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Is the future really electric?

Earlier this year, it was announced that three-fifths of new cars must be electric by 2030 in order to meet the Government’s greenhouse gas targets. However, the Government has since slashed the incentives to buy electric and hybrid cars – at present, the plug-in car grant takes £4,500 off the price of a new electric car but, as of November, it will be reduced by £1,000. The current £2,500 incentive for hybrid cars will be scrapped altogether.

It does seem like a counterproductive decision – the main obstacle for most new car buyers is cost, and electric and hybrid cars are usually more expensive than petrol and diesel cars, which the Government is ultimately hoping to get rid of. Cutting the incentives could have a significant impact on the demand for more eco-friendly cars, which is at odds with the Government’s clean air targets.

In spite of this, electric car sales have been consistently growing year-on-year, with sales at a record high in September. We’re still far behind Norway, where hybrid and electric vehicles account for just over a third of all car sales, but they do now account for 8 per cent of the overall car market in the UK.

However, saying electric vehicles have ‘zero emissions’ is a slight misnomer – they may not produce exhaust emissions, but they do still produce pollution in the form of tyre and brake dust. The actual production process also has a more detrimental effect on the environment than that of a petrol or diesel car, due to the process of mining the materials needed for lithium batteries.

Similarly, the majority of the electricity in the UK is produced by fossil fuels, which will be used to charge the batteries of electric cars. A study by the Mobility, Logistics and Automotive Technology Research Centre in Brussels showed that although electric cars that rely on non-renewable energy sources emit fewer emissions than a petrol car, they still produce more than a diesel car.

The strain that an increase in electric cars would put on the electricity supply is something that we’re just currently not prepared for – there are charging points being installed at petrol stations across the country, but not enough currently to cope with the expected future demand.

That said, electric cars do offer plenty of benefits beyond lower emissions. They are cheaper to run and easier to maintain than petrol and diesel cars, and, with an increasing number of car manufacturers putting their focus solely on electric vehicles, they will no doubt be the future of driving. It may currently be cheaper to buy a petrol or diesel car up front but, as electric cars become more commonplace, they will start to come down in price – and soon enough, charging points may be as common as petrol stations!

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