Banning gasoline-power in inner cities is a win for air quality and a non-event for fossil fuel usage
I love cars, I love driving, and I love the freedom that the automobile has brought us. There is something universally appealing about that freedom, which is the reason there are 2 billion cars on the road and climbing.
But in the heart of big cities, I hate cars and I hate driving. Cycling is good, walking is best; it affords interesting sights, provides exercise, has low speed collisions (unless hit by a car) and has a capital cost limit of whatever footwear one chooses.
I’m not alone there either; owning a car in the inner city is a bad idea. Parking your pride and joy, if you can find a spot and afford often ridiculous parking charges, always includes a tiny element of sadness because there is a considerable chance it won’t be there when you return, If it is still there, there’s a reasonable chance it will be scratched or disfigured or at the very least peed on.
Which brings us to the current trend towards banning internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles from major cities around the world. These announcements are having a significant impact on people; those of the greenest bent take it as a sign of the end of fossil fuels, and the silent majority wonder if their 4-wheeled pride and joy is about to become an embarrassing dinosaur.
Neither is right. As to whether these movements signal the end of fossil fuels, consider the way traffic works inner city. Most trips are short, meaning that electrical charging makes a lot of sense. A short commute or shopping gadabout will only drain a fraction of an EV’s batteries, or if a hybrid will possibly not even engage the gasoline engine. And should the battery get drained significantly, electrical outlets are plentiful, so recharging may not be much of a hurdle. So urban traffic is well suited to EVs.
Even if the trend continues though, fossil fuel usage will barely be dented. Remember, the world consumes 95 million barrels of oil per day. Breaking that down for one of the largest consumers – the US – we can see that the US consumes about 20 million barrels per day of petroleum products about half of that is gasoline. The top 3 consuming states are California, Texas and Florida, which together account for about 2.5 million b/d. Now, how much of that consumption is in dense inner cities where EVs have an advantage?
Very little. Inner city trips are short distance by definition, so consume little gasoline. The proportions might be higher in dense European cities, but due to the density and smaller street size, small cars are the norm, which in turn means that they burn less fuel then.
Will the family beast become a dinosaur? Will, as some futurists grimly imagine, touring in an ICE vehicle become a pastime of kooks and old timers?
Not at all. Several factors are worthy of note. One is that the world is moving to SUVs, even Europe, and these do not tend to be more fuel-efficient. On top of that, the sheer infrastructure and cost investment in the ICE value chain are too huge to be dismantled in a decade or two. People erroneously make a comparison between the transition from horses to autos and the transition from ICE to EV. The horse industry that was disrupted by autos was, in GDP terms, irrelevant. Yes, buggy whip manufacturers did go out of business. All three of them. Nine people were thrown out of work.
Rewiring the auto industry to go all electric is a formidable task both from the production side as well as the sales side. It is not impossible but it is a huge mountain to climb, and it won’t be done any time soon.