Factcheck: Misleading Headlines About Electric Car Charging While Boiling the Kettle
By Simon Evans
In recent days, a new round of misleading headlines said that homes won't be able to boil a kettle while also charging an electric car. Given how the traditional British cuppa holds near-sacred status, this subject was ready-made for attention.
Today, however, the vast majority of home car chargers are rated at or below seven kilowatts (kW) and can be run alongside kettles, ovens and any other domestic appliances without problems. The source of the headlines, a National Grid "thought piece" published in April, was about problems on home or local electricity circuits, that might arise in the future if they are not addressed.
Running 11kW fast chargers at the same time as kettles, on inadequate wiring, is one of these potential problems. But these high capacity units are "vanishingly rare," said James McKemey, head of the insight team for charge installation firm Pod Point. He told Carbon Brief, "When we go to site we have to assess the load there already. If running a kettle would mean blowing your main fuse, we can't install."
The media focus on electric cars has grown since environment secretary Michael Gove said on July 26 that the government wanted to ban the sales of "conventional" petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2040. (It remains unclear if hybrid vehicles would be allowed, as the ban has not been explained in detail.)
This ambition would entail a major transformation of the UK economy. It would pose significant challenges for the electricity grid, the exchequer's tax take, carmakers and the wider auto sector.
National Grid, which manages the UK power network, has been trying to work out what those challenges look like and what it will need to do to address them. This is an effort to identify potential problems so that they can be avoided, but has been widely misconstrued as a forecast of calamity.
Earlier headlines have suggested the UK will need six, ten or even 20 new nuclear plants to charge electric cars, which would raise peak demand by up to 50 percent. National Grid published a "myth buster" to explain why these headlines were wrong. It said:
"The government's recent announcement ... has led to lots of speculation in the media regarding the effects on the energy system. Often National Grid's Future Energy Scenarios (FES), which is our analysis of future energy demands, has been cited incorrectly and sometimes out of context. This article is intended to clear up some of the misconceptions."
As Carbon Brief explained in July, the reality is likely to be closer to a six gigawatt (GW) or 10 percent increase in peak demand due to electric cars in 2050, equivalent to two nuclear plants. This assumes smart car charging becomes the norm, extending the current trend in that direction.
Newspapers have also been quick to suggest that electric cars would massively increase annual demand for power. Obviously, electric cars will raise demand for electricity. (A reduction in demand from oil refineries will partly offset this. They use around 1.5 percent of current UK supply).
However, analysis from Cambridge Econometrics and National Grid suggests electric cars might raise annual demand by just 10 percent in 2050. Key uncertainties in this outlook include the rate of electric car adoption, the average number of miles driven per person in the future—this number peaked a decade ago—and whether autonomous vehicles or car sharing take off.
This week, headlines have found a new electric car problem to worry about—again, based on a piece of National Grid future-gazing. The Financial Times was first to the story on Aug. 20 under the headline, "Charge electric car but don't boil kettle, says National Grid."
It said homes using 11kW, 48 amp fast chargers might not be able to boil kettles at the same time, since most home electricity circuits can only handle 60-80 amps at one time. Kettles are limited to 13 amps, like many other domestic appliances.
The FT article noted that, as of today, only five percent of homes would be able to take an 11kW charger. It added that these homes would be able to handle fast chargers and kettles at the same time, if they fitted a 100 amp main fuse.
This was not enough to prevent the cuppa crisis from spreading, however. In subsequent headlines, the Telegraph ("Don't boil the kettle while charging your electric car because it will blow the fuse, National Grid warns"), Times ("Charging an electric car while the kettle is on may blow a fuse") and Mail Online ("Forget that cuppa: Charging an electric car at the same time as boiling your kettle will blow your fuse, National Grid warns") were among those following the FT's story.
By this point, caveats were often forgotten and growing certainty took hold. An Aug. 22 Telegraph editorial confidently said, "The National Grid says anyone driving an electric car should not charge it at home while boiling a kettle because the power surge would trip the main fuse."
@nationalgriduk Yesterday's Telegraph editorial (not online) joins the inaccurate electric car cuppa crisis bandwag… https://t.co/hqzwbUPWKL— Simon Evans (@Simon Evans)1503501491.0
In one Daily Mail piece published in print and online, veteran columnist Christopher Booker managed to pull together all the recent misleading headlines about electric cars into a single article.
It's worth returning to what the National Grid's thought piece actually said on this question. Note that it was published in April and has only now received widespread coverage. It said, in hypothetical terms:
"The average household is supplied with single phase electricity and is fitted with a main fuse of 60 to 80 amps. Using a 3.5kW battery charger requires 16 amps. If one were to use an above average power charger, say 11kW, this would require 48 amps. When using such a charger it would mean that you could not use other high demand electrical items (such as kettles, oven, and immersion heaters) without tripping the house's main fuse ...
