Electric cars and heat pumps show way

Dave Toke explains how the energy transition will be much cheaper than the climate sceptics claim

A gang of so-called climate cost sceptics on the Tory backbenches are busy spreading rubbish about the allegedly high cost of a low carbon energy programme. In reality the most effective measures, including heat pumps and electric cars, will turn out to be very cheap and the cost of making sure it happens will be very low. Meanwhile the big fossil fuel companies are conniving with the climate sceptics by pretending to be in favour of low-carbon policies. They do this by advocating the most expensive means of doing this and then they cynically expect the public to turn against the programme.

Certainly, if you costed what windfarms and solar farms used to cost ten years ago then adding more wind and solar projects would cost a bundle. But turning the technologies into a mass industry has brought the costs down sharply – and now they are less than half the cost of fossil fuels, whose prices have recently peaked in a new global energy crisis.

You can see this most graphically with electric cars. A few years ago, if you wanted a pure electric car with a range over 100 miles you had to pay £50,000 for a Tesla, but now you can buy a Nissan Leaf with not too many miles on the clock for less than £10,000. The prices of electric cars are plunging, the ranges are shooting upwards and the time to recharge is falling fast. It will not be very long until they are cheaper to buy than many fossil fuel cars, and certainly a lot cheaper to run. So really, outside of a few Government incentives, the notion of the public being saddled with huge costs for electric cars will be nonsense. The main car manufacturers are starting to switch to electric, and supply chain costs are tumbling.

The same will happen with heat pumps. The only barrier to this process is the climate sceptics and the fossil fuel industries themselves who are trying to delay the programme. Sure, like early electric cars, solar pv and wind turbines, they are very expensive. And, by choking off the policies to make sure heat pumps get a substantial early part of the home heating market, fossil fuel interests and their right wing climate sceptical friends hope to keep it that way.

Current Government targets are for the sale of new petrol-only vehicles to be banned by 2035 (by then electric cars will be as cheap as chips) and that gas boilers should not be fitted in new homes from 2025 (note: not all homes). The new home market could give heat pumps a decent sized market which would allow costs to be lowered, but the oil and gas industry is keenly trying to stop that one. They talk of plans to use hydrogen in place of natural gas, giving the impression that the system is ready to be implemented (anything but) and that it won’t still involve producing large amounts of carbon dioxide – which it will, since for many years there will be only a blend of gases used, with hydrogen forming a small part.

The big energy utilities just love talking about how it is necessary to dramatically increase energy prices through carbon taxes – no doubt hoping to put people off the whole carbon reduction programme. Now, a small increase in prices to pay for some incentives for heat pumps and energy efficiency would be a good thing, but proposals for large tax increases on energy are just a distraction.

In reality, the Government’s targets for phasing out petrol cars and gas boilers are pretty timid – but let’s try and make sure that even these don’t get derailed by the climate deniers. We have a big job to make sure that such targets are not scrapped and that we campaign for decent incentives for heat pumps and energy efficiency, as well as delivering a much larger increase in wind and solar power than the Government are currently considering.

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