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  • Europe asleep at the wheel on the road to cleaner transport?

    A series of well-publicised and completely unpublicised events over the past month have shed further light on the future of energy in transport – or rather, they should shed such light. The question is whether Europe is noticing.


    Let’s go from the not publicised to the best publicised.

    Silently, the European Commission uploaded on 10 March an explosive report on the climate impact of its biofuel policy. Silently because a close look yields a damning verdict: in 2020 biofuels in Europe are expected to increase instead of reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This further strengthens the findings from an earlier study which had been the basis of current EU policy. Biodiesel made from vegetable oil leads to greenhouse emissions almost twice those of fossil diesel. We need to phase it out as soon as possible.

    Bloomberg released a report on the future of electric cars, stating that the price of batteries had dropped by two-thirds since 2010. This equates to a decrease of 20% per year. These are stunning numbers and the end is not in sight, leading Bloomberg to predict the beginning of the end for internal-combustion vehicles to occur at some point in the 2020s.

    In China 52,000 electric cars were sold in January and February 2016. This is on track to smash Europe’s 59,000 in the whole of 2015 by a factor five or so.

    And of course there was the event every mainstream newspaper and website covered – Tesla’s unveiling of its electric Model 3, leading to an eye-watering 276,000 pre-orders from enthusiasts who had to stump up $1,000 for the honour to be first in line to get a car at a point almost two years from now.

    And where is Europe? The most hopeful answer is: waking up from a long winter slumber – it’s spring after all. Even Dieter Zetsche, head of arch-conservative Daimler, seems to be coming to terms with the idea that electric cars might be interesting. Maybe the Tesla Model S outselling any Mercedes model with a comparable price tag in the US has something to do with it?

    We have yet to see or hear any signs of ambition from the the European Commission, which should be publishing before the summer break a communication on the decarbonisation of transport.

    A consultation on renewable energy policy after 2020 suggested new biofuel blending mandates (dubbed ‘incorporation obligations’) at a time when that same Commission was sitting on the study – mentioned above – that emphatically concludes that the current mandate further heats the planet.

    A recent gas strategy says it would be an excellent ‘green’ idea to use natural gas in transport – although a study Ricardo Energy & Environment recently carried out for us says that ‘it is difficult to justify supporting the use of this fuel in the road transport sector’ given the tremendous cost and and virtually non-existent benefits.

    It is still not too late for Europe to wake up from its hibernation – but the clock is ticking.