"If your house had fitted the maximum 100 amp main fuse, then a more powerful 22kW charger could be used ... In reality, an 11kW charger, with an above average main fuse, is likely to be a good compromise."
It's worth repeating that very few homes are currently able to install an 11kW charger and Pod Point does not believe they are necessary. In any case, only high-end electric car models are able to use three-phase 11kW fast chargers, with most models restricted to 7 or 3.5kW units.
The spread of larger electric car batteries does not mean people will drive further, added McKemey, so 7kW chargers should remain adequate for almost all homes. Over the past 16 months, 33 percent of chargers installed by his firm were 3.5kW, another 67 percent were 7kW and just 0.1 percent were high capacity fast chargers.
National Grid went on to identify a second potential "pinch point," if multiple homes on a local electricity circuit all use car chargers at once. It said some 32 percent of low voltage circuits might need upgrading once electric car adoption reaches 40-70 percent, or more quickly if fast chargers are used.
The UK will need widespread adoption of electric cars, coupled to increased supplies of low-carbon electricity, if it is to meet its legally-binding carbon reduction targets. The government wants to ban sales of petrol and diesel vehicles by 2040 and for "almost all" to be zero emission by 2050.
This shift will have wide-ranging effects, many of which will be positive. Roadside air pollution will be eased, motorists are likely to save money on fueling their vehicles and the UK will become less dependent on imported oil.
Other effects of electric cars will be more challenging. The treasury may need to find a new source of income as fuel duty income evaporates. Carmakers will have to develop new models and new supply chains. Mining for the components of batteries will pose different environmental risks. And electricity grids will need to adapt.
As Pod Point's McKemey said, however, the idea that no one is thinking about how to address these challenges "could not be less true."
Reposted with permission from our media associate Carbon Brief.
By Stuart Braun
"These are not just wildfires, they are climate fires," Jay Inslee, Governor of Washington State, said as he stood amid the charred remains of the town of Malden west of Seattle earlier this month. "This is not an act of God," he added. "This has happened because we have changed the climate of the state of Washington in dramatic ways."
'These Aren't Wildfires'<p>Sam Ricketts, who led climate policy and strategy for Governor Jay Inslee's 2020 presidential campaign, tweeted on September 11 that "These aren't wildfires. These are #climatefires, driven by fossil fuel pollution."</p><p>"The rate and the strength and the devastation wrought by these disasters are fueled by climate change," Ricketts told DW of fires that have burnt well over 5 million acres across California, Oregon, Washington State, and into neighboring Idaho. </p><p>In a two-day period in early September, Ricketts notes that more of Washington State burned than in almost any entire fire season until now, apart from 2015. </p><p>California, meanwhile, was a tinderbox after its hottest summer on record, with temperatures in Death Valley reaching nearly 130 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the U.S. National Weather Service. It has been reported as the hottest temperature ever measured on Earth.</p>
<div id="29ad9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8346fe7350e1371d400097cd48bf45a2"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1306969603180879872" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Drought-parched wetlands in South America have been burning for weeks. https://t.co/pjAKdFcKPg #Pantanal https://t.co/ImN2C5vwcp</div> — NASA Earth (@NASA Earth)<a href="https://twitter.com/NASAEarth/statuses/1306969603180879872">1600440810.0</a></blockquote></div><p>As evidenced by Australia's apocalyptic Black Summer of 2019-2020, fires are burning bigger and for longer, with new records set year-on-year. Right now, Brazil's vast and highly biodiverse Pantanal wetlands are suffering from catastrophic fires.</p>
#climatefires Started in Australia<p>Governor Inslee this month invoked the phrase climate fires for arguably the first time in the U.S., according to Ricketts.</p><p>But the term was also used as fires burnt out of control in Australia in late 2019. In the face of a 2000km (more than 1,200 miles) fire front, and government officials and media who <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/trump-climate-change-denial-emissions-environment-germany-fake-heartland-seibt/a-52688933" target="_blank">played down the link to climate change</a>, Greens Party Senator Sarah Hanson-Young and a friend decided that reference to bushfires was inadequate. </p><p>"We both just said, we've got to start calling them climate fires, that's what they are," the Australian Senator told DW.</p><p>Hanson-Young says scientists have been warning for decades that these would be the effects of global heating. "We've been told these kinds of extreme weather events and destruction is what climate change would look like, and it's right here on our doorstep," she said from her home state of South Australia — where by early September fire warnings had already been issued.</p><p>"Calling them climate fires was making it absolutely crystal clear. It is essential that there's no ambiguity," she said </p><p>Having deliberately invoked the term, Hanson-Young soon started to push it on social media via a #climatefires hashtag. </p>
