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London Says "I'm Alright Jack," But Are Clean Electric Vehicles Actually an Urban Myth?

Lowering emissions in London by switching to electric vehicles can mean raising CO2 emissions elsewhere.

London has a serious problem with air quality. There are public health concerns with Particulate Matter (principally PM 2.5 micro-metre size and PM 10 micro-metre size particles). ‘PMs’ are the respiratory (asthma-inducing) and cancerous particulates emitted by diesel engines. There are also NOx and SOx (nitrogen and sulphur dioxides). Ex-UK Chief Scientist Sir David King’s advice that diesel vehicles emitted less CO2 than petrol vehicles led to the upsurge of PM2.5s and PM10s. To be fair to him, he was misled by VW et al, who provided perfect test bed results but later, having failed to overcome the particulate problems, introduced ‘malware’ into their diesel engines’ computers to regain engine performance on the road. True, hydrogen- and electric-powered vehicles will mostly eliminate the pollutants. Hydrogen gas powering internal combustion engines creates zero ‘PMs’ but causes some NOx, and electricity from renewables (wind, solar and nuclear) to charge batteries for powering electric motors has no emissions. But what about CO2?

London is about to embark on radical electrification of buses and taxis. No doubt this will improve the air quality in London. But the electricity has to come from somewhere doesn’t it? And if the ‘somewhere’ is a fossil-fuel power station without CCS (Carbon Capture and Storage) there are corresponding CO2 emissions at the power station that generates the electricity for London’s buses and taxis. However, as far as Planet Earth, is concerned, the CO2 is still being emitted – just not in London. This is a £136 million a year hidden carbon cost for London and is the tip of a £2 billion iceberg for UK transport as a whole. As a result, a clean-air London is, in effect, saying ‘I’m alright Jack’, because ‘Jack’, aka Planet Earth, is in reality being harmed by London’s success. This is a worrying glimpse into the ‘Alice Through the Looking Glass’ world of London’s ‘green’ transport policies. There is more.

London, indeed Britain, is contemplating an expensive diesel buy-back or ‘scrappage’ scheme. This is daft. What London needs is revenue not expenditure. What London requires therefore is a carbon price to incentivise the transition from diesel- and petrol-powered vehicles to hydrogen- and electric-powered vehicles. Dr Amory Lovins, the futurist and one of Time magazines’ 100 most influential people, delivered his lecture ‘Disruptive oil and electricity futures’ last week to the Oxford Martin School. During Q&As he supported a carbon price to speed that transition.

PAL has scientifically determined such a carbon price. It is based on the loss and damage attributable to manmade climate change triggered by burning fossil fuels. This is the real ‘bedrock’ carbon price that, uniquely, is neither politically driven nor market led. By adopting this carbon price as a ‘London Clean Transport Charge’ on all diesel and petrol sold within the M25 London Orbital Motorway, London could fund infrastructure for fuelling hydrogen- and electric-powered vehicles. Diesel-fuelled vehicles would get charged the most, followed by petrol, then electric from CCGT (gas) plants, and lastly those hydrogen-fuelled vehicles where the hydrogen is made from natural gas (steam-methane reforming). A smart grid matching supply and demand could provide both hydrogen from electrolysis of water powered by renewables – to run internal combustion engines – plus electricity from renewables for charging electric vehicle batteries.

So rather than move London’s CO2 pollution to someone else’s doorstep, why not tax London’s vehicles’ CO2 emissions instead? That way, the new ‘London Clean Transport Charge’ can fund London’s buses and taxis to run on hydrogen (made from water not gas) or electricity (from renewables not gas). Then Jack, as well as London, will be alright.

The post London says ‘I’m alright Jack’: but are clean electric vehicles actually an urban myth? appeared first on PAL.

Original Post


Jesper Antonsson's picture
Jesper Antonsson on Jun 15, 2017

The gasoline taxes in the UK are plenty high, so I think what you ask for is already in place. If the world would get an equivalent CO2 tax, coal would be pushed out very, very rapidly.

Lovins’ production should always be handled with a dose of healthy skepticism, btw. His anti-nuclear position does nothing to instill confidence and it has done much more to harm the climate than he will be able to make up for through other ideas.

Mark Heslep's picture
Mark Heslep on Jun 15, 2017

No taxes on the world exist. There is however a long history of technologies that rapidly become adopted globally because of their innate advantages over the status quo. Gen IV nuclear is a good candidate, though Mr Lovins will do all he can to stop it.

Jesper Antonsson's picture
Jesper Antonsson on Jun 16, 2017

I think few people want taxes on the world, but if all countries/states would get their own high taxes on gas, it’d be good. It’d actually move profits from the Middle East and Russia to these consumers’ tax coffers. And we’ve come pretty far, since Europe, Japan, Korea has them. I think Brazil as well.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jun 16, 2017

Bruce, when Hinkley C goes online in 8 years it will be providing 13% of UK electricity carbon-free, and given its proximity to London presumably more there. A carbon tax would help keep costs down for consumers by keeping profits up for EDF, and encourage other nuclear projects in the future (Bradwell B, Sizewell C). Hinkley C will be licensed for 60 years of operation.

By using nuclear electricity to power London transportation, the city not be moving a its CO2 problem to anyone’s doorstep, but eliminating it. A public solution to a public problem – who woulda thought?

Mark Heslep's picture
Mark Heslep on Jun 16, 2017

Higher gas taxes would be several things, some good via reduced emissions, and some not. Among the not is that a gas tax is regressive. That is, it’s the lower incomes that lower consumption in response to price increases, not the DiCaprio types private jetting their way through many tons of fuel to the next display of concern at the UN.

