If and when the age of the internal combustion engine comes to an end, we will know where and when it happened: Norway, some time in the mid to late 2020s.
The Norwegians are set to take the first steps to a radical change in personal transportation. By ending sales of new cars fuelled by petrol or diesel they will, within a decade or two, move to cars with electric motors run by alternative fuels. At the moment this seems likely to be pure or “plug in” electric cars or those with hydrogen fuel cells, which are now undergoing rapid development. By 2050 only a relatively small number of fossil fuel powered old timers will be running around Norway. Other nations should follow suit.
Of course there are dangers here – and not just for Norwegians who run out of battery power short of their destinations.
An electric car fuelled by electricity generated in, say, a coal or gas driven power station will not be nearly as great a leap forward as one where the energy is derived from the sun or, more arguably, nuclear. Freight and buses will take longer to become viable as electric vehicles, so the revolution should not be exaggerated. And it may take much longer for relatively expensive electric vehicles to make much headway in rapidly motorising economies such as India, China and Brazil.
There is some irony attached to an important oil and gas producer such as Norway pioneering these changes. But it may yet prove that the authorities, though progressive and ambitious in their thinking, are running ahead of public acceptance of electric cars, and the automotive industry's ability to make them go as far as a conventional car.
No matter; the direction of travel is clear, and it is the right one.
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