How to Talk About the Urgency of Global Heating<p>The need to use more explicit language when talking about extreme weather events linked to climate change is part of a broader push to express the urgency of global heating. In 2019, activist Greta Thunberg tweeted that the term "climate change" did not reflect the seriousness of the situation. </p><p>"Can we all now please stop saying 'climate change' and instead call it what it is: climate breakdown, climate crisis, climate emergency, ecological breakdown, ecological crisis and ecological emergency?" she wrote. </p><p>"Climate change has for a long time been talked about as something that is a danger in the future," said Hansen-Young. "But the consequences are already here. When people hear the word crisis, they understand that something has to happen, that action has to be taken."</p><p><span></span>Some terms are now used in public policy, with state and national governments, and indeed the EU Parliament, declaring an official climate emergency in the last year. </p>
Words That Reflect the Science<p>But while the West Coast governors all fervently link the fires to an unfolding climate crisis, U.S. President Donald Trump continues to avoid any reference to climate. In a briefing about the fires, he responded to overtures by Wade Crowfoot, California's Natural Resources Secretary, to work with the states on the climate crisis by stating: "It'll start getting cooler. You just watch." Crowfoot replied by saying that scientists disagreed. Trump rejoined with "I don't think science knows, actually." </p><p>It was reminiscent of the anti-science approach to the coronavirus pandemic within the Trump administration, <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/donald-trump-admits-playing-down-coronavirus-risks/a-54874350" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">at least publicly</a>. Fossil fuel companies are also benefiting from his disavowal of climate science, with the Trump administration having <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/opinion-trumps-paris-climate-accord-exit-isnt-really-a-problem/a-51124958" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pulled out of the Paris Agreement</a> and reopened fossil fuel infrastructure like the Keystone XL pipeline. </p><p>But the science community has responded, with Scientific American magazine endorsing Trump's Democratic presidential challenger Joe Biden, the first presidential endorsement in its 175-year history. </p><p>Hanson-Young says the use of explicit language like climate fires has also been important in Australia due to the climate denialism of politicians and the press, especially in publications owned by Rupert Murdoch. As fires burnt out much of Australia's southeast coast, they were commonly blamed on arson — a tactic also recently used in the U.S.</p>
Climate Rhetoric Could Help Decide Election<p>The language of climate has begun to influence the U.S. presidential election campaign, with Democratic nominee Joe Biden labelling President Trump a "climate arsonist."</p><p>Biden is touting a robust climate plan that includes a 2050 zero emissions target and a return to the Paris Agreement. Though lacking the ambition of The New Green Deal, it has been front and center of his policy platform in recent days, at a time when five hurricanes are battering the U.S. Gulf Coast while smoke blanketing the West Coast spreads all the way to the East. </p><p>People are experiencing the climate crisis in a visceral way and almost universally relate to the language of an emergency, says Ricketts. "They know something is wrong."</p>
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World's Richest One Percent Are Producing More Than Double the Carbon Emissions as the Bottom 50 Percent
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If you are taking medication for an underactive thyroid, check your prescription.
By Jessica Corbett
This story was originally published on Common Dreams on September 19, 2020.
Some advocates kicked off next week's Climate Week NYC early Saturday by repurposing the Metronome, a famous art installation in Union Square that used to display the time of day, as a massive "Climate Clock" in an effort to pressure governments worldwide to take swift, bold action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and rein in human-caused global heating.
<div id="0bde7" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="002ce26d8d0c627f76d752e14d234d6e"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1307397838884741121" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">LIVE: #ClimateClock about to go live at Union square replacing the atronomical clock, with a carbon countdown!… https://t.co/5OzxwUwWDf</div> — Greg Schwedock🌹(⧖) (@Greg Schwedock🌹(⧖))<a href="https://twitter.com/GregSchwedock/statuses/1307397838884741121">1600542909.0</a></blockquote></div><p>A mobile climate clock that Swedish youth activist Greta Thunberg "now carries with her, as well as the larger Climate Clock project, was assembled by a team of artists, makers, scientists, and activists based in New York, and is part of the Beautiful Trouble community of projects," according to <a href="https://climateclock.world/" target="_blank">Climateclock.world</a>, which details the science behind the numbers displayed and how to install clocks in other cities.</p>
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The passing of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg means the nation's highest court has lost a staunch advocate for women's rights and civil rights. Ginsburg was a tireless worker, who continued to serve on the bench through multiple bouts of cancer. She also leaves behind a complicated environmental legacy, as Environment and Energy News (E&E News) reported.
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