Is The Electric Vehicle Revolution Real?

There is a widespread believe that we are currently witnessing the start of an electric driving revolution. Wherever I look, commentators seem to be in agreement that fossil fuels are on their way out. The only point of debate is how quickly this revolution is going to happen, and whether governments should introduce regulations to speed it up.

I, however, have my doubts that this revolution is real. Instead, I feel that this is little more than a hyped fashion, which will soon be calmed down by reality. Looking at the facts, it seems likely that a big proportion of future transportation will continue to be powered by carbon fuels. Electricity has some inherent flaws that can unlikely be overcome by engineering. The whole idea that electricity is the future of transportation is more driven by environmentalist ideology rather than facts. As such, it is not a market revolution, but one ordered from the top.

Why do people have the impression that electricity is the future? Has there been any kind of breakthrough in technology? It does not look like it. Instead, the source for the enthusiasm has a name – Elon Musk. As the CEO of Tesla, he is the mastermind behind the currently biggest electric car manufacturer.

Why is Tesla so successful? Musk does not appear to have done a lot of innovation when it comes to electric cars. His most impressive achievement is actually that he has managed to figure out how to re-use space rockets. But even Musk is powering those with fossil fuels, and we are going to see why that is.

When it comes to electric cars, Musk has done two things. Firstly, he has replaced the tank of his cars with batteries. But not special batteries, just normal batteries. The technology used has essentially been available for decades. Considering this, it might seem strange that none of the established car manufacturers had this idea before Tesla.

Except, of course, they did. Companies like BMW – with headquarters in Germany, the capital of green brain damage – have experimented with electric cars for much longer than Tesla has. But the result was always been the same – no one really was interested in buying them. Not even true greens wanted to drive one. Cars are generally too individualistic for even the modern comrade. Public trains are the politically correct choice of transport.

And non-comrades were certainly not interested in replacing their fuel engines. Electric cars have some real disadvantages. The most obvious one is that batteries will not get you as far as carbon fuels. To get to any kind of usable distance, engineers have to use a significant proportion of the car as a battery storage. But even than, Tesla cars only get to around a third to half the distance of combustion engines. The reason for that is simple – batteries cannot store nearly as much energy within the same space as carbon fuels. That is to say their energy density is a lot lower.

And once the car has run out of juice, it will take a long time to recharge. Not everyone is willing to take a longer break every 200 miles. This is another real disadvantage. Addressing that problem, Tesla, to their credit, has invented a technology that can recharge their batteries in 30 mins to 80%. Musk has created a quite impressive network of these so called super chargers. This makes batteries at least somewhat usable. But still, 30 mins is a compromise to the max 5 mins of refueling with non-electric cars.

As compensation for these disadvantages, one would hope that there would at least be an economic incentive to go electric. Unfortunately, the opposite is true. Electric cars are much more expensive than traditional carbon fuel ones. Even though combustion engines are heavily taxed, and electric cars heavily subsidized, the consumer still pays a large premium for the privilege of driving an inferior car.

And that is the reason why consumers have rejected electric cars throughout history. For most people, it does matter whether they spend $20 000 more or less on a car. That premium is real money, even for those who are scared of global warming. And in my experience, when it comes to their own money, everyone is a capitalist, no matter what other ideology people pretend to hold.

Considering this, it was very predictable that consumers would reject an inferior, more expensive product. And they have done so for a very long time. Already at the beginning of the 20th century, when cars were a new technology, many car companies offered electric models. All of them were discontinued very quickly because of their inferiority to combustion engines.

This never changed, until Tesla came along. If there is one thing that Elon Musk did right, it is that he realized that electric cars are an expensive luxury. Therefore, trying to sell them to impoverished environmentalists is not a good strategy. People who do not care about money are a much better audience. We are talking about rich people who can afford to simply buy an electric cars as another one in their collection, and therefore neglect the disadvantages. Rich people, however, do not buy toy cars, if they cannot function as a status symbol.

And so Musk designed his Tesla models as powerful luxury cars. One of the big advantages of electric motors is that, as long as the engineers allocate enough energy to it, they can be much more powerful than combustion motors. The established car manufactures, however, were most concerned with saving energy, because of the low energy density of batteries. Consequently, producing powerful cars, which consume a lot of energy, were not really on their agenda.

Tesla changed that and Bingo! It turns out environmentalist ideology has penetrated society so deeply that rich people do like to be seen driving electric cars, as long as they look cool and are fun to drive. Musk, therefore, discovered where the real market for electric cars was. However, if it is true that the reason for Tesla’s success is to sell, in many ways inferior, but powerful and very expensive, cars to rich people than how will this lead to a revolution in electric cars for everyone? After all, for most people all the disadvantages still apply.

