One of the themes in my first article discussed the developments in electric and connected vehicles. In particular, how the vehicles available today meant owning and using electric vehicles (EVs) was now both practical and desirable for many people.

This article looks at some of the perceived and real issues that continue to exist and how these have been, are being, or are likely to be addressed.

“Range Anxiety”

Happy Car Driver WidthThe main concern I’ve found people have about electric vehicles is range. The feeling that an EV can only travel a limited amount of miles before requiring a charge puts people off. It’s a bit like boot space. The number of hatchbacks sold in the UK is higher than most countries, as we want to cover all eventualities, such as moving that large piece of furniture or carrying all our children’s gear as they head off to university.

One of the reasons for starting eConnect cars was to show people that if an EV can work as a taxi, then surely it can substitute a petrol or diesel engine car in most situations and certainly the second car in a two car household.

The good news is that there are now more EV charging stations in London than conventional fuel stations. More rapid chargers are coming on line at motorway service stations all the time and there are websites and apps readily available which pinpoint the locations.

map-blue-brighter-full-page-1024x719As a consequence, range anxiety in the context of a proportion of the car buying market should be of little concern. However this is not the full story and there are more significant arguments that need to be debated and improvements implemented to address range anxiety in the context of different types of user.

Firstly, a better method for communicating expected range should be provided to consumers. Yes the EV manufacturers will say their vehicle has a range of 120 miles, but in practice you will only get 90-100 miles per charge in the summer and perhaps 20% less in the winter. In addition, range is heavily impacted by driver behaviour so perhaps there needs to be a matrix of figures presented to consumers to help inform their choice. But this issue is not a pure EV issue. How often does your conventional petrol engine match the manufacturer’s miles per gallon specification? Recent research suggests that actual performance is on average 30% less than stated on the specification sheets of new vehicles.

Secondly, consumers should get a choice of battery size. As with lots of things EV, Tesla is already leading the way in this with their Model S, which comes with either a 60 kWh battery or a 85 kWh battery depending on how many miles you want your car to be able to travel on one charge. I expect other car manufacturers to follow suit. For example, the iconic design of the VW Golf is already available with a choice of drive train (diesel engine, petrol engine or electric motor) and in future, in a similar way to you choosing the size of your engine, I expect you will be able to choose the size of your EV battery.

Thirdly, the recharging infrastructure has to mature. For most early adopters of electric vehicles, the main recharging point is at the home where a 7 kw charging point, installed with the help of the Government subsidy, allows you to recharge your vehicle in approximately 4 hours. This has since been enhanced with the increasing number of motorway rapid chargers for the longer journeys plus ‘top up’ chargers available in town in case you forget to charge the car up overnight.

charging blue print widthThis current situation is appropriate for the EV market of today, just. However, for the EV product to go towards mass market adoption, including commercial fleets, the infrastructure does require substantial enhancement for the following two main reasons:

  1. Not everyone has off street parking for home charging.
  2. Commercial fleets require an enhanced level of security of supply.

The first issue is most apparent in urban centres where the move from car owners to car users may mitigate the problem. These car users are more likely to use car clubs or taxis. For the reducing number of car owners, housing developers are now providing fewer assigned car parking spaces. However these spaces are more likely to have the capacity to charge vehicles overnight as electrical points are mandated for a certain proportion of spaces. In addition some developers are also allocating space for rapid chargers to supply those vehicles parked on street.

The second issue is more pressing as it is the commercial fleets that perhaps offer the best opportunities for EV adoption and their consequential reduction in local air pollution. However without the knowledge that the fleet vehicles can complete their duty cycles and have access to charging infrastructure if and when they need it, then they will not make the switch.

The needs of the commercial fleets need to be fully understood by the local authorities and I expect rapid charging stations (much like today’s petrol stations with café facilities) will be required in city centres. These charging stations will have the capability to charge a multitude of vehicles at any one time and cover all charging methods (like petrol stations offer unleaded and diesel).

