10 April 2009: Gordon Brown promises British transport will go electric

Some good news – or at least good promises – from Gordon Brown. In his first interview since the G20 (see Brown’s electric dream for Britain), he told The Independent (a quality UK paper with excellent journalists and columnists writing on climate change) that this month’s Budget will make the UK “a world leader” in manufacturing, using and exporting electric and hybrid vehicles, and also lighter, more fuel-efficient petrol cars. Trials for electric cars in two or three cities are promised for 2010. Electricity companies will be encouraged to ensure the batteries can be recharged at a national network of power points at the roadside.

Electric vehicles are less polluting than oil-powered vehicles, whatever the mix of electricity generation. Obviously, they are even better if the electricity is from low or zero-carbon sources. Brown also spoke about removing some of the planning obstacles that prevent the UK harnessing more of its enormous wind resource. Another benefit of electric vehicles is that millions of batteries will provide a means of storing electricity, so helping overcome the issue of intermittence (the wind doesn’t always blow or blows too hard).

The Budget will also set a target of creating 400,000 jobs in “green industries” over the next five years. Government targets are often dismissed as simple rhetoric and, of course, delivery is more important than target setting. However, targets do set a direction of travel and help build investor confidence – although, in the UK, many investors assume there will be a new Government next year, so a Tory acceptance of this target would be valuable.

The promise of ‘green vehicles’ is clearly part of the Government’s attempt to keep the UK motor industry alive. And there are, obviously, many jobs to be had in electric vehicles: Kansas City in Missouri, USA has just been chosen for a new assembly plant for an electric truck, which will have a range of 100 miles. The UK could do much more to create the Green New Deal (see UK needs Green New Deal’ to tackle ‘triple crunch’ of credit, oil price and climate crises).

The wind industry employs tens of thousands of people in Germany (80,000), Spain (35,000) and Denmark (21,600). Most of these are in manufacturing. The industry predicts that the total across the EU could rise above 350,000 by 2020. The UK should start building turbines, to create jobs and also to protect the UK wind industry from exchange rate fluctuations – the collapse in the value of the pound has increased the cost of new UK wind farms by 30% in the last year. The UK should also build ships – known as barges – to install offshore wind turbines, since there is a great global bottleneck in getting hold of these.

Even richer in jobs is work on energy efficiency – upgrading the existing building stock. This would help control climate change, create tens of thousands of jobs in the construction industry, increase energy security and reduce the number of people suffering fuel poverty. Let’s hope the UK Government delivers on 22 April 2009 what the Prime Minister has promised today.

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