere else in the world.
But Norway’s explosion in the EV market isn’t as green as it sounds. The subsidies are funded by the sovereign wealth fund in Norway, which is almost entirely comprised from the sale of Norway’s massive oil and gas reserves to other countries. Despite the nation deriving 99% of its own energy from renewable sources, almost all of which comes from hydropower along its coasts, up to 20% of the nation’s income comes from the sale of crude oil and gas, which is then funnelled into green initiatives. The irony is not lost on the Norwegians, but the innovations they continue to make in running a green economy at home, while allowing other nations increase their carbon footprint, to provide a template for countries to see how green economies can operate.
Norway’s unfortunate footnote to how they fund their massive contribution to the electric vehicle market is exemplary of how fossil fuels are still responsible for the financing of the planet. Our loyalty to oil, and therefore to the companies who provide it, is limiting the impact that electric vehicles can have. Despite BP buying the UK’s top charging point provider, oil companies are eager to lap up the rest of the flailing market. The influence of oil hegemonies allows massive pressures on governments through high taxation that levies governments to their side. This can explain the UK’s removal of incentives for greener cars last year by introducing a flat rate tax on all vehicles that produce more than zero emissions, meaning that a 2018 Range Rover has the same £140 road tax as a Hybrid Prius.
The source of energy for electric makes the pious promises of electric vehicles contentious. An electric car is only as clean as its energy supply, so in nations like the UK where over 50% of energy is supplied by fossil fuels, cO2 emitting gases still play a significant role in the running of greener vehicles. As EVs are most often charged at night when there’s no sunlight and less wind, with large energy storage facilities lacking in most grid infrastructures, electric vehicles still rely on fossil fuels to run until every nation divests from the industry. While generally, EVs use less energy per mile than a directly oil powered car, it makes the green star a little less shiny.
Another environmental concern is the lithium-ion batteries that are definitively bad for the environment. Sourcing the nickel required for the batteries is a dangerous affair, with mines coated with carcinogenic dust and sulphur dioxide. Without rigorous standards being implemented into the sourcing of this material, the electric car industry could become the newest face of a mining industry that flaunts human rights and environmental protection.
Questionable ethics aside, vehicles powered by electricity play a large role in the future of mobilised sustainable societies. New technologies are constantly being developed to improve the safety of battery resources, ranges continue to get further, and charging infrastructure is being built across the world’s roads. Recent economic forecasts suggest that electric vehicles may account for more than half of global car sales by 2040. Volvo recently announced that all their new models from 2019 will be electric or hybrid, and though they will continue to build petrol and diesel cars, there are plans to phase them out by 2024 entirely. Nations are following suit, with France, the UK, Norway, Sweden and India all pledging to stop the sale of non-electric vehicles by 2040 or earlier. Electric cars will soon be the future, but it is essential that our energy infrastructure up to the task with renewable energies or we could be at risk of just shifting the problem from car exhausts to factory chimneys.