And this is not even the full story. In reality, Tesla cannot even sell luxury electric cars profitably. The company is a creature of cheap central bank credit. Despite the fact that the Tesla’s expensive cars are very popular, and that every single one of these cars is subsidized by the government, Musk has never made a profit, not even close. In fact, Tesla is loosing money on every car it sells, and seems to try to make it up on volume.

Central banks are the only reason why Tesla could grow to this size. And they are the only reason why the company is still around. Thanks to easy money policies, there is a lot of cheap speculative investment money available. This money helped Tesla to continue manufacturing, despite the apparent unprofitability. But at this point, it should dawn on even die hard Tesla fans that their darling is unlikely to survive. One wonders, why Musk is not straight with his investors about this reality. His silence, and outright denial, does not make him a very trust worthy fellow.

One wonders, if he is hoping for a miracle. But if so, it is not going to come. Instead, Tesla is sailing with green energy into a perfect storm. It won’t be able to produce cars productively any time soon. In addition to that, credit is drying up, thanks to central banks raising interests rates. As if that was not enough, the established car manufactures, who, unlike Musk are very experienced in producing cars productively, are about to enter the market with their own luxury electric cars.

And outside the luxury car market, electric cars still face all the disadvantages they have already faced since cars were invented. For a general change to happen, we would therefore need to see these disadvantages to shrink very significantly, or ideally to disappear completely.

Firstly, there is the costs of batteries. Currently, batteries are very expensive. That should give us a clew as to how readily available the building materials are. The scarcity of materials is the main reason why Tesla has problems producing enough cars to satisfy demand. Its customers usually have to wait a long time for delivery. This illustrates that current battery technology is not very scalable. And this problem is already apparent when hardly anyone is driving electric cars.

That means that before we can all drive electrically, we need to first find a battery technology that uses more available, and therefore cheaper materials. To my knowledge, this will still have to be invented, and is therefore the first real break in the revolution. Nevertheless, this seems to be an achievable goal, at least in theory.

Next, these cheaper batteries would need to charge more quickly. For a lot of people, 30 mins is already acceptable. But particularly for commercial use, this is still too long to compete. That is particularly true given that we will soon see driverless vehicles. Therefore, drivers won’t need a break to rest anymore. That means, every extra charging time is a net economic loss. If the whole transportation industry were to go electric, this would add up to a huge loss of wealth. And again, this is an unsolved problem at the moment. But just like the cost factor, it seems conceivable that this problem will be fixed in the future.

Finally, and most importantly, there is the energy density of batteries. And it is here where we are facing a really hard problem. A few month ago I came cross a video of the youtuber thunderfoot, in which he argues that we are already at an optimum capacity for batteries. Thunderfoot is a professional chemist, and his reasoning seems very compelling.

The argument is simply this – to increase the capacity of a battery means to increase its energy density. The problem with that is that, while this is in theory possible, it will always come with a huge safety trade off. By increasing the energy density, a battery will inevitably become more dangerous.

A battery, by its very nature, needs to contain all the elements needed to release the energy. Any such compact system is at risk of releasing that energy in an uncontrolled way. By now, we are very aware of what can happen, if a battery goes into malfunction. The reaction resulting from an uncontrolled energy release is already quite violent. That, for example, is the reason why certain batteries are banned from flights.

To make matters worse, once ignited, it is very difficult to stop the reaction. That is precisely because the system does not need any external elements, like oxygen, to continue. Once a battery in an electric car starts to burn, it is difficult to extinguish it.

And that is already a problem with the current energy density of batteries. But imagine we increase that density even further. The more we increase the energy density, the less safe the system becomes. Currently, batteries have about an energy density which is 1/10 that of TNT. That means, if we were to increase the energy density of batteries by 10 fold, we would end up with a bomb in our cars, equivalent to the same weight of TNT. That does not sound like such a good idea.

But here is the thing – gasoline has about 10 times the energy density of TNT. So in order to get the energy density of batteries to match that of gasoline, we would need to create an energy system that, if anything goes wrong, would be 10 times as explosive as TNT. It seems quite crazy to put that into a car.

The reason why gasoline is so save is because it can be stored away from the element that is needed to release the energy, which is oxygen. Since oxygen is everywhere in the atmosphere, we can just use that oxygen spontaneously wherever we are. This, btw. also saves us a lot of storage space, making it even more efficient. And if anything goes wrong, we can easily extinguish an accidental fire by cutting it off from oxygen. This makes it an incredibly save system with a very high energy density. It does not look like we can get better than that, even in theory. In other words, gasoline is an optimal energy storage. That is why Musk is using it to move his rockets.

