The news that the government is to offer incentives to people to buy electric cars (from 2011) has been greeted by fairly uncritical press coverage.
Most of the problems with electric cars are well documented, however. They lack the range of a normal, internal combustion engined car and can not be "refuelled" anywhere near as quickly. As a result, electric cars are all but useless for any significant journey.
But there's more to it than even that. Apart from the obvious fact that these cars still require something to produce the electricity they use, there is the issue of the batteries they employ. Anyone who owns a laptop or even a mobile phone will know that these batteries quickly degrade and lose efficiency. When I first got my previous laptop it could run for almost 3 hours from a 100% charge. By the time it was replaced three years later it could barely manage one hour. My current laptop is one year old and already has lost around a fifth of its efficiency (down from 5 hours to 4).
As I understand it, the average lifespan of these batteries is around 4-5 years. After that they have to be replaced - and for these electric cars that is an enormous cost. It's a little like having to replace the engine of a standard car every five years!
What this means is that these cars will have virtually no value second hand other than as parts bins. If you own one of these cars from new, you won't be able to sell it after three years for the sort of money you'd get for a three year old petrol car - and if petrol engined cars are still available, you won't be able to sell it at all. You'll be faced with a £5000 bill for new batteries (plus whatever it costs you for disposing of the toxic waste that constitutes the old batteries) or scrapping the car - which will still cost you an arm and a leg.
And all of this supposes that we're going to have a plentiful supply of electricity to charge these cars - but with our energy supply policy in complete disarray this is far from certain. Chances are that you'll be plugging your electric car in overnight only to find, come morning, that there's been a power cut and the damn thing won't start.
I have nothing against electric cars per se, but until they are really viable and practical alternatives to internal combustion engined cars then it strikes me as daft to pursue such a policy. Even more so when far more practical and realistic alternatives are becoming available through hydrogen fuel cell cars.
I'm all for anything that moves us away from dependency on energy supply from unstable and, frankly, beligerent oil states. Believe me, I will be as happy as anyone when we can tell the Saudis and the rest that they can shove their oil where the sun don't shine, but for God's sake keep it real.