The electric car revolution is coming. But are we prepared?
I have been hooked on the electric car idea since taking an exhilarating ride in a Tesla Roadster, experiencing its amazing acceleration of 0 to 60 mph in 3.7 seconds and near silence when cruising. Now across the world Tesla is not alone, anti-pollution policies of governments are pushing the entire auto industry at high speed into the brave new world of electric cars (or as the Americans call them EVs). And with good reason – China for one must clean up its highly polluted cities and resultantly by 2030 is expected to account for 60% of the forecast global new electric car sales of over 20 million. France and the UK intend to phase out diesel & petrol vehicles by 2040 and individual cities such as London by 2025.
Auto makers are responding with huge investments in electric and hybrid cars – the VW Group expects to spend Euros 70bn by 2030. They are not alone; all major car makers have existing electric and hybrid models or development programmes underway. And demand is growing – Nissan has sold some 300,000 of its electric Leafs worldwide.
So what are the problems?
- Range limitations – for many people this is not really a major issue as most of our journeys are quite short and range is increasing – the new high-end Tesla Model R will offer a 310 mile option. But this still leaves the problem of knowing where to recharge before setting out on very long journeys.
- Recharging – this is however a real issue for a number or reasons. According to National Grid 43% of British homes do not have access to off-street parking. Also homes typically have electricity supplies that may not readily accommodate high current fast charge systems. So we need massive investment in public charging infrastructure – fitting chargers to lamp posts is one suggestion. Furthermore there is not yet an industry-standard fast charging connector. Public fast charging capability really is needed – spending three hours sitting in a motorway service area recharging is not a great prospect.
- Grid issues – national and local power infracture will need upgrading in order to meet the future huge demand, an issue raised in an earlier UtilityClick blog.
- Fuel duties – the very high UK fuel taxes extract nearly £28 billion a year from us, accounting about 4% of UK government revenues and this would have to be replaced. But it could be addressed with a mileage tax via the sort of in-car telematics device offered by some car insurance companies.
Most importantly, low pollution electric cars are only viable if the electricity used is from sustainable sources, in particular renewable energy. A large fleet of electric cars could offer massive power storage and provide a future solution to ease renewables biggest problem, that of intermittency. Smart chargers would enable car owners to re-charge at lowest cost times and the grid to buy some back during the periods when the wind doesn’t blow and sun doesn’t shine.