Sally washed the barbecue-flavour mushroom pseudo-protein down with locally-sourced fennel twig tea and sighed. She had sat in gridlock for three hours, the queue barely moving up Silver Street in a tailback that stretched to the Bishop’s Stortford flyover. The Cambridge Road EV charging station had been hit by the usual area-wide brown-out and her one-seater Dongfeng-Tesla ‘e-hubkart IIIx’ – with a body manufactured only from organic hemp fibre – was almost out of juice, whining on the last two percent of charge. It looked like she was going to miss her yogadancercise class again.
This is the price she paid for living in a cubby-apartmentiny in the new deep-home estate sunk underneath the M11 electroway. Those wealthy enough to have driveways called these microhomes “coffins” – which they effectively were. Without off road parking, a citizen had no charging point and depended on the EV stations, which became scarcer the further you were from a megacity.
Public transport was not an option for Sally. Her zero-hours freelance job involved zipping around Essex to provide affluent senior citizens with personality transplants, which were delivered through ginseng-infused skin intellipatches. Personal transportation was therefore still essential for many workers.
The driveway elites of Bentfield and Forest Hall Park could take advantage of cheap off-peak nighttime electricity, while the rest dealt with the after-work brown-outs. The grid routinely overloaded as EV use soared, following the abolition of fossil fuel. The nation now prayed to the great green god for a sunny day or a gust of wind to eke out a few more megawatts to keep the wheels turning, but Britain remained a mild damp gloomy island.
Some on the fringes of society had suggested building nuclear power stations. Britain had never experienced an earth tremour that could so much as shake the foam off a frappuccino or make a cat look in the wrong direction. But the long shadow of Fukushima – with the three-headed mutant whales that evolved the atomic slurry – hung heavy over the century of the Green Industrial Revolution. The nuclear power advocates were dismissed from their jobs and sent to the asylum.
Tapping into her neuralnet, Sally spun through the retina-projected VR channels, a flow of hallucinations. The news. The Andean Lithium Wars continued to rage over salt pans and brine pools: the Indian Cyberjawans and their fair trade cocaine-snorting Criollo supremacist allies fighting the Bolivarian Cybermaoists who served as the front of the Immortal Kim’s Greater Korean empire.
India had been steadily securing control of the world’s lithium resources for the manufacture of lithium-ion batteries by scooping up into its sphere of influence every tinpot dictatorship it could buy, from the Australian wastes to the Amazonian desert. India’s lithium monopoly, its insatiable desire for green tech consumer products and low-carbon electricity, and the geopolitical chaos it created was leading to battery shortages. Like others, Sally’s meagre wages could not cover the high cost of a new battery, leaving her e-hubkart struggling through work runs.
The decade-long brutal conflict in South America was a result of India’s high regard for environmental responsibility. Saffron-robed Hindu godmen had succeeded in cutting Indian carbon and methane emissions by a third within just two years through Enforced Vegetarianism and compulsory cow dung consumption for those too poor to buy policemen. In this patriotic Vedic endeavour, three hundred million beef-eating Muslims, Christians, Communists and other ‘anti-Indian elements’ were herded together to settle their karmic debt in the sun-hot atomic fires of a Kolkatan apocalypse. The swamis chanted the nuclear cremated infidels into a higher rebirth, while the fusion rockstar Jello Bengali and his band the Dead Kashmiris belted out ‘Bharatiya Über Alles’ over the national neuralnet. Jai Hind!
Politics was boring, in Sally’s mind, although she resented the Indian imperialists. She was a bit nostalgic for the good old days when you could have any leader you wanted so long as he was orange. She scrolled to the ISIS channel. Now that there was no demand for oil and therefore no need for Middle Eastern wars, ISIS had relaunched itself as an entertainment brand with the help of some start-up capital from Disney and the BBC. Shows like “Homes Under the Hamas” and “I’m a Kafir, Get Me Out of Hejaz!” quickly became popular.
Yet, even the novel methods of human dissection and desiccation that concluded every ISIS daytime show were not able to alleviate the boredom of sitting in an electric vehicle waiting for electricity.
Maybe when she’d saved up enough bitcoins, Sally would sell up her coffin and trade in her e-hubkart for a brand new Amazon-Hyundai eSled/bed. It could queue for juice while she slept, drifting automatically forever up and down the A120 in search of EV charging points while tropical gigadeaths played behind her eyelids for her vague amusement. And she would sleep sound and snug in her motorised bed, happy in the knowledge all these sacrifices helped reduce atmospheric carbon.
Is this really a Dystopian fantasy or does this scenario carry some truth about the challenges facing our community?
The government has pledged to abolish the combustion engine by 2030 in its effort to reduce carbon emissions and get the UK to do its bit to fight man-made climate change. This leaves us with just 10 years to prepare – although some carmakers are already moving towards producing only EV models in the near future. Many villages around here are still waiting for fibre broadband and digital radio barely works, which does not give us much hope that the politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen in charge will have the will and ideas to have the infrastructure in place for this technological revolution. They aren’t even having the debate.
The increased load on the system will apparently be managed by getting people to charge their cars overnight. Domestic EV charging points cannot exist where terraced houses open onto pavements, or in apartments. Unless we build huge local car parks for all the cars to be charged, many local residents will be dependent on super-charging stations in the same way as they are currently dependent on petrol stations.
Charging at charging stations will have to follow the working day, prompting peak time charging and grid overload. This is already a growing problem of increased load by vehicle charging in the Australian cities of Melbourne and Sidney and EV ownership is still in small numbers. Meanwhile, in California, Tesla owners have had to queue for hours to get their cars charged, which underlines the current lack of infrastructure even in the state in which Elon Musk resides.
Currently, it takes 15 minutes for ultrafast charging to achieve a range of 150km, seven times longer than it takes to refuel a petrol car for a range of 500-800km. You will need to refuel more frequently and with longer refuelling time. The garages in Stansted would have lengthy queues, leading to village-wide gridlock. Where are alternative sites for EV charging? Will we see fields turned into parking stations?
EV advocates claim that street lights fitted with charging points provide an alternative to charging stations, but these are usually placed away from the kerb and in a village like Stansted there are at least a dozen houses per streetlight in any road. People would be fighting each other to charge their cars so they can go to work in the morning.
With 80 per cent of streetlights in the village operated by the parish council, converting streetlights to support EV charging would be a huge financial burden for a small council. Many local roads are unadopted, so the question rises about who will foot the bill and manage digging up the road.
Looking beyond the (im)practicalities of charging, EVs are also a long-term financial burden for those on lower incomes in a community where a fifth of children live in poverty, after accounting for housing costs, according to the End Child Poverty Coalition. Growing demand for batteries will drive demand for lithium even higher and therefore increase the cost of living.
The economic and political problems of the Dutch Disease and rentier states re-emerge in other regions. The problems that have afflicted the Middle East since the region began exploiting oil in commercial quantities will also affect lithium-exporting countries.
Lithium extraction is also not clean – it is also a polluter. And of course, lithium-ion batteries have a high cost to both replace and dispose in an environmentally sensitive way. Our consumer society will again be tied to problems elsewhere, old problems will be replaced by new ones.
The electric vehicle may solve carbon emissions to an extent – although only if the electricity is generated by renewable energy. However, it is not a panacea. One may say it is merely a machine to assuage a sense of guilt rather than a rational response to climate change that truly transforms transportation and puts our society on a sustainable footing. Yet, such a transformation looks impossible within the confines of profit-seeking capitalism and lifestyle consumerism.