Rushing into a forced EV revolution is like driving a Tesla on bicycle wheels. And Shell knows it, and it knows the UK probably doesn't.
In case you missed it, there was piece of policy signed off by the British government to ban the sale of new cars powered by petrol and diesel by 2035. The reasoning behind is arguably quite flawed, but the limeys do seem adamant about their righteousness.
That announcement was probably followed by some back-patting and heaps self-congratulatory exchanges on how the country will be pioneers once again (remember those times?) and save the world while they’re at it. Hoorah! Jolly good!
Spurred on by the cheering eco-mentalists, it was reported that the UK were now toying with the idea of bringing that ban forward by 3 years, to 2032. Again, this would make it illegal - or at least extremely difficult - to sell a new car of any kind that’s powered by petrol or diesel. Monster trucks are totally fine, though, as they run on pure alcohol.
Surprisingly, Royal Dutch Shell - you know, V-Power, Helix - has now urged the Brits to bring that forward even closer, suggesting that the ban be implemented in 2030. This seems totally counter to the interests of a major player in the oil and gas space. But not only might it be a brilliant PR move, it could also be a troll of the finest quality.
Of course, the message was conveyed over Twitter, an excellent choice of weapon:
“Shell applauds this but believes it could be brought forward to 2030 to make sure the UK meets the 2050 #netzero target,”
I can almost see the smirk of whoever posted that on Shell’s official account. That smug grin was probably brought on because they know that, while it is kinda virtuous, it’s probably not going to work. The world revolves around fossil fuel, like it or not, and it’s almost funny to think how that’s likely to change within the next decade in any sweeping fashion.
Yet, here the UK has enacted a sweeping piece of policy, post-dated. They're also forcing every new car buyer down the EV path (presumably even hybrids are too disgustingly pollutive), not shady at all. For electric cars to reach a point where they'd offer a 1-to-1 replacement proposition over a ‘normal’ car will take a truly disruptive step forward in battery technology (which also has to be cheap), a frontier on which we’ve made relatively decent progress over the past 20 years.
Secondarily. Oh yes, you’d also have to solve the world’s impending energy crisis. No big deal. Without both those elements, this ‘electric future’ would rest on a foundation of twigs, ready to snap and crumble of its own weight. The UK is banking on several large-scale revolutions to occur in the space of a dozen-ish (10-15) years, and are willing to put its economy and citizens in a tremendous competitive disadvantage if this gamble doesn't pay off.
An inescapable reality is that we humans, at least in modern society, are trying to balance what we ‘need’ and what we think is ‘good’, but we've made mistakes before based on good intentions. Of course, battery-powered EVs have their pros, but many people ignore the cons, living in the loftier fringes and expecting things to sort themselves out in the squalor below. Where things get a little blown out of proportion is the sentiment that electric vehicles are somehow going to end all problems.
They might, and I hope they will, but not in their current state, which for the moment, involves tremendous cost, the mining and processing of harmful raw and finite materials, and potentially causes more pollution and environmental waste to build (a subject of ongoing debate).
Also, they rely on battery tech that can have its charge capacity degrade significantly over time, are dependent on an already highly strained electrical grid, and use electricity (primarily) generated from non-renewable sources - nullifying the fuzzy feelings you get from being ‘green’. Let’s expand on that last point.
For the vast majority of electric cars out there, the power they (store and) run on does still come from the grid. And boy, do they need A LOT of juice per charge. So much so that the electrical infrastructure is hilariously unprepared for the kind of overload that a widespread adoption of EVs will create.
Right now, electricity is cheap, but with the reliance of the world shifting away from fossil fuels without a new and abundant base energy source, be prepared for electricity vendors to be the new oil barons. The cost-per-watt will skyrocket simply because there’s now so much money to be made, so you can forget about free charging ports or even a spare plug point to charge your smartphone.
Let’s not forget that we’re also impatient, so these home chargers will somehow need to be capable of much higher voltages to reduce charge times, probably requiring a heavy-duty pre-charge buffer (working by the same principal to a hydraulic accumulator) to store the electricity for quick dispersion.
And even if an unlimited amount of money was thrown at the problem (overhauling the global electrical infrastructure - woah), there would still be an ugly root problem still waiting to be confronted. The fact of the matter is that, even now, most of the electricity in the world is still generated by leveraging non-renewable sources. Changing that isn’t going to be easy, but it needs to be tackled first.
Solar farms and wind farms are a couple of examples of the most well-known forms of renewable, eco-friendly electricity. However, they’re more than a little limp. They just don’t generate enough electricity in a reasonable amount of time to serve the energy needs of a technologically advanced and power-hungry society like we are in 2020.
What’s the answer? Who knows. Many futurists and scientists believe hydrogen is the most sustainable long term solution for us, and hydrogen fuel cell cars have shown a lot of potential. Work is also ongoing to further explore it as a potentially limitless fuel source to power generators. In fact, Shell is one of the leading producers of hydrogen for use in fuel cell vehicles, which could also be used to cleanly power generators connected to the grid.
Now we’re onto something.