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'Electric cars charging from diesel generators is insane'

Mike Rutherford points out the environmentally damaging way some electric cars are charging up

Opinion charging EV

Heard the one about the bloke who’s lately been forced to use dirty, noisy, industrial diesel to power his luxury EV – a car he thought he’d be running on clean, green electricity generated by those wind and solar farms we hear so much about? 

I’ll explain. His name is Gary and I’ve known him for decades. He lives on the leafy fringe of London and his house has a charging unit that his new, almost-£100,000 car plugs into. Trouble is, the electricity supply isn’t as reliable or clean as it should be.  

Actually, it’s so iffy that just as COP26 was about to start, a diesel-powered HGV entered his street to dump a giant, diesel-powered generator kerbside. How’s that for “curing” the problem of local power cuts? 

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Stop and think about it for a minute. Some drivers have been squeezed out of their demonised diesel cars, into more expensive vehicles designed to run on allegedly clean, green, wind or solar-generated “zero carbon” electricity. Yet the leccy for their EVs can be generated via, er, diesel-fuelled generators plonked at the side of the road or behind bushes where it’s hoped they won’t be seen. But see ’em I often do. 

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Even if they’re on-site for only a few hours, their unacceptably high levels of noise and emissions from chimney-like exhausts are unbearable for those living nearby. But when the din and gross pollution rain down on residents 24 hours a day for a week and a half (as was the case with Gary and his neighbours), the non-stop sound and stench can be hellish.   

These dirty diesel generators are the elephant in the room for the already colossal but still expanding electricity industry that uses them way too frequently (sometimes just a few feet from the windows of unsuspecting residents) after it loses the ability or appetite to reliably provide the clean electricity it bangs on about.

I’ve long argued that since this industry already suffers power cuts (even during these comparatively quiet, undemanding times when the UK is only charging a few hundred thousand EVs) such outages will surely increase when millions or tens of millions eventually plug in. Understandably, there has been talk of rationing leccy. Don’t rule it out.    

Additionally, I’ve been warning for ages that the closer we get to electricity becoming the only fuel (apart from hydrogen, perhaps) to power our new cars, the more it will cost us. And, right on cue, retail prices are now going through the roof, with more inflation-shattering price rises on the horizon. 

But while power cuts and price rises are almost inevitable, diesel generators in residential streets needn’t be. They can and must be banned – in the same way that Britain can and will soon ban new cars with combustion engines. 

The fact that the electricity industry expects some motorists in “sophisticated” and “advanced” Britain to recharge their EVs with electricity filthily created by diesel-guzzling generators isn’t just wrong, it’s utterly insane – my idea of an ecomental crime that just has to stop.

Check out the latest on hydrogen-powered cars here...

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Chief columnist

Mike was one of the founding fathers of Auto Express in 1988. He's been motoring editor on four tabloid newspapers - London Evening News, The Sun, News of the World & Daily Mirror. He was also a weekly columnist on the Daily Telegraph, The Independent and The Sunday Times. 

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