This is very different to the current proposals seen in cities such as London where the boroughs plan to install up to five or six rapid chargers in five to six different sites around the borough. This dispersed model may well supplement the top up charging currently available and provide an option for residents without off-street parking, but it will be insufficient to convert commercial fleets to any large extent.

Eliminating pollution, not just moving pollution

oil refinery webThere is a second debate that often surrounds EVs. Are EVs just moving the pollution elsewhere, after all they still run on electricity and that electricity has to be generated somewhere? In the taxi business this can often lead people to stating that as they use hybrid cars, then this is green enough.

The problem with this debate is the data is not reliable enough in my opinion to provide a scientific answer. If you research this topic then you will find reports that will statistically prove both sides of the argument to be right. This is because the report will focus on some, but probably not all, of the possible influencing factors, some of which are listed below:

  • Do you consider only when the car is in use, or from creation to disposal of the car?
  • Do you use real world driving in your comparison which includes the impact of engine idling time on test results?
  • How were the comparable cars made, in which factory and what is the energy rating of that particular assembly plant?
  • Can we fully measure the impact of using Rare Earths for electric vehicles?
  • Should you compare todays EVs with petrol / diesel engines of 20-30 years ago to be fair or allow EVs time to improve their battery technology before writing them off?
  • Do you restrict the comparison to CO2 emissions or try to include all environmental and health impacts?
  • How is the electricity used to recharge an EV battery generated?
  • How is the electricity used to refine the oil into petrol or diesel generated?
  • How much energy is lost / used in distributing the petrol, diesel or electricity?
  • And so on….

Even if all these factors are considered, the results may be different for an EV being driven in London compared to an EV being driven in Newcastle just because of how the electricity is generated in that particular area.

As a consequence, I believe the exercise to be largely irrelevant. What I believe to be of more use is to consider the following:

  1. EVs have zero tailpipe emissions so create no local air pollution and pollution generated at power stations has the potential to be managed far better than at the exhaust pipe.
  2. By de-carbonizing the electricity generation and combining that with using EVs, progress is being made towards a more sustainable future.
  3. Dispersed micro-generation of electricity via renewables, combined with EVs provides further progress towards sustainability.
  4. EVs can also be used as an enabler for further technologies such as car to grid to help manage the overall electricity demand and enabling power stations to be operated at their maximum efficiency.

A continued reliance on petrol or diesel will never result in such a future, even if engineers continue to improve the CO2 or miles per gallon figures. And as already discussed in my first article, the problems associated with a carbon based economy are likely to worsen and not improve.

At the other end of the spectrum, I see EVs as enablers, as a step towards sustainable transport. In particular, de-centralised power generation either at home or via the ever-increasing number of community based power generation schemes look to provide the most sustainable option. Such schemes can substitute the need to transport huge volumes of oil long distances, which not only costs money, but also exposes the supply chain to environmental disasters and political challenge.

At eConnect cars we use GoldPower. Each KWh we use to charge our cars from the National Grid we replace through the GoldPower scheme. GoldPower supports renewable energy generation projects in some of the poorest regions around the World. Each project ensures clean energy is being produced while creating secure jobs and education initiatives for the local population.

Conclusion

2There are so many exciting developments on the horizon and choice and innovation are becoming important drivers for green technologies. To some extent, these technologies and EVs need to co-exist to optimize their benefits which is one of the reasons why I think it is so important to back the uptake of EVs.

Part of the ideas and concepts behind eConnect cars is to prove the case for continued investment in electric vehicles and to demonstrate how they can work effectively. This will encourage further research and development into battery technology, re-charging options (such as wireless dynamic induction charging) and the development of other products and services based around EVs.

I do hope you’ve enjoyed the second installment of my regular articles. In the next issue I’ll be exploring how urban transport can be more effective for businesses and individuals using a service like eConnect.

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