Letters: Electric cars

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Electric cars do work - all that is needed is a little vision

Sir: I feel compelled to correct some common fallacies that appear in R V Watts' letter (10 April) about electric vehicles (EV) and their impact on our current electrical infrastructure.

"Electric cars would simply transfer the atmospheric pollution from the cars to the power stations." This argument, known in America as the "long tail pipe" argument has been disproved by more than 30 studies conducted to determine the "well-to-wheels" pollution generated for EV vs gas cars. In every study, it was determined that an EV generates far less pollution.

"If all road vehicles were switched to battery-driven electric it would require at least a 40 per cent increase in electricity-generating capacity." The primary charging window for electric vehicles is "off-peak" when there is a large amount of excess capacity on the grid. This capacity is currently wasted. In the US, there is enough excess generating capacity at night to charge 80 per cent of the American fleet of gasoline vehicles without adding any new electric generating plants. It will take two to three decades before that many EVs are built.

You don't need a fast charging system since virtually all charging is done at night while we sleep, or at times when the vehicles are not being used such as during work or while shopping. The vast majority of vehicle trips are less than 50km, so each night one only needs to charge 5-10 kWh, not the 50-plus kWh Mr Watts claims.

Regenerative braking, whereby electric vehicles recapture energy when the cars slow down or stop, improves fuel and battery use dramatically. This technology is already standard on hybrid vehicles.

These electric cars do exist and would be driven by many more people with a little vision by either the auto industry or our political leadership.



Still waiting for the plague of rats

Sir: Ten years ago my local council, Eastleigh, decided to investigate the possibility of introducing fortnightly alternating collection of household waste using wheelie bins and chose three areas to conduct a pilot scheme: one urban, one suburban and one rural. I lived in one of these. After six months no insurmountable problems were found, although there were a small number of "problem" householders who refused to co-operate.

We have had the collection system Mary Dejevsky decries (Opinion, 10 April) for ten years now, with no deleterious effects upon public health, increase in street rubbish or proliferation of rodents. We still receive regular complaints, often of an apocalyptic nature, but always from the same handful of irreconcilables who never waver from their opinions no matter how completely or how often our professional staff demolish them.

We are a household of three adults, but despite having the smallest bins never have any problems with so-called side waste. Perhaps I am fortunate in that all edible waste is first offered to the cat and then to the chickens and the rest goes into my large compost heap, but even when my wife and I were both members of the borough council and had committee papers to match we were always able to get them into the recycling bin, along with The Independent and our local rag.

Maybe things are different where Mary Dejevsky lives, but we have no problems down here even when collection is a day or two days late because of public holidays. The bins are proof against rats, and I am still waiting to see the photo of one holding the lid open so that his mate can have lunch



Sir: Mary Dejevsky claims that "waste collection is the mark of a civilised society", complains that she has to sort her recycled waste and laments proposals for a move to a fortnightly waste collections. Following the publication of the truly terrifying predictions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on Good Friday, you would have hoped she'd appreciate the potential slashing in half of waste-collection CO2 emissions.

I do not see waste collection as a mark of a civilised society but rather the mountains of waste in bins are a sign of ignorance and lack of care for the crisis facing our planet. I have not had a single domestic unrecycled rubbish collection from my home in over eight years; I produce only just over half a wheelie-bin of it a year.

I am a net importer of waste, because my smoke-free-zone wood-burner burns about 40 wheelie bins of locally sourced waste timber each winter. I compost and try to avoid accumulating waste in the first place. This means I reduce the council's waste mountain, rather than contribute to it. My recyclables are put out about once a month.

This is what I consider to be a truly civilised approach to waste. Come on Mary, domestic waste is so last century. The cool, fashionable and sensible approach to 21st-century waste is not to create it in the first place.



Sir: So Mary Dejevsky did not have her rubbish collected on Easter Monday. On behalf of dustmen everywhere, I would like to apologise to her for our arrogant assumption that we were entitled to a day off just because it was a national holiday.

Moreover, since we apparently achieve the miraculous feat of arriving, simultaneously, at every home at "the crack of dawn", I apologise to everyone for waking you up. Sadly this situation will continue until we are equipped with the new "stealth dustcarts" that the MoD is developing.



Fingerprinting of pupils in school

Sir: Lord Adonis has done some good things in his period as an Education Minister, but he is sadly out of touch with the reality of school life if he really believes that the widespread fingerprinting of children in our schools has no disturbing consequences (letter, 11 April).

His main problem seems to be accepting the fact that some schools are doing this without parental permission. He states that "schools have to tell parents what information they have on record and how they intend to use it". We already know, because some headteachers have admitted it, that this is not happening in all cases, so it is difficult to accept his reassurances that the information is always destroyed when the pupils leaves the school, and never shared with any external organisation.

It is clearer than ever that schools need some proper guidelines to ensure that this private information is collected and used only for proper purposes.



Dangers of too much nursery care

Sir: Your excellent leader commenting upon the latest research about excessive nursery care for young children ("Nurseries and the hard working family", 5 April) contrasts starkly with the wearily predictable governmental response to research which, ironically, the Government itself sponsored.

It is, alas, more than faintly ludicrous that a Secretary of State for Education can call "faintly ludicrous" the empirically based research finding that mothers may be "letting down their children" by going out to work.

