The UK car mandate: a new way to make an old energy mistake

Aug. 14, 2017
With energy, there is no mistake so costly that some government, somewhere, won't repeat it.

With energy, there is no mistake so costly that some government, somewhere, won't repeat it.

Like others in Europe, the UK government once encouraged the use of diesel as a vehicle fuel, largely for environmental reasons. But an environmental priority of the moment in Whitehall is nitrogen dioxide, of which diesel engines are heavy emitters.

Because NO2 concentrations exceed European Union ceilings along 81 major roads in 17 British towns, according to official statements, sales of new cars and vans fueled by either diesel or gasoline will be banned no later than 2040.

The government acknowledges that NO2 levels have fallen by half nationwide in the past 15 years, notwithstanding its former disposition toward diesel. But it feels compelled, by unacceptable air above 4% of the UK's 1,800 major roads, to dictate economic choices yet again.

By linear measure of polluted roadway, sprawling, congested London is the real trouble spot. The ban on sales of diesel and gasoline vehicles applies nationwide nevertheless. So all Brits, by official decision, will have to buy cars and vans powered by electricity.

Electrification of the vehicle fleet will boost the need for power by an estimated 50%. And officials want the electricity to come from wind. The effect on electricity rates is predictable.

Thanks to past favors for renewable energy, British electricity consumers already pay high rates-$2.37/Mw-hr for households in 2015, according to the International Energy Agency. That's not the highest in Europe; Denmark and Germany hold that distinction with household rates above $3/Mw-hr. But it's well above prices in the US ($1.27/Mw-hr) and even France ($1.81/Mw-hr), where the government is banning fossil-fueled vehicles to combat climate change.

The UK recently had to shrink renewable-energy subsidies because of the consequent economic pain. Now it's commandeering vehicle markets to pursue its energy preferences.

This intrusion will be no less painful than the last one. Eventually, politics will crush the new program, too. The only question is whether the government, this time, will learn anything.

(From the subscription area of, posted Aug. 4, 2017; author's e-mail: [email protected])

About the Author

Bob Tippee | Editor

Bob Tippee has been chief editor of Oil & Gas Journal since January 1999 and a member of the Journal staff since October 1977. Before joining the magazine, he worked as a reporter at the Tulsa World and served for four years as an officer in the US Air Force. A native of St. Louis, he holds a degree in journalism from the University of Tulsa.