Joe Deely's picture
Joe Deely on Jun 17, 2017

Hey Bob, Can you help me out here…I’m not as familiar with markets outside the US…trying to see where you got the 13% number. Can you provide a source?

I recently read this.

“The site is overshadowed by EDF’s existing Hinkley Point B power station, due to be decommissioned in 2023, and Hinkley Point A, which closed in 2000. The new 3.2 gigawatt plant will meet about 7 per cent of UK electricity needs.”

Also, just wondering – any idea what generation is from Hinkley B?

Either way, one interesting item on Hinkley C is that it will be replacing Natural Gas based generation as all coal generation should be gone by 2025. Coal was 9% of generation in 2016 and is down substantially for first 3 months of 2017.

UK is doing a good job on CO2 from power generation.

Jesper Antonsson's picture
Jesper Antonsson on Jun 19, 2017

Technically, a gas tax is not regressive. The tax is the same per gallon regardless of how many gallons you use. If someone use a lot, he will pay a lot. Pretty fair.

Also, tax revenues are typically used in a progressive fashion, and it seems likely that the environmental and health benefits from reduced pollutants will turn out to have a progressive profile.

I do agree that aviation fuel should be taxed as well, but we shouldn’t hold auto gasoline taxes hostage.

Jesper Antonsson's picture
Jesper Antonsson on Jun 19, 2017

Nobody is doing a good job on AGW by switching to gas.

Agree on 7%. Hinkley B is roughly 2*500 MW, so ~2% of UK electricity.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jun 19, 2017

Joe, my bad. My source was including all presumed new nuclear in the UK (Bradwell B/Sizewell C/Hinkley C). Bradwell/Sizewell have not been approved.

Mark Heslep's picture
Mark Heslep on Jun 19, 2017

Gasoline costs are a much higher share of income for lower income groups, and use is fairly inelastic (got to go to work, got to go to grocery store) hence the occasional large price swings.

Joe Deely's picture
Joe Deely on Jun 20, 2017

Thanks Bob.

Joe Deely's picture
Joe Deely on Jun 20, 2017

UK was 39.5% Coal in 2012 –

Will hit 0% before Hinkley C comes online. So from there on any new renewables or nuclear are replacing NG. Sounds pretty good to me.

Jesper Antonsson's picture
Jesper Antonsson on Jun 20, 2017

Europeans have taxed gas a lot and because of that, they pay about as much as Americans, because there are long-term elasticities (buying more frugal cars is one). Just announce you’ll hike the tax linearly every year until you reach European levels in 20 years. People will adjust.

And again, if poor are harmed disproportionally, that’s mitigated by the benefits the tax provides. We’ve got to get rid of fossil gasoline and it’s unrealistic to do it any other way than making it expensive. You’ll argue about how the pie should be sliced until it has been burnt to a crisp.

Jesper Antonsson's picture
Jesper Antonsson on Jun 20, 2017

Good link. So between 2011 and 2012, gas use dropped a lot and coal increased, so coal had a very high year in 2012. Wonder if Fukushima did that (starved parts of the world of gas). It’s good to get rid of coal, but if the switchout is to gas, I don’t care very much.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jun 20, 2017

“Nobody is doing a good job on AGW by switching to gas.” Agree, Jesper – can’t be overstated.

A chart from an earlier post on TEC showed U.S. generation from gas recently surpassing coal for the first time in history. Because we know gas emits roughly half as much carbon per unit of generated energy, it occurred to me by halving the magnitude of the natural gas series and adding it on top of the coal series, we’d end up with a representation of the total relative utility emissions of both gas and coal combined:

The Y-scale numbers don’t correspond to anything; all that matters is how much the trendline goes up or down. We can see that over the past 17 years natural gas and renewables (and to a lesser extent outsourcing of manufacturing and improvements in efficiency) can be credited with lowering combined fossil fuel emissions by ~15%. Not good enough, and the potential for further reductions will be more limited as coal disappears from the U.S. energy landscape.

Joe Deely's picture
Joe Deely on Jun 20, 2017

With a little more work you can see Coal+NG. Here are the totals since 2010.

2010 74%
2011 69%
2012 65%
2013 61%
2014 57%
2015 50%
2016 50%

Here is Nuclear
2010 16.3%
2011 18.7%
2012 19.0%
2013 19.2%
2014 18.1%
2015 20.1%
2016 20.7%
2017 18.8%

Here is Coal
2010 28.5%
2011 29.7%
2012 39.5%
2013 37.0%
2014 29.7%
2015 22.6%
2016 9.2%

Wind has increased from 2% to 10% since 2010 and solar from 0 to 0.6%

Like I said earlier coal will be at 0% by early 2020s and from then on any new renewables or any new nuclear will be replacing NG. Sounds good to me.

Joe Deely's picture
Joe Deely on Jun 20, 2017

Bob, Why not look at the actual numbers for CO2 from EIA – here.

in 2007 – CO2 in Million Metric Tons
Coal = 1,987
NG = 372
Total = 2,425

in 2016 – CO2 in Million Metric Tons
Coal = 1,241
NG = 546
Total = 1,821

So Total dropped by 600M Metric Tons (a 25% drop)
Coal dropped by 766M Metric Tons and
NG increased by 174M Metric Tons

In order to see zero emissions from coal usage, emissions from NG will probably rise to about 800-900 Million Metric Tons.

Personally, I think NG will only rise slightly and most of the slack for coal shutdown will be taken up by Renewables.

Bruce Menzies's picture

Thank Bruce for the Post!

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