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Editor's Blog: Huhne's harmful emissions

Energy minister Chris Huhne's comments on electric vehicles are worse than uninformed - they're harmful to debate

Andrew Noakes

Wednesday, 12 October 2011 15:12

Energy minister Chris Huhne

Government can do a great deal to encourage the development and early adoption of new technologies. There are good automotive industry examples of just that, like the (government-backed) Technology Strategy Board's £4.5m investment in Gordon Murray's T.27 electric car project, and its £7.5m of support for the development of hydrogen and fuel cell vehicles.

But the government and its ministers also have a responsibility to lead a reasoned, educated national debate, particularly on issues like the environment where there is so much entrenched ideology on all sides of the argument. In that aim, the latest pronouncement on electric cars from energy minister Chris Huhne falls some distance short.

As Autocar reports, Huhne appeared on The Politics Show on the BBC last Sunday talking about the government's consultation on a rise in the motorway speed limit to 80mph. "You could foresee a situation where it would apply to electric vehicles," he said, "in which case there would be absolutely no extra carbon emissions."

The idea of a different limit for electric vehicles is fundamentally flawed. First there's the mixed environmental message of encouraging people to drive electric vehicles so that they can drive faster. Then there are the logistical issues of policing different limits for different vehicles. And what constitutes an electric vehicle in the first place? BMW's new hybrid 5-series can cruise at up to 100mph on electric power - so is that allowed to take advantage of the higher limit?

But never mind the limitations of the proposal. More importantly, Huhne's assertion that electric vehicles can travel faster than other vehicles without causing any increase in emissions betrays a fundamental lack of understanding of the subject.

Travelling faster means overcoming ever greater resistance to motion, and that means using more energy. Using more energy means generating more harmful emissions, and the energy minister should be clued up enough to know that.

When we asked for a comment from the Department for Energy and Climate Change, a spokesman said: "We will be working with DfT during its consultation to ensure that the environmental and carbon impacts of a speed limit increase are fully understood."

Presumably their first step will to be ensure that the impacts are fully understood by their own minister.

Or perhaps Huhne knows more than we think. Perhaps Chris Huhne has found a way for the policies his government pursues and the laws they pass to circumvent the laws of Newtonian motion and Thermodynamics? Now that really would be a technology worth supporting.


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