IS THIS REALLY ‘THE END OF THE STORY’?

     Journalist Matt Ridley has wisely cautioned his readers to reconsider The Great Plan being pushed in his country and so many other countries, that of closing down coal-fired furnaces and converting to wind farms, solar panels -- electric cars.

The headlines read: 
     “The state risks locking in the wrong technology too early” by Matt Ridley  www.rationaloptimist.com- Blog
He also asks:  How much carbon dioxide goes into an electric car?

“… To achieve a major transition in the economy, such as to electric transport, you could force the issue with a legal deadline, challenging the engineers to solve the practical problems and incentivising businesses to leave their comfort zone and abandon existing technologies.  Without a government ban it might never happen. But that sort of hothouse growth risks entrenching an immature technology, preventing a better one from coming along".

Here is a cautionary tale illustrating the latter point.
     Ten years ago Gordon Brown, then chancellor, and Hilary Benn, environment secretary, announced that ahead of an EU timetable Britain would forcibly phase out incandescent light bulbs in favour of compact fluorescent (CFL) ones, promising that this would “help tackle climate change, and also cut household bills”.  By sending free CFL bulbs to most households and requiring retailers to sell only the new bulbs, this cost the country almost £3 billion.

     Slow to warm up, tending to flicker, with a much shorter lifetime than expected and dangerous to dispose of, CFL bulbs were less popular with consumers than with manufacturers, who tooled up to produce them. Now, just ten years later, nobody wants CFL bulbs, thanks to the dramatic fall in price of the next technology: more efficient, better quality and safer LED lights. The government backed the wrong technology. Fortunately, in that case, changing course won’t be very hard, though the waste of £3 billion is a miserable thought. It would be much worse if we picked the wrong battery technology for electric vehicles.

     Tesla’s decision to build a “Gigafactory” to make lithium-ion batteries may establish a new standard for battery technology for a generation, at the risk of pinching off research into potentially better designs for batteries. Or Tesla may find itself with an obsolete system if one of those other technologies suddenly achieves a breakthrough.

     Perhaps we should leave this to the market. The great merit of private enterprise is that it reduces the cost of learning by putting a limit to the extent of the hazard of any particular adventure. One company gambles, and takes a hit, but the harm is limited and the lesson is learnt by everyone. (emphasis added…ed)

     A ministerially mandated nationwide failure would be costly in itself and could delay the wider use of a genuinely promising development in personal transport. Don’t let the state screw this up.”

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