SSC On Topic 3: Electric Cars - History, Net Zero & Formula E

Published on 12 August 2022 at 09:51

Formula E, an all-electric racing championship, was founded in 2011 and the first race was in Beijing, China in 2014. It has 12 – 14 venues around the world and has exclusive rights from Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) to stage an electric world championship until 2039.

It might appear that an all-electric racing championship is a new idea – not so! In 1899, a Belgian driver and engineer called Camille Jenatzy, known as the ‘Red Devil’ due to his demonic and determined driving style, became the first person to achieve 100km/h. Motoring technologies and innovation were in their infancy at this time with electric and steam powered cars amongst those been developed. As we now know however, it was the internal combustion engine-powered car that came out in front. The reasons for this and the disappearance of the electric cars are varied. Interestingly, between 1913 and 1914, Thomas Edison and Henry Ford worked together on an electric car project but disagreements and technological shortcomings meant that Ford left the project and he moved on to the development of the Model-T Ford, using a petrol-driven, internal combustion engine. Alongside the technological shortcomings of the electric car at the time there were also political pressures in the form of lobbying from oil companies promoting the petrol-driven car. The electric car was abandoned – but it was to return!

To achieve the Net Zero Targets by 2050, it is anticipated that by 2030 there would need to be 300 million electric cars on the road which would be over 60% of new car sales whereas they accounted for only 4.6% in 2020. This was however, an increase of 40% from 2019. Governments around the world have strengthened the shift to electric cars as they have set dates for a ban on the sale of polluting vehicles.

Contributing to this electric car landscape is Formula E who “aspire to accelerate change towards an electric future, one race and one city at a time”. They intend to use experimentation (being a “testbed”) to develop innovative technologies to achieve a low-carbon future. They are a signatory of the UN Climate Neutral Now Initiative and they manage their carbon footprint in three ways:

  1. Measuring carbon output: carrying out a lifecycle assessment to monitor and calculate the championship’s carbon footprint;
  2. Reducing the overall footprint: through focusing on freight, suppliers, transport and waste;
  3. Offsetting: offsetting emissions with sustainable projects that aim to benefit the local economies and people in the locations they race in around the world.

There are of course critics of Formula E and electric cars in general such as the French author Paul Ariès who argues that electric cars are simply the last great myth before the ecological disaster hits us all. Others more specific to Formula E note that the teams involved consist mainly of manufacturers of fossil-fuelled vehicles.

Nevertheless, we are now witnessing a rapid transition to electric cars and associated technologies such as batteries and a shift away from petrol and diesel vehicles. The net zero targets and ban of polluting vehicles appears to have accelerated the uptake and development of technologies by manufacturers to build electric cars. Public uptake and acceptance is lagging behind somewhat and differs geographically.

Silent Spring Consultants are watching with interest! Keep an eye on our blog series for more on this topic and let us know what you think!

Written by Dr Andrea Armstrong - 2022

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