If this argument is correct, then that means we cannot hope for future battery technologies to become anywhere near as energy dense as the fossil fuels we use at the moment. The laws of thermodynamics, which are hard physics, seem to be in the way of achieving that goal. And if that is true, then obviously the idea of electricity being the future of transportation is fundamentally misguided. At least if that electric energy will come from batteries.

It very much looks like burning gas on the go is the best source of mobile energy we can hope for. That means, that anyone who needs a lot of mobile energy, like big ships, planes and even lorries will likely continue to use it, maybe forever. If this is true, then the only question remaining is where will the fuels come from? Will it be fossil fuels, or self made fuels?

It is certainly possible to indirectly use electricity as a mobile energy source. The electricity will then produce the fuel that is used for mobile energy. For that to be profitable, however, electricity would need to be significantly cheaper as it is right now, as the majority of the energy is lost in the fuel production. Nevertheless, in that scenario the vehicles would still continue to burn these fuels while they are driving. And it does not look like that this is going to change anytime soon, if ever. So I am sorry, but the electric vehicle revolution is largely an illusion.

Bombing Syria would be a Disaster


Tucker Carlson is not somebody who I would usually be happy to endorse. But in this video that has been doing the rounds on social media, he is absolutely spot on. There seems to be a growing consensus amongst the powers that be in America that something must be done about President Assad. Is has been clear for some time that the Assad regime will win this war that has raged since 2011. But claims that he has used chemical weapons against his own people in Duma has rattled the US State Department.

Did Assad use these weapons against Syrian civilians? Yes he probably did, but ultimately this is going to be almost impossible to prove. Over the past few days, there have been heated exchanges in the UN between the USA and Russia- who flatly deny that Assad has used chemical weapons throughout the conflict.

And then this happened…

Now… The childish language and inappropriate content aside here, banging the war drum on President would be an absolute disaster for the USA and the whole world for three important reasons.

1. The first and most important reason is that if there is an encounter between the USA and Russia in Syria, it could quite easily escalate into something much more serious. Given the fact that President Trump and President Putin have amassed considerable political capital being ‘macho men’ it would be hard for one of them to back down. If something approaching a general war between these two powers happens it is almost certain that we would be in a world war three scenarios. The west and Russia & allies would be a conflict where both sides have nuclear weapons. What the exact composition of each side would be is unclear. China would have a lot to gain in such a conflict by staying neutral and providing materials to both sides. It is impossible to imagine Russia and allies beating the USA alone (nevermind supporters) but such a war would cause total devastation.


2. Secondly, there is the problem of credibility. I mentioned previously that President Assad probably did use chemical weapons in Duma, they key word in that sentence being probably. Intervention in an unstable Middle Eastern country based on the assumption that they have illegal weapons should fill us with dread. But the powers in the US State Department seem to have remarkably short memories. Attacking the Syrian regime based on these assumptions would ruin any semblance of credibility that the USA still has in the world. But let’s assume for a moment that the Syrian regime had used chemical weapons. The domestic backlash would still be terrible. When Tony Blair took British forces in Iraq he was a popular prime minister trying to oust a universally reviled dictator and there were still large riots in the streets. Compare this to Donald Trump in Syria; we have one of the least popular presidents in recent history who would be intervening in a country where the vast majority of the public accept that there are no ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’ in this conflict. Politically speaking, President Trump has everything to lose by getting further involved in Syria.


3. The last reason why the USA getting further involved in Syria would be a disaster is the potential outcome of Assad being weakened. The forces of the Syrian government are in a pretty battered shape at the moment. It would not take a lot for the USA to tip the balance of power against the Syrian Arab Army. But what would replace the regime in Syria? At the beginning of the conflict in 2011, there were promises of support for the so-called ‘rebels’ in Syria. Lots of our leaders ended up having egg on their face after it emerged that most of these ‘pro-western rebel groups’ were really just radical jihadist militias. If Trump decides to tip the scales against Assad, he will have to think long and hard about what Syria will look like afterwards, and it probably won’t look pretty.


For these reasons I hope that President Trump and his advisors think hard about escalating their involvement in Syria.

Stating the Obvious About Knife Crime

There has been a recent resurgence in knife crime over the past year. According to the Office for National Statistics there were 32,000 knife crime offences in England and Wales in 2011 this had fallen to 25,000 by 2014. However, since 2014 the knife crime figures have risen alarmingly. In June 2017 the number of recorded knife crime offences was 37,000 and rising. This trend is obviously not good and it comes with a tragic human cost.  Over the past week there has been a spate of fatal stabbings in London.

