Of Electric Cars and Disruptive Technologies: By Rev. Dr Mike Perry

If your view of an electric car is a G-Wiz (1) think again. Laudable though those cars were, fully electric cars (EVs) have come a long, long way and are now at the point where they are about to seriously disrupt how our society sells, buys and owns cars. Leave the G-Wiz behind and think up-coming Jaguar i-Pace (2), Tesla Model 3 (3) and the all New Nissan Leaf (4) amongst others. Less Mr Magoo, more Mario Andretti…

In a recent analysis Erik Fairbairn CEO of Pod-Point, a leading UK EV Charging network, identified five barriers to EV uptake (5): Range, Performance, Choice, Cost and Charging-Infrastructure . We shall explore how all five of these barriers are disappearing as part of the up-coming JRI Transport Conference. How though will this disruptive technology impact our lives, and how can we react creatively to these changes?

Disruptive Technologies jolt our way of being and doing. Some effects are foreseeable whilst others are unpredictable, particularly as multiple advances in technology impact together. With EVs, obvious consequences derive from them needing no petrol or diesel and requiring essentially no servicing (6). Predictably this means that skilled and unskilled garage trades are likely to radically decline. At a wider level there has been speculation that EVs will disrupt the National Grid, requiring more generation capacity (7). In reality, with the smart technology and variable electricity tariffs already available, most charging is likely to be at night giving a positive benefit for the National Grid by balancing the 24 hour load. Electric vehicles when plugged in could even be used as a power resource, feeding into the grid at peak times (8). Beyond the technical, a decline in oil use is likely to have wider political and economic effects. Put simply countries and companies overly focussed on oil will decline in influence.

With all this it seems likely that the winners will be people, countries and companies that adapt to the changing scene rather than trying simply resist. Put simply better today for a school leaver to train as an electrician than a motor mechanic, better for countries to diversify their economies away from oil and better for current oil companies to focus on being providers of energy rather a specific commodity.

However, adapting to the changes that disruptive technologies bring is more than basic survival. This is where faith communities can help wider society flourish in these changing times. Firstly that means allowing right celebration and acknowledgement of that which is passing. Katharine Hayhoe emphasised this in recent public discussion. Environmentally we may thrill at the thought of reducing the burning of fossil fuels and cutting back on pollutants in the air, but it is well to remember the benefits of our modern world which have come about in large part through the power of burnt coal and oil. The future need not be dependent on these power sources, but simply to demonise them will not do, and stops us from being bridge-builders between old and new.

2) Nissan Leaf electric cars being charged at charging stations. Image used under licence (c) Joel_420 / Shutterstock.com

Secondly, whilst valuing the benefits new and disruptive technologies, we need to be careful that we are not so swept up in the current next ‘big thing’ that we forget where truly our trust and our hope should lie. In Psalm 20:7 the Psalmist writes of previous disruptive technologies – Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. Being solidly rooted through faith helps us keep in focus what is truly valuable in our life and the life of our planet. Innovations may help us with caring for those things of value but they are the means, not the end, themselves.

Finally for Christians it is well to bear in mind that creative disruption is at the heart of our faith, with the Kingdom of God breaking into this world, recreating that which was into that which is and will be. A strand of theology emphasises the changelessness of God (9) but that needs to be kept in dialogue with an understanding of God who says ‘See, I am doing a new thing!’ (Isaiah 43:19). Both have elements of truth within them (confusing for binary western thought) and by embracing both we can feel rooted in Christ whilst creatively engaging with new experiences, technologies and outlooks.

Mike Perry

Rev Dr Mike Perry was formerly a research biologist at Bristol University. Mike has been an Anglican priest since 2000, serving in rural parishes in Somerset and Wiltshire as well as developing work on new housing estates. Mike is an active environmental campaigner, and is one of the seminar speakers at our forthcoming “Transport now and in the future” conference.

(1) Wikipedia Article: REVAi
(2) Jaguar I-PACE: here
(3) Tesla Model 3: here
(4) New Nissan Leaf: here
(5) Erik Fairbairn (8 Jan 2018) Barriers to electric vehicle adoption
(6) This was being discussed as far back as 2010, see this article in Autocar
(7) Deriving from a selective reading of a National Grid report, Future Energy Scenarios 2017 which explored several speculative future scenarios for energy use.
(8) This is being trialed by the UK Government in conjunction with Nissan and Ovo. For more details see Sam Sheehan (28 Jan 2018) writing in Autocar
(9) For example Kierkegaard’s 1855 essay ‘The Changelessness of God’

1) Charging Station in Gloucester
2) Nissan Leaf electric cars being charged at charging stations. Image used under licence from: Joel_420 / Shutterstock.com