HomeWeaning transport off petroleum

Weaning transport off petroleum

In July, HM Government published its Decarbonising Transport plan. In the Foreword, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps stated that the plan is about fixing the harm from emissions to make sure transport shapes the country and the economy for the better. He also noted that the plan is “not about stopping people doing things: it’s about doing the same things differently.”

Yet for some sectors, the alternative to energy-dense petroleum is not clear. The technology readiness chart at the back of the plan shows a very high solution certainty for rail, buses, cars and vans, and medium solution certainty for HGVs, coaches, domestic shipping and aviation. For long haul flights, it shows that no zero-emissions technology has been identified.

Hence there needs to be modal shift from less energy efficient forms of transport. The plan encourages the use of public transport and active travel, on which £2 billion is to be invested over five years. The aim is that half of all journeys in towns and cities will be walked by 2030. The ‘Bus Back Better’ strategy, published in March, aims to join up public transport and includes a commitment to deliver 4,000 new zero-emission buses.

No new petrol and diesel cars and vans will be sold after 2030. Before then, £2.8 billion is to be invested on a package to support the switch to electric vehicles, including £1.3 billion on charging infrastructure. The plan estimates that electrifying the UK car and van fleet needs a 20% increase in electricity generation by 2050, although smart charging could help reduce this.

Moorswater viaduct at sunrise on a beautiful winter morning, Cornwall, UK

By 2040, there is a commitment to eliminate diesel HGV sales, for which the most suitable zero-emission technology is uncertain. Hence trials of battery, hydrogen and electric road systems are to be funded and the use of sustainable low-carbon fuels considered.

The plan requires a net-zero carbon railway by 2050, with no diesel-only trains after 2040. It recognises that this needs an ambitious programme of electrification guided by Network Rail’s Traction Network Decarbonisation Strategy, supported by the use of hydrogen and battery traction. It also requires improved connectivity between rail and other modes of transport, with extra rail capacity needed to meet growing passenger and freight demand.

For the maritime and aviation sectors, there is to be research into appropriate technologies such as ammonia produced from hydrogen on ships. For aviation, the Jet Zero Council is developing solutions for guilt-free flying, with the objective of zero-emission flights across the Atlantic within a generation. Yet the Council notes the limited evidence on cost and availability of such solutions.

The plan has much to commend it. Whether the commitments will be delivered remains to be seen.

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