There has been much public hyperbole about this rise in violent crime (over 50 deaths have attributed to violent crime in London this year). In fact, the Home Office has embarrassed the home secretary this morning by issuing a report laying the blame for this surge in violent crime in falling police numbers. Despite the fact that Amber Rudd said that the crime wave has absolutely nothing to do with police numbers in a radio interview only hours before.

But the figures here can be problematic for those who want easy solutions to this problem. Police numbers in the UK have been falling consistency. In 2010 the number of police officers stood at 140,000. This had been reduced to around 120,000 by 2017, a drop of  20,000. Yet these figures seem to show that there is little link between violent crime and police numbers. In 2014- the low water mark for knife crime, the number of police officers had already been reduced by 10,000.

Then we come to the infamous stop and search issue. According to the Metropolitan Police, there has been a drop in stop and searches since 2017 to 8,500 in February 2018. So far things are pretty clear. If you reduce stop and search then knife crime increases. But don’t jump to conclusions yet! The vast majority of stop and searches (6000) result in ‘No Further Action’ (NFA). In fact, the London boroughs that are the most targeted for stop and search have the largest number of NFA outcomes. If stop and search were effective then the boroughs that were the most targeted should not top the list of boroughs were NFA is the most common result of those searches. Clearly stop and search is not the solution to this problem.

As a libertarian, I naturally don’t want to see the government ploughing vast sums of money into the police force. However, I also hate the idea of our streets not being safe. Of course, overall numbers of police officers will make some difference to crime. But we all should know by now that it is not the whole story. Many of the suggestions of measures that could be taken to reduce the tragic events that have occurred over the past week make vague references to helping communities and access to services. There has been a lot of nonsense said but there are some important grains of truth.

There is a real danger here that the government in response to the pressure it is under decides to pass some ham-fisted legislation restricting access to knives that will have no real impact on the level of crime but make the lives of ordinary people much more difficult. Similarly, in response to media coverage police forces may stage a staged ‘crackdown’.

Tackling knife crime (and youth crime generally) can be reduced to two things; opportunities and education. The things that actually do seem to have an impact on knife crime is quality of education and economic prospects. In other words, a system that values these young people as individuals and takes their potential economic contributions seriously. Clearly blanket legislation or an injection of funding will not solve this problem.


Three Reasons why The Uber Decision Is a Disaster

Transport for London’s decision to stop Uber from operating has received widespread criticism. The vast majority of people do seem to recognise that TFL’s choice was a fundamentally bad one. So far a petition to overturn the ruling has attracted over 600,000 signatures.

Much has been said about the Uber ban so here are the top three reasons why it is a truly terrible decision:

Uber is popular and there are good reasons for that. The app is extremely convenient because it does away with the need to wave like a lunatic at every passing taxi when you need to get around. You can track when your ride will meet you as well as check out the driver before you get into the car. Uber is also good on price, often costing less than a black cab.

In theory, this should be possible with a private taxi company, but many of these businesses are small and rarely employ more than ten drivers. Go to a city centre where Uber doesn’t exist at around two o’clock in the morning. You will see hordes of people milling around waiting for ‘their’ taxi to turn up. Some of these people will have been waiting for over an hour for their cab because the local companies are all too busy. Uber eliminates this problem.

Uber employs lots of people. Unlike the black cabs, Uber drivers do not need to go through a series of expensive ordeals in order to work. Employees can drive their own cars rather than pay top dollar for a black taxi. Uber provides employment for around 40,000 people in London. It would be a mistake to assume that all of these drivers use Uber as their primary income source. However, there are many reasons why somebody might prefer a more flexible approach to work.

Uber is safe.There have been horror stories about people’s experiences with Uber and these should not be ignored. Yet, the law already has the tools to deal with the cases without banning a company from operating. Taxi drivers harassing or praying on vulnerable individuals is terrible, but this tragic development was not invented by Uber. The number of crimes reported by Uber drivers is staggeringly small given the number of drivers the company employs.

If we listen to some of the comments made against Uber. We might be forgiven for thinking that it flouts safety regulations on a whim. Nothing could be further from the truth. Uber has passed every inspection that TFL has carried out.

Since the ruling Uber has apologised and plans to fight the decision in court. It is quite clear that this was a political decision by TFL who is under pressure from the black cab cartel.

Let us hope that the people who oversee the law see more sense than the people running London’s transport.