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Since the industrial revolution, fossil fuels have been the powerhouse of the industrialized world and its economic growth. The transport sector currently relies solely on fossil fuels and thus accounts for a major part of greenhouse emissions (Putrus et al. 2009). Since oil is a finite and rapidly depleting fossil fuel, which plays an essential role in the world energy market, the ability to maintain and grow its supply has been a constant concern for over 50 years. A steady consumption of the finite reserves will result in them eventually running out (Sorrell et al. 2010; Bentley 2002). The rate of consumption is what will determine the rate of their depletion. Fossil energy has grown from negligible levels in 1800 to yearly output of almost 10,000 million tons of oil equivalents. Presently, about 80% of all primary energy in the world is derived from fossil sources with oil accounting for about 32.8%, coal for 27.2% and natural gas for 20.9%. Only an insignificant percentage of 0.8% of the world’s primary energy is derived from geothermal, wind, solar or other alternative energy sources. As the extraction of fossil fuels becomes, the energy and, therefore, the cost required becomes greater (Shafiee & Topal 2009). The rising oil prices are stimulating the research and discovery of nonconventional resources such as biofuels and electric vehicles. Meanwhile, economic growth is exacerbating resource pressures, making alternative energy the only balance factor (Madawala &Thrimawithana 2011). Overall, there is general agreement that the energy market is entering new and very different phase (Zhao 2019).
Additionally, it is understood that pollution is not an isolated environmental matter, but is a transcendent problem that has both acute and chronic effects on human health and wellbeing of entire societies (Kampa & Castanas 2009; Perera 2017). Fuel combustion is the main source of greenhouse gases emissions and other short-lived pollutants that cause climate change. It accounts for nearly 85% of airborne particulate pollution and for almost all pollution by oxides of nitrogen and sulphur. In 2017, the transport sector’s carbon dioxide emissions accounted for 34% of all carbon dioxide emissions. It is noted that the emissions have remained broadly unchanged compared to 2016, and are quite similar to the corresponding 1990 levels (Varotsos & Efstathiou 2019).
In view of the above, on July 26th, 2017 the UK Environment Secretary, has announced a plan to end the sale of internal combustion engine vehicles by 2040. After 2040, the UK car market will only have electric vehicles or hybrids with “near zero emissions” available for purchase. This move is aimed at reducing emissions thereby improving respiratory health, as well as curbing global climate change. To justify the new law, the UK government reported predictions that, by 2040 around 40,000 UK residents, 9000 only in London, will die every year due to air pollution. Furthermore, the new levels of nitrogen oxide will become the biggest environmental threat to UK public health related to asthma, bronchitis, heart and lung disease and other serious health problems. Up to 44% of UK wildlife habitats and 50% of all the country’s flora will be endangered because of air pollution. Finally, reduced national productivity caused by poor air quality (currently estimated at £2.7 billion per year) is forecast to worsen (Bennett & Vijaygopal 2018).
2 UK regulations on the reduction of emissions
Through the Climate Change Act (CCC), which became law in November 2008, the UK became one of the first countries to introduce a long term, legally binding legislation to reduce carbon dioxide emissions in the UK by at least 80% by 2050 relatively to the ones in 1990. This includes reducing emissions from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, which currently account for about 20% of the UK’s emissions. The Act introduced carbon budgets, which put legally binding targets on the amount of greenhouse gases that can emitted in the UK during a five-year period. These budgets are set at least 12 years in advance to allow enough time for preparation to everyone involved. Apart from a legal framework it also provides the UK with a climate change adaptation plan (Lockwood 2013; Asthana & Taylor 2017)
Alongside with the CCC the UK is also committed to other climate agreements and laws. On a global scale, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) plays a significant role in the processes of climate change worldwide. With the Kyoto Protocol the UNFCC places binding obligations on countries and sets out procedures for countries around the world, including the United Kingdom, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. All nations within this framework are currently working on the Paris accord, which aims to prevent the global temperature from rising below 2 degrees Celsius once it enters into force (Lorenzoni et al. 2007).
At this stage, the position of the British government is to outlaw certain types of fossil fuel vehicles instead of aiming for near-zero emissions from any type of vehicle. Besides the pledge to ban the sale of internal combustion engine vehicles, the plan also makes £255 million available, £40 million of which will be available immediately for local governments to do feasibility studies and formulate plans concerning the reduction of pollution. In addition to the above, £100 million will be invested by local governments to retrofit and purchase new, low emission buses. Prior to 2040 the UK government will make all the necessary arrangements that EV charge points are installed at all private motorway stations and other retail fuel outlets. £100 million will be invested in the development of the UK’s EV charging infrastructure and will compel local authorities to establish measures to promote the adoption of EVs (Dorn 2017).
