This blog post started when I signed a Greenpeace petition aimed at Volkswagen to stop producing diesel cars https://secure.greenpeace.org.uk/page/s/volkswagen-ditch-diesel-now
I posted the following on Facebook: Well worth signing IMHO, transport emissions are the big problem with regard to global warming so it would be good for diesel to go followed in fairly short order by petroleum
Dave Hills Taylor replied : I have one of their TSI petrol engines that they are currently pushing – these give the performance people want from a VW but with smaller engines and at much lower revs and hence lower emissions. VW have made a mess of things with dieselgate but this is a step in the right direction. Obviously electric cars have to be the future long term.
Then my son Tom joined in: Problem with electric cars is that they don’t go anywhere near as far on a single charge as a liquid fuelled car does on one tank of petrol or diesel. The idea of stopping every two hours (at least) to put my car on charge for 30 minutes – complete nightmare. Once that’s changed maybe they’ll be a more attractive option.
I replied: I agree but battery technology is rapidly improving. I know they aren’t meant for cars but Elon Musk’s battery development in Oz is impressive, so I think it’s only a matter of time.
Then Tom wrote: Will happily make the swap in the future once the technology is delivering at a reasonable cost. Electric cars are stupidly expensive compared to ‘old fashioned’ ones.
And I replied: Not if you added to the cost of old fashioned cars a tax that accounted for the environmental damage they do. And there is so much less to go wrong with an electric car lots less parts.
Then Tom wrote: The nearest I’d get to electric at the moment due to the size of car I’d need is a hybrid. And just looked at my lease pricing for appropriately sized car for our family needs and it’s more than 50% extra every month. Price needs to come down before the man on the street will adopt.
I replied: You’re right but with the right incentives the price will come down and we all need to think of the planet.
Tom wrote: It’s quite simple really, the manufactures need to take the lead, if they were thinking of the planet then they’d make the cars affordable then more people would buy them and we’d have greater adoption the electric car. But the problem of battery life means purely electric cars are only good for short around town journeys. Another couple years and I’m sure the picture will be different. Fingers crossed.
I replied: Dead right – manufacturers are key but government and the people can have an influence so I’m keen for a bit more support for environmental groups and their lobbying and pressure on manufacturers to become an election issue.
Tom wrote: If you really want to get into it you also need property developers to be building housing with car charging facilities from the outset. That’s another cost that will need to be considered at some point as and when we get one to add to our 116 year old property. (Not really into the idea of trailing a lead out the living room window). Also not quite sure how you deal with charging of cars where residents have to park on the roadside, i.e. don’t have garage or off road parking on their property. The ambulance chasers will have a field day with claims from people who’ve tripped over or injured themselves on electric cables lying over the paths to the road.
I replied: All these technical problems can be solved if there is political will. I remember when it was economically expedient to stop baking coal to produce coal gas and use North Sea gas instead. Every gas cooker in the country had to be modified and cooker manufacturers started producing cookers that worked on natural as opposed to coal gas. If we could do that then we ought to be able to do something similar with regard to charging electric cars.
Tom wrote: And just another thing, well two things, 1) if we did have an electric car and came to visit you in an electric car where could we charge up once we’d got to yours. And 2) Louise has just informed me that different makes of car have different style plugs (FFS that’s as bad as these electric / gas smart meters not being a standard so you can’t switch suppliers and stay SMART) and there’s a number 3. So 3) you actually have to subscribe to different charging point suppliers. Change is always different and something businesses are always facing so doing that with a population is a massive challenge.
I replied: Definitely a massive challenge but what else would one expect when the fate of the planet is at stake. Oh and by the way, this is a great conversation.
All this led me to think about the way we might teach young people about the problems facing the planet and the role of electric cars in the solutions. It’s easy to say we should go electric but as Tom pointed out it’s much easier said than done. We certainly won’t be able to go electric without auto manufacturers stepping up to the plate and playing a major role. Government will have a major role in providing incentives both to the manufacturer and the motorist. And in democracies the general populace will have a role in voting in such a way that government has a mandate to provide these incentives. As with all technology it’s a complex combination of the technical, the political, the economic and the social. This is by no means an ‘easy teach’ but if we are to produce an informed general public that plays its part in lobbying government then its something D&T teachers should prioritise.
And then by chance just before I began to write this post I came across an article in January 29 edition of Time entitled China takes pole position in the electric car race. Some key quotes:
- China (not a democracy) has offered subsidies to buyers to the tune of $15,000 per vehicle,
- Threatened to block automakers that don’t make electric vehicles from selling traditional cars,
- Funded electric vehicle infrastructure like charging stations across the country’s highway network.
- China is expected to spend $60 billion in electric-vehicle subsidies in the half decade preceding 2020.
- Chinese automakers are expected to produce more than 4.5 million electric vehicles annually in 2020 compared with 1 million from Tesla.
To come full circle, elsewhere in this issue of Time a piece about the future of transport commented on the cooperation between Google and Volkwagen to build a quantum computer which will enable research to focus on three areas: traffic optimization, materials simulation for vehicle construction and battery research, and the development of new learning processes and AI processes needed for self driving cars. The CIO of Volkswagen, Martin Hofmann, is quoted as saying, “Quantum computers give us a completely new dimension. In 10 years, they will be orchestrating mobility in metropolitan areas, routing autonomous vehicles, predicting traffic flows and optimizing urban mobility.”
I’ll finish with a quote Alfonso Albaisa, SVP for Global Design Nissan Motor Company, “It is a thrilling time to be a designer. We are being asked to dream.” How often do we enable the young people we teach to dream designerly dreams?
As always comments welcome
As a courtesy I ran the post by Tom and he commented, “As a teacher I personally would probably make more of a point of medium term change. For example, it currently takes me 10 minutes (max) to refuel my car (and pay for the fuel) enabling it to travel a distance of up to 500 miles. Lots of vehicles can use a petrol station in a single day. That isn’t currently possible with an electric car due to the amount of time required to fully charge an electric car or the distance it can travel on a single charge. We aren’t going to get an electric equivalent over night therefore we need to think about changes that move us in the right direction and enable people to adopt electric cars and this isn’t just getting government backing but also I think local authority. One way of recognising this in a class room environment would be to ask the students where they (or their parents) would charge an electric car if they owned one. Or what changes would need to be made to enable them to have an electric car. And that would come back to my point about charging cables out of windows and over pavements.”
Now here’s a thought, a class of year 11 or 12 students using what their parents have said about charging electric cars as the basis for interviewing a local councillor about transport policy. All part of their ‘considering the consequences of technology’ D&T lessons focusing on important local issues.