The government has set an ambitious vision for almost every car and van to be a zero emission vehicle by 2050.(1) Due to the time needed for fleet turnover, this requires almost all new cars and vans sold to be near-zero emission at the tailpipe by 2040. These Ultra Low-Emission Vehicles (ULEVs) could be powered by batteries, hydrogen fuel cells, sustainable biofuels, or a mix of these and other technologies.(2) The Department for Transport estimated in 2007 that electrification of the whole transport sector (not including aviation and shipping) would add 16% to overall electricity demand but given much re-charging of electric vehicles (EVs) would take place during the night, this would not require massively more capacity in practice.(3)
A study(4) for WWF published in March 2011 shows that at least 1.7 million EVs will be needed by 2020 and 6.4 million by 2030 in order to achieve the UK’s climate change targets. EVs would then represent 6% of all UK cars in 2020 and 18% in 2030. In order to achieve this, the UK will need to become ‘EV ready’ which means the roll-out of charging infrastructure, and the development of ‘smart grids’ which optimise EV charging for grid stability and at times of lowest carbon intensity. The study estimates that even with very high EV uptake, EVs would only add a maximum additional load of about 9% of total forecast demands in 2030.
EVs will have to be an important part of the solution as they are a much lower carbon alternative to conventional cars, which produce 14% of the UK’s CO2 emissions. EVs are much more energy efficient, with 75% efficiency compared to the 20% efficiency of fossil fuel-powered cars. But EVs are not carbon-free. Ultimately, the scale of the contribution they could make to a low-carbon transport sector depends on the carbon intensity of the electricity that powers them. That’s why EVs need to go hand in hand with decarbonisation of the grid. But EVs only make sense in the context of a new, more sustainable approach to transport. If we end up driving more because EVs have lower operating costs then we’ll need far more of them to achieve the carbon reductions we need to achieve. People will need to consume and travel less by car – and more intelligently – if the UK is to meet its climate change targets. We need to make the right set of choices to bring about fundamental change if we’re to reduce our oil dependency and make the transition to a low-carbon economy.
Therefore there will also need to be greater support for walking and cycling, car sharing and more attractive public transport options to help to bring down car kilometres and reduce the need for private car travel. Other measures which help to curb demand might also be needed. While there is evidence of significant energy savings and reductions in carbon emissions, there is some uncertainty about other impacts of EVs when compared to conventional vehicles. For example battery technology for cars will drive a massive increase in demand for lithium, most of which is currently mined in South America and China. The extraction of lithium has local environmental impacts but studies vary in their assessment of the severity of these. This underlines the importance of the need for a significant overall reduction in car use.(5)
Cumbria Transport Plan Strategy 2011 to 2026
Recent research shows that 32% of carbon emissions in Cumbria are due to transport. The Cumbria Transport Plan(6) describes its purpose as being to “secure and steer investment for the county so as to support the development of the local economy, reduce carbon emissions, and ensure a high quality environment for residents and visitors.” The plan says it reflects the Government’s vision for a sustainable transport system as set out in the 2011 White Paper which will be achieved through, amongst other things encouraging behaviour change by making walking, cycling and public transport more attractive; and in the longer term increased use of electric vehicles.
The Transport Plan is very general, and relies heavily on road improvements, there are no plans to investigate the introduction of an electric vehicle infrastructure and it wants the Nuclear New Build project, which is looking increasingly unlikely, to help fund required improvements to the road and rail network in West Cumbria. This is an example of the expectations and dependency which are generated by the nuclear industry’s community benefit funds.
Apart from the frequent mentions of the need to improve cycling facilities, the Cumbria Transport Plan fails to give the sense of urgency to implement the changes required and the move to a zero carbon transport infrastructure. This will require a big shift of emphasis to improving public transport, which probably means some major infrastructure developments. County officials need to design a rural equivalent to the tram networks being developed in some of England’s urban areas. The Allerdale Borough Council Transport Plan is seeking improvements to the West Cumbrian Coastal Railway service without being specific.(7)This should be investigated further.
Campaigners have been calling for the re-opening of the Keswick to Penrith railway line – which could cost between £40m and £100m. They say the case to reopen it now is stronger than ever. The Keswick to Penrith railway track bed is largely intact. Less than 10 per cent of the earthworks and bridges have been removed and most of the alignment is unobstructed.(8) The North West Regional Development Agency concluded that re-opening the Keswick-Penrith Railway appears likely to generate economic benefits in excess of its costs. (9) The feasibility of further developing rail infrastructure should be investigated.
Additional sectors which can contribute to Sustainable Cumbria
This website offers an analysis of potential energy futures for Cumbria that could be developed without reliance on the nuclear sector. It shows the enormous potential not only for developing sustainable and local energy systems, but also the potential for these to create the employment opportunities that Cumbria will need following the planned wind down of nuclear plant. It shows that the there are alternatives to nuclear development in West Cumbria.
As such it aims to open debate among Cumbrians, businesses, the public and the voluntary sector, and in Cumbrian politics. It does not cover the full range of sectors that could make a contribution, focusing as it does on energy alone, along with transport. It invites further analysis from others including for example:
- sustainable food production
- financing of local energy schemes and systems
- eco-housing schemes
There needs to be a step change in thinking on transport. Plans need to be drawn up for transport system which is virtually zero carbon by 2050. This implies making the County EV ready by 2030, and much greater support for walking and cycling, car sharing and more attractive public transport options. The County Council should produce a Cumbria Transport Plan which looks at the longer term 2014 to 2050.
- Ultra Low Emissions Vehicles, Department of Transport website accessed 21st May 2014.
- The Carbon Plan: Delivering Our Low Carbon Future HM Government December 2011
- Low Carbon Transport Innovation Strategy, Potential importance of a low carbon electricity mix. DfT May 2007.(para 9.12)
- Electric Avenues: Driving home the case for electric vehicles in the UK, WWF, March 2011.
- Questions and Answers: Electric Vehicles, WWF June 2010
- Moving Cumbria Forward: Cumbria Transport Plan Strategy, 2011 – 2026
- Transport, Allerdale Borough Council, June 2012
- Carlisle News and Star 17th January 2011
- Keswick to Penrith Railway: Stage Two Report Business Case Executive Summary, NRDA, 2007