3 The new vehicles
The passenger car is the primary energy consumer, because of the fact that it accounts for over half of the total transportation energy consumption. Hence, one of the noteworthy future technologies to tackle global warming and greenhouse gas emissions are the battery powered Electric Vehicles (EVs) and Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs) (Madawala &Thrimawithana 2011). A wide range of passenger EVs are being developed by several manufacturers at the moment. Their range is overall below 40 miles and their power vary from a few tens of kilowatts for smaller cars to a few hundred kilowatts for sports cars. Even though the market for battery powered and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles is currently very limited, it is expected to grow rapidly with the advance in innovative technologies, particularly when it comes to high energy and power density batteries. This growth will have great impact on the electric power supply system. Based on their high energy capacity, mass deployment of EVs will have great impact on power networks. This will dictate the way the electric vehicle interface devices are designed and how future power networks will be structured and managed.
The electric vehicles are a new vehicle technology to reduce dependence on fossil fuels. Their use is expected to result in the decline of greenhouse gas emissions, which are associated with conventional vehicles (Egbue & Long 2012).
Be that as it may, electric vehicles, at the present moment, exhibit a certain amount of drawbacks, such as short driving range, long charging times, lack of recharging facilities, and relatively limited car battery life, 5 years approximately. On top of that, there is a view that battery and electric vehicle technology will accelerate rapidly so that by 2040, internal combustion engine vehicles will have disappeared, so that government interference will not be necessary. Those who oppose the plan argue that the national electricity generating grid will likely experience a 50% (more than 24 GW) rise during the early evening hours as drivers charge their vehicles. At the same time, electricity imports will increase from their current level of 10% to at least 33% of total supply. Concerns have been raised, moreover, about the need not to undermine the automotive industry, which operates on the basis of long time cycles for major capital investment and will need many years to adopt the new policy. Critics claim that EVs are both expensive and impractical. On the other hand, prices are expected to drop through technological improvements and mass production. Beyond that, electric cars require substantially fewer parts than a conventional car, which in turn leads to less maintenance and service needs. A study commissioned by the German automobile industry VDA estimates that in case of an internal combustion engine cars by 2030 about 620,000 jobs in the Germany industry would be affected either directly or indirectly. The directly affected 457,000 jobs equal to 7.5 percent of jobs in the industrial sector in Germany. Nevertheless, it is not certain that the jobs mentioned would be indeed destroyed. The study affirms that a percentage of jobs will eventually be compensated by the expansion of this sector.
Concerning the energy demands, using information from Germany, it is suggested that EV growth is hardly probable to cause massive raises in energy demand through 2030; instead, it is likely to add about 1% to the total and require approximately five additional gigawatts (GW) of generation capacity. That sum could grow to about 4% by 2050, in which case an additional capacity of nearly 20 GW will be required. (Engel et al. 2018). Most all of this new-build capacity will probably be harvested from renewables, such as wind and solar power, and potentially with some gas-powered generation. National Grid, which is in charge of the operation of the transmission system, also stated that the rise in peak demand can be kept to 5 GW if there is smart charging (off-peak EV charging).
Air pollution is a major cause of early death, a number that is estimated to increase by more than 50% by the year 2050 given that nothing changes. Much of the problem is attributed to the transport sector, as epidemiological studies have identified perpetual associations between air pollution of respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses premature mortality and, thus, reduced quality of life (Bennett & Vijaygopal 2018).
It is of major importance, therefore, to elevate pollution control to a higher priority in everyone’s agenda; to integrate pollution control into development planning; to prioritize pollution panning and, therefore deal, with climate change as much as possible (Albayrak et al. 2013).
There is a set of challenges that need to be tackled in order for electric vehicles to become mainstream and to significantly reduce the carbon footprint in the transport sector. It, also, needs to be taken into account that electric cars are only as clean as their source of power. So, the energy required to fuel the new vehicles should be harvested from renewable sources. As we invest more in creating better quality of life and tackling climate change the more we will advance in those technologies making them cheaper and more productive. It will be a challenge and a lot of investment is required: in generating capacity, strengthening the distribution grid and charging infrastructure, but in the long run the benefits are much greater.
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