Last month, the European Commission announced a plan for all new vehicles to be emission-free by 2035 and urged member states to install charging and fuelling points at regular intervals on main roads to facilitate the use of 'green' vehicles: it recommends charging stations every 60 kilometres for electric-powered vehicles and hydrogen fuelling points every 150 kilometres. The 2035 limit set by this ambitious new proposal is five years earlier than the deadline under Spain's Climate Change Law.
«The fossil fuel economy has reached its limit. We want to leave the next generation a healthy planet, with good employment and a growth that does not damage our nature. The European Green Pact is our strategy for growth which advances towards a decarbonised economy. Europe was the first continent to declare itself climatically neutral by 2050 and now we are the first to put a road map on the table. Europe is basing its climate policies on innovation, investment and social compensation,» said European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen.
A ban on petrol and diesel cars 14 years from now sounds a rather daunting challenge, but the move towards alternative sources of power, including biodiesel, electricity, ethanol, hydrogen, natural gas and propane, has been progressing for some time. In fact in Bilbao at the moment Repsol, Bilbobus and Alsa are testing the use of HVO, an advanced, 100 per cent renewable biofuel produced from residues, on a fleet of 12 buses. They expect a reduction of 300 tonnes of CO2 during the four months the pilot scheme is in operation.
The range of alternatives can be somewhat bewildering to those who have filled their vehicles with petrol or diesel all their lives, but most people will be aware of hybrid and electric options by now. These have also increased in popularity in recent years and they have a major role to play in the shift towards greener energy.
A hybrid car combines a conventional combustion engine, which is usually powered by petrol, and an electric motor. The engine charges the car's batteries, and the electric motor comes into play when extra power is needed, such as during acceleration. Many can run on electric-only power for short distances, and are therefore useful on local drives. There are also plug-in versions, where the battery can be charged from an electric outlet such as a public charge point or even from a socket in your garage.
There are different types of electric vehicles, but the type that is most likely to spring to mind is the battery version, known as a BEV. Instead of having a petrol or diesel engine, these have an electric motor powered by batteries, which, like the hybrids, can be charged at home or at a public charging point. The attraction of these is that they have zero emissions, but the distance they can travel between charges varies and depends on a number of factors, including the size of the battery, and can range from 100 to 500 kilometres.
Many people who are already cycling instead of using a car or public transport have welcomed the introduction of electric bicycles, or e-bikes, which have numerous advantages over the traditional type of bike and are also good for the environment because they are zero-emission. They are likely to encourage others to take to two wheels, as well, because they involve less physical effort than an ordinary bike, enable you to travel greater distances and climb steep hills. E-bikes still provide good exercise and unlike a car, e-bikes don't get stuck in traffic jams. E-cyclists can also access areas which would be impossible on a traditional bike.
It is important to note that vehicles are not the only culprits when it comes to atmospheric contamination, and there are some very positive moves in other sectors to move towards cleaner power alternatives.
In 2018, the International Maritime Organization committed the sector to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from ships by at least 50 per cent by 2050 and it encouraged the use of alternative fuels, fully electric and hybrid systems. There have been some major advances recently in the marine leisure industry, especially with the introduction of hybrid systems for jet skis and yachts.
A hybrid yacht can be propelled by two different energy sources, usually a combination of diesel and electric systems. They have the option of running on diesel, battery power or both at the same time. Not only do hybrid systems keep the atmosphere and the sea cleaner through fewer emissions, but they reduce fuel consumption and are quieter - a hybrid motor yacht is as silent as a sailing boat when it runs in zero-emission mode. This enhances the onboard experience and reduces external noise pollution. When in port, the fact that it is not necessary to run off full engine power is another advantage.
Another reason that hybrid systems are becoming popular is that electric propulsion alone has a much lower range than the traditional diesel system. However, there is another benefit to those who use hybrid and electric nautical systems, as they can venture into protected natural areas around the world where diesel-powered vessels are not permitted.
Amid the very justifiable doom and gloom about the climate crisis and future, it is encouraging to see how much progress has been made already and important to note that even more innovative solutions are on the way.