EVs, Batteries, and Labor Shortages
I continue to work, with others, on our new domestic design manual for car parking structures. As I have said before, it is a very big issue the extent to which previous thinking has been made obsolete by the ever-increasing size of cars. It seems that every time a model design is modernized it gets a bit longer and a bit wider and we are moving from a “standard” bay of 2.4 x 4.8 m to adopting 2.5 x 5.0 m as the norm.
This is a big thing when you think about the knock-on effects to things like the span of the parking deck and what it does to all the structural calculations. I am guessing that you guys are going to have to make the same decisions.
The other big issue is, of course, the electric vehicle. With an all-electric future fleet, ventilation requirements are reduced; no exhaust fumes, you see, but the bigger issue is weight. Larger cars can like a Range Rover can increase by a ton, and that takes them above the current design load limits, over here, at least. That has ramifications for not only new design, but whether or not existing older car parks will have to start having to set weight limits to exclude some of the new larger vehicles. Looking to the future, we may have to start thinking about demolishing and replacing buildings sooner than expected.
All is not lost, however. It seems that just about every week there is another announcement of some new battery technology offering swifter charging and/or less weight than the current Lithium-ion technology. For example, a lot of research is being put into Sodium ion technology.
I won’t bore you with the technical details, mainly because I don’t understand them, but it seems that, to work as efficiently as a lithium battery, the Sodium battery has a “gap” between components that is not present in the lithium cell. Gaps don’t weigh much, so I guess we are beginning to see prospects of a weight reduction.
The potential clincher though is that, whereas Lithium is rare, found in very few places, and its extraction is an environmental nightmare, Sodium is, well, everywhere. It’s salt, you can get it out of the sea. I have also seen rumors of a battery technology that can fully charge from zero in five minutes, offering the prospect of a future electric car that can finally compete with its internal-combustion-engined rival for utility on a level playing field.
I mentioned, last month, that we were short about 100,000 heavy truck drivers here, and that this shortfall was increasingly affecting everyday life with shortages across the board. Pre-Brexit there was a 10 pecent shortfall in numbers; now with the combined effects of Brexit and Covid, this has risen to about 17 percent and things are getting worse.
A few days ago, one of the fuel companies had to shut down a few gas stations because they couldn’t resupply them, due to the shortage of drivers. Within 24 hours, nearly every gas station was queued out the door, drivers sitting in their cars, often with their engines running (duh!). By the end of the week, 90 percent of stations had sold out. There is no fuel shortage, simply a lack of drivers.
The government response to this is mixing panic with short-term fixes, and wishful thinking with actions that haven’t been thought through. Panic measures include, basically, suspending normal market activity to allow the fuel companies to cooperate to secure supplies, something that is, effectively, a wartime measure.
They are also going to write to everyone who has an appropriate license, asking them to return to lorry driving. Apparently, it did not occur to them that if the job was worth doing, with 100,000 vacancies, they might just have done that by now? As one ex-driver said, “why would I want to return to a job where I have to sleep on the job, pee in a bottle and clean myself with baby wipes because there is nowhere to wash in the morning; all for just above minimum wage?” Why, indeed?
Having refused to do anything to bring back the European drivers who were driven out (no pun intended) by Brexit, despite lobbying by industry for over a year, they suddenly announced that 5,000 “temporary” visas would be made available that allowed foreign drivers to come back until Christmas. What happens after Christmas? Why 5,000 when the shortfall has risen by 40,000 since Brexit?
The wishful thinking seems to manifest itself in announcements about massive increases in the numbers of driver testing places to be created to increase the number of native drivers. This announcement had no budget and no information about how the required increase in qualified and experienced trainers will be met.
Speaking of brilliant government plans and electric cars, Grant Shapps, our Transport Secretary and all-round funny guy, has suggested how the government will solve the potential problem of the national grid not being able to cope if people want to charge their cars at home. New chargers in the home and workplace will, by default, not operate from 8am to 11am and 4pm to 10pm.
To avoid people being stranded, drivers will still be able to charge at public charge points during these hours, where the cost of electricity is typically ten times the cost of doing it at home. Not seeing the incentive to switch here. Currently, the government is running about 30 percent behind its target for installing new charging points. Another success.
The country that is most active in promoting electric vehicles, be it pure electric or hybrid, is China. There are about 850 car manufacturers in China, with more than 300 only producing “electric” cars, that together have the capacity to produce about 5 million units. However, sales were only a quarter of that, and this year, some of the largest factories have been mothballed, or simply closed down. Deadlines for new model launches have been missed, cooperative ventures with foreign partners have stalled, and “technology transfer” has paused because staff are returning to Europe and Japan as companies go bust and creditors start to take over.