Are we the EV generation?
Electric Vehicles (EV’s) have been promoted in recent years in the media and through the help of think tanks, as the future of transport. Even today, The Economist and The Financial Times both had front page stories on EV’s and clean energy.
The present generation of school leavers have grown up with the internet and social media which are a platform for the promotion of social change. Driven by education from childhood regarding the need for a sustainable future or no future at all, this generation is seeking solutions, in response to the cries from the social sphere, the media sphere and the education / thinking spheres, to the problem of our future. The question is, however, are EV’s one of the answers we have been looking for to achieve a sustainable future, for the expectant future billions?
The past and why they haven’t taken over already
Up until recently the types of people who would buy an EV are those who feel they are pioneers and wish to promote greener ethics, like to make a statement and set examples and have the lifestyle, funds and inclination to stomach the range anxiety and constraints that go with the modern EV. That said there is an emerging new breed, with the upcoming changes in UK income tax regarding company vehicles, this is all set to change. The technology isn’t there yet to make this viable and cost-effective for the masses, but we are getting there. Unless your desired vehicle has 0 emissions, doing the maths against modern hybrids such as the Mercedes C350e and the BMW 330e doesn’t quite stack up against their petrol and diesel counterparts, especially if one consumes a lot of miles in their day to day life.
The reason why EV’s, and particularly in this case - cars, have not taken off in the fashion that some may have had you believe they would when they were a new technology, is the simple fact that people see too many face-value issues, the lack of infrastructure being the main one. If one were to invest in an EV it would have to be, either confined to the home and work place, or any local areas with a charging point. Modern hybrids have however, to a large extent, overcome this. The cost of installing chargers is also initially expensive even if, in the long run, it will save the owner money. Along with that, the car itself is a large initial investment and will cost £4-6k more than standard models.
Even if, which nowadays is slowly coming to pass, there were many public charging points, the time it takes to charge can be inconvenient and even impossible if there are many cars to be charged at the same time – a lot longer than a trip to a fuel station (2-5 hrs in respect to a 4min tank refill). On top of this, the need to recharge can be more frequent, as the mileage it can achieve hasn’t been the same as conventional engines, so especially for long distances, diesel has been preferred.
However fuel stations are a lot messier and inefficient as deliveries must be made, fuel can spill and is harder to keep safe, while electricity can be transported in wires and controlled for safety, creating no physical pollution either. Where fuel does come out trumps though, is its simplicity. It can be transported to anywhere with infrastructure to do so without the need for permanent or labour extensive wires, reaching the furthest points of civilization, where electricity may not.
On a more technical level the power needed to supply a social change towards electrical cars is almost overwhelming, meaning an increase in grid capacity and generating power, as well as transportation ability, although this may not have put consumers off so far.
For larger EV’s the main concern is the ability to carry loads. It is one thing to be able to travel certain distances but if it can only carry its own weight efficiently, it will be of little use for haulage or transportation on any scale.
Finally the batteries involved cause uptake problems, the weight and size being inefficient for travelling and the life of the battery may be short in terms of ‘years needed to pay back the cost benefit of investing in EV’s’.
Dealing with the problem
The race to find a lasting and powerful battery at ever smaller sizes is being named by many as the breakthrough invention that will hallmark the evolution of EV’s becoming the market leaders. The problem is, the more powerful the battery seems to get, the more volatile it is and becomes more susceptible to catching fire. The Argonne National Laboratory in the US is dedicated to finding the solution to the problem, testing an array of possibilities and many car manufacturers are investing in the technology. Volkswagen for instance, refuses to comment - it believes its technology is so valuable, it’s afraid that it will be stolen and used against them.
Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology however have said that 9/10 driver’s requirements could be met by hybrid electric vehicles today. Could this then be the first phase of the personal travel revolution?
The