Will the UK Learn from China and Israel?

28th January 2011

A recent article in The Economist spoke about how China and Israel are paving the way for electrification of transport, they see this as the critical step in moving towards a more sustainable future.

Only 2% of China’s population today own a car, 80% of these are first time buyers, it is reckoned that by 2020 China will rely on costly foreign oil imports for 65% of its oil needs. The Chinese governments solution is to build a nationwide industry around electric vehicles. There are 3 postives in this for China first it avoids the vulnerabilities that come with an economy built on imported oil. Secondly, China needs to clean up urban centres of pollutants largely produced by exhaust pipes. Lastly, China see the opportunity to make a large domestic automobile industry the cornstone of global economic leadership.

This new type of car will be powered by batteries, power electronics and eletric motors which plays to the strengths China has gained in consumer electronics over the past decades. The Chinese goverment have set goals to be the number one producer of electric cars by 2012, so watch this space.

In August 2010 China announced that it had commissioned 16 state-owned enterprises to begin building the electric car industry. These enterprises were led by State Grid, which is the worlds largest utility and controls 88% of China’s electrical grid, also included are leading companies across the automotive, energy, finance, retail and infrastructure industries, all are said to be commited to building this framework. HSBC research predicts that China’s share of the global electric-vehicle market will grow from 2.7% in 2010 to 35% by 2020. History has shown that when China gets into a leadership postion in manufacturing an electric devices, it tends to stay there.

Much like China, Shai Agassi’s home country of Israel has set national goals to make its transport sector ” completely free of petroleum” by 2020. In 2011 with government support, the country will implement the world’s first nationwide battery-switching and vehicle charging network. The infrastructure will allow drivers to switch depleted batteries for full ones in less time than refuelling with petrol. This will mean that electric car drivers will no longer need to buy expensive batteries or to worry about limited driving distances.

after three years of development, testing and trails, by Shai Agrassi’s Better Place who worked in partnership with Renault, history is being made as people are able to drive electric cars through out the entire country with garanteed mobility, zero oil use and zero exhaust emissions. The total cost of implementing this nationwide network in Israel is equal or less than seven days of fuel use by current petrol engine cars in the country. This holds true in most countries around the world China included.

What can the UK learn from these to countries?

A way to disconnect economic growth from ever-deeping oil dependence. We should not be choosing between importing more barrels or drilling ever deeper and more dangerously into our precious coastal waters.

Moving the transport sector to reliance on electrons – with an open menu of electricity sources and a massive distributed storage of car batteries to improve the grid and allow higher reliance on renewable sources, this can build industries, create jobs and improve economic, environmental and natioanal security all at once.

I know that we will all be watching China and Israel this year as they take these steps to reducing oil dependence by electrification of transport. I hope they are succesfull as this will prove that we can create a cleaner future!

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