The push to make us all drive electric cars, while being awfully good for the planet at first sight, has some pretty serious pitfalls along the way. The Good is clear to see - less pollution from carbon emissions (none at all if the electricity used to charge batteries in genuinely green); the Bad is rarely mentioned; the Difficult Questions even less so.
The Bad. Cars have wheels and wheel/road contact produces particulates. This will not change as the propulsion changes. At the moment a petrol family car can travel over 400 miles on a tank, and filling the tank takes less than 5 minutes (including paying). Electric cars have a much shorter range, and it is much more dependant on the speed driven than a petrol car. A recent newspaper article by a journalist who had driven from Land's End to John o' Groats suggested that 140 miles was good going at around 50 mph. Charging had been a nightmare, however.
There are three different plugs (for want of a better word) and you have to find a charging point that fits the plug on your car. How this lunacy was allowed to happen is anyone's guess. It is as though half the counties in England still had 2-pin plugs in houses. Doubtless two of the systems will go the way of Betamax - quickly, one hopes. As there are far fewer charging points than there are petrol pumps you often have to queue, but queuing for 5 minutes at a petrol pump is tolerable: queuing while the coulomb-guzzler in front of you does a slow charge taking 45 minutes isn't. All the evidence suggests that electric cars will catch on relatively fast in cities (which is where most people live, after all), but will be much less popular in rural areas where the distances driven are greater, and the provision of charging points likely to be less - a lot less.
If charging takes 20 minutes for say 150 miles while filling a tank with petrol takes 5 minutes for 400 miles it doesn't take more than a little multiplication to work out that, for the same number of miles driven, there will have to be around ten times as many charging points as there are petrol pumps. Pandora accepts that home-based charging (which can't be done with petrol) may reduce this number, but if even three-quarters of all charging is done at home (a fraction which seems too high: think of all the car-owning households with no off-street parking) there will still need to be at least twice as much space in towns and cities devoted to car charging as there is already. Where will they be? And let us not forget that the manufacture of concrete is one of the most carbon-polluting everyday activities.
Pandora hasn't mentioned cost yet. An electric car, even with the government's grant, is likely to cost something like double a petrol car. True, its running costs will be a great deal less (but see below for a taste of things to come), but few families will be able to cough up £15,000 more up front to save a couple of thousand a year in running costs.
This does not exhaust the list of Bad things - the supply of rare elements needed to manufacture the batteries being perhaps the most likely to prove intractable. After all, we are going to have to stick an awful lot of batteries in trains one way or another, and the UK comprises only around 1% of the global population. If other developed countries adopt a similar drive away from fossil fuels (as they will, albeit at different rates) then the demand for these precious raw materials will push prices up a long way. Buy your electric car now, while it can still be got for under £50,000!
And now the unknown unknowns. In the last year before the pandemic Her Majesty's Treasury took in £28 billion (it was £21 billion last year) from the tax on fuel. This will fall pretty close to zero once petrol cars start to fall apart in about 15 years. At the moment charging your electric car attracts exactly as much tax as using the same amount of electricity to boil kettles or heat the house: none. Pandora does not expect this happy state to continue. No government, especially one faced with the whopping cost of COVID, would be so stupid. The skill will be in finding a way of taxing the electricity you put in your car at a rate sufficient to raise at least £28 billion without putting up the cost of boiling a kettle. Elections will be won or lost on achieving the right solution.
Looking really far ahead Pandora sees a massive change in the way people and goods move around. City dwellers will fall into two classes: the better-off will buy an electric car and use it for shorter journeys; the less well-off will use public transport which, in consequence of the large numbers, will have to improve hugely. It will be electrically-driven whether along a road or on rails. People making longer journeys will for the most part rely on public transport as journeys will be much faster by electric train (or bus) than driving at 40 mph so that the charge actually gets you there. Goods will be carried by electrically-hauled freight trains to local depots from which electric lorries (remember the old BR Scammells ?) will deliver them to wherever they are needed. Really really far ahead things are more troublesome as asphalt melts and rails buckle in the runaway heat, but at least we'll have done our best to avert such an outcome by getting rid of petrol cars. Happily Pandora won't be around to see it.