Wednesday, July 05, 2023

More pylons needed to get to ‘net zero’

How long before the NIMBYs and Just Stop Oil eco zealots suddenly focus on the rollout of electricity pylons? Well, to some extent the pushback has already started with the Environment Secretary, Therese Coffey, organising a petition against power cables being routed through Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex.

Yet the irony is that the electricity pylon rollout is needed if the UK wants to increase its reliance on so-called renewable energy and expand the use of electric vehicles.

JSO and other environmental groups have been pressuring the UK government and consumers to move to greener forms of energy and transport. But many have failed to address issues concerning how this transition might be achieved.

As discussed in a previous post, EVs while certainly less polluting in terms of direct emissions are not entirely green. Mining for Lithium, Cobalt and other minerals required for EV batteries is far from green. And it's debatable whether widespread EV use will significantly reduce global CO2 emissions.

Nonetheless, there is a definite push for motorists to shift to EVs with bans on diesel and petrol vehicles being manufactured after 2030.

Should such bans come into force it will mean only older, already manufactured internal combustion engine vehicles remaining on the road. While some such vehicles can last over twenty or thirty years, by 2050 there could conceivably be no traditional vehicles on the road apart from those kept by enthusiasts, collectors and museums.

With even hybrid manufacturing being stopped in 2035, the only way to stay on the road in some 15 years time will be to purchase an EV.

Putting aside issues concerning range anxiety and pollution related to their manufacture, and recycling old lithium batteries, the main problem that needs to be addressed is charging them.

There are around 40.7 million licensed vehicles in the UK, of which cars make up the majority. In the United Kingdom, there were 33.2 million cars (81.5%), 4.63 million LGVs (11.4%), 0.54 million HGVs (1.3 %), 1.36 million motorcycles (3.3%), 0.15 million buses & coaches (0.4%) and 0.84 million other vehicles (2%) licensed at the end of September 2022 [RAC].

The bans coming into force in 2030 onwards primarily affects cars with no concrete proposals yet put forward concerning vans, lorries, buses, coaches and agricultural vehicles.

At the moment there is also no suggestion that classic cars powered by traditional petrol or diesel engines will be forced off the road. There are more than half a million "historic" vehicles — those over 40 years old — on British roads and it is unlikely that will change. It is expected that in the twenty years or so following the petrol and diesel car ban, old-style fuels will become less sought after, more expensive and harder to come by as a niche product for enthusiasts.

While petrol forecourts won't disappear any time soon, it is clear that the EV charging infrastructure will need to be increased. And with an increase in chargers, be they at service station forecourts, car parks or simply on the street or at private addresses, comes a need to increase capacity to support them [Driving]. 

The Sunday Telegraph recently reported that hundreds of kilometres of overhead cables and pylons were set to be fast-tracked to support such infrastructure and the Daily Express has also reported on the plan which it dubs a 'pylon hell'. 

The National Grid says the expansion is essential to achieving the government's goal of decarbonising domestic electricity production by 2035, and becoming a net-zero economy by 2050.

Coal has been phased out and while gas remains a key player, wind power is set to be Britain's energy source of choice going forward. In fact wind power met over a quarter of the UK's annual electricity demand of some 26.8% for the first time in 2022.

But with demands of electricity increasing multifold the need to build more pylons and distribution networks will also increase.

For some pylons have a certain aesthetic. For others they are a blot on the landscape. But short of placing the cables underground, which is both costly and impractical, pylons are the best way of distributing electricity.

The problem is that many opponents to such plans want the benefits but not the infrastructure that is needed.

It is reminiscent of the campaigns against mobile phone masts as telecommunications companies rolled out their networks in the 1990s. Some 40 years on mobile networks in the UK are some of the worst in the world in terms of coverage partly due to NIMBy campaigns that claimed the aerials were an eyesore or that they posed a threat to health.

Similar claims are of course made concerning electricity pylons with there being some anecdotal evidence at least to the electromagnetic fields causing problems for some individuals.

Such protests are fine should you be proposing doing away with all technology, electricity, fossil fuels etc., and returning to a life when people ploughed fields with cattle and reaped harvests with scythes, travelled by foot or horse, and communicated only by letter sent by a weekly stagecoach. But those opposing pylons or mobile phone masts more often than not still want electricity to watch Netflix, charge their EV and post pictures on social media accounts using 5G on their latest smartphone.

JSO and others all too often ignore the inconvenient details laid bare when one digs further into the alternatives proposed by their thinking.

tvnewswatch, London, UK