The Government’s plan to have 1 million electric vehicles on Irish roads by 2030 is “laudable but totally unrealistic”, “near impossible to achieve” and driven by a policy of putting all eggs in one basket.
The criticism was aired by speakers at a conference hosted by the Irish Bioenergy Association (IrBEA) on Wednesday in Dublin.
“Government ambition to have 1 million EVs by 2030 is laudable but totally unrealistic,” said IrBEA chief executive Seán Finan. “Even allowing for significant growth to deliver up to half a million EVs by 2030 would mean that the conventional fleet [using fossil fuels] will be bigger in 2030 than it is today.”
Dr Paul Deane, of the MaREI energy research centre in UCC, said it was important to define the scale of the transport challenge, where Irish passenger cars travel a staggering 18 billion kilometres in less than six months; the distance that Voyager 2 space craft has travelled since launch in 1977.
“It will not be solved with biofuels on its own, it will not be solved with EVs on its own, it will not be solved with public transport on its own. You need a mix of different technologies including behavioural change.”
Biofuels success to date in Ireland in replacing a portion of petrol and diesel at the pump was the equivalent of "170,000 invisible EVs" based on emissions savings, he said.
James Cogan of Ethanol Europe, part of the Irish-owned company Pannonia Bio, which has a biorefinery in Hungary, said transport will continue to be Europe's most intractable challenge for climate progress.
“Only one in 70 new vehicles in Ireland was electric last year. Fleet growth alone of diesel and petrol cars is still 10 times greater than total EV sales.”
The Government’s climate action plan depends on there being I million EVs in the national fleet by 2030 but “policymakers and opinion leaders have yet to grasp the immensity and near impossibility of achieving it”.
The 1 million target would require there being 100,000 new EVs registered “every year from today, up from just 4,000 last year”, while costing the exchequer €1.1 billion in annual supports.
Increasing the percentage of ethanol in fuels at the pumps from 5 per cent (E5) to 10 per cent (E10) could deliver an immediate climate gain at negligible cost, he said. Ethanol derived from grain or sugar beet as E10 cuts carbon emissions by 70 per cent compared to oil. It is now standard fuel in many countries including France and Germany.
Kevin Brady, principal officer in the Department of Climate Action and Environment, disagreed with much of what was said on EVs. There were clear plans to increase biofuel use in petrol and diesel with a view to doubling the percentage, and a possibility of going further up to 2030, which did not amount to "putting our eggs in one basket", he believed.
Economist Jim Power said "fossil fuels are still deeply embedded in our driving culture". While there was some uptake of EVs the "trends would not inspire confidence".
Compounding matters was pressure on the Irish new car market, he said. “Ireland is becoming the dumping ground of older diesel vehicles from the UK.”
Globally, there was massive demand for EVs but battery technology was not where it needed to be, and they remained prohibitively expensive.
While Irish EV targets were desirable, they “were impossible to achieve”. Having evaluated the biofuel sector, Mr Power had concluded increasing E10 was an environmentally-friendly bridge to 2030.