Of course, he would have to say that, wouldn't he, given the Government's relentlessly concerted economy-centred, early-years policies of the past decade?

It is positively scary when our chief education minister seems to know little or nothing about the importance of a child's secure early attachment to at least one parent, and the life-long effects its disruption can have on children's emotional well-being and development.

We can begin to see in this latest example, perhaps, just why Britain is last in the Unicef league table of children's well-being, and why, at this rate, it's destined to stay there.



PFI delivers on time and on budget

Sir: Allyson Pollock is guilty of selective quoting in her latest attack on the private finance initiative (5 April). In comparing the relative performance of PFI projects against traditional procurement, she quotes the National Audit Office as saying "it is not possible to judge whether these projects could have achieved these results using a different procurement route".

But the same report concludes that PFI compares "favourably with the historical experience of public sector procurement", adding, "There is strong evidence that the PFI approach is bringing significant benefits to central government in terms of delivering built assets on time and for the price expected."

This evidence is all around us. Our towns and cities are graced by state-of-the-art hospitals, modern schools and fit-for-purpose civic buildings.

The traditional procurement so favoured by Professor Pollock was behind Edinburgh's notorious Holyrood Parliament building, initially expected to cost £40m but finally costing ten times that. And despite this huge burden to the taxpayer, the roof fell down.



Warlike answer to world's problems

Sir: Recent news items emphasise how much the mindset of the West is one which sees solutions to economic, security or developmental problems in military terms.

Jeffrey Sachs in his first Reith Lecture pointed out that the US military budget will be $650bn this year compared to its aid to Africa of $4.5bn.

Robert Fisk details ("Divide and Rule", 11 April) the current American thinking of dividing Baghdad up into sealed areas in an attempt to halt the violence by military means. Would it not have been more rational, even assuming Saddam had actually had WMDs, to offer him large amounts of aid to rebuild Iraq on condition that he abandoned his WMDs? This would have had a much more positive impact on the Iraqi people and their attitude to the West than an invasion.

Another example is Afghan-istan, where your correspondent suggests (report, 10 April) that it would be cheaper and more effective to buy the whole opium poppy crop and destroy that not needed for medical use rather than to use the military to occupy the poppy growing areas and destroy the farmers' livelihoods.

And finally, Israel: instead of using its huge and expensive military to occupy and subdue the Palestinians, spending the money on the economic development of the West Bank and Gaza would have been far more successful in engendering an acceptance by Palestinians of the existence of Israel and the desirability of living in peace with it.

The total UN budget is 2 per cent of world military expenditure: is this rational?



The long-life lights of fairyland

Sir: There is much governmental encouragement to us to use long-life light-bulbs. We are assured that we will save money and help the environment. One of mine has just failed; it lasted about 3,000 hours instead of the 10,000 promised by the manufacturers.

I wondered about disposal so I rang my local council refuse department. The third person to whom I spoke (the first two had no idea) was surprised I should ask; I should just put them in the waste-bin along with the other non-recyclable waste.

"Hang on," I said. "Is it not illegal to put fluorescent tubes in the waste bin because they contain mercury?"

"Oh yes," was the reply, "but that does not apply to long-life bulbs."

"Well I never," I replied. "But are not long-life bulbs merely coiled fluorescent tubes containing mercury?"

"That is so, sir, but the legislation does not apply to them."

Is it not a wonderful fairyland that we live in?



Worst of the best?

Sir: If Jo Ellison found that the £148 pair of Acne Lena Tube jeans featured in The Ten Best (10 April) gave her abdominal cramp and made her bum look big, then what's so great about them? Can I suggest buying fairtrade jeans from Marks & Spencer instead? A lot less money, they benefit others, oh and make your bum look great.



Fish in the siding

Sir I used to travel regularly in the 1990s from Cardiff to Paddington and as we approached Swindon and Reading I would look out for the old rolling stock in the goods yards (letter, 9 April) . There was a group of trucks that all had the name of a fish on the side: I remember the most common was Salmon but there was also Porbeagle, Trout and Tunny. I was told they were old track maintenance rolling stock dating from British Rail days. How many names were there?



Lenten austerity

Sir: Congratulations to Katie Austin for avoiding supermarkets for the whole of Lent (article, 9 April). But I was surprised she denied herself garlic bread during that time. Take one baguette, some softened butter into which you have crushed a garlic clove, make slits in the bread and insert the butter. Heat in the oven in the usual way. How long does that take?



Phones for pixies

Sir: I suspect an alien infiltration of our planet. On attempting to replace my ageing mobile, I was presented with a range of devices all fitted with tiny controls that would, perhaps, be easily operated by pixies or children up to the age of 12, but with keys far too small for anyone with normal adult-sized hands, let alone someone with ham-fists like mine. I am forced to assume that some extra-terrestrial species has infiltrated the design sections of the consumer electronics industry.



Zone of safety

Sir: I approve of Joy Henderson's search for the "unhealthy cereals" sign (letter, 28 March). When I lived in rural New South Wales, I drove every day past a sign which said "Accident zone next 5km - please drive carefully". I was always disappointed that 5km down the road there was not a sign saying "You are now leaving the accident zone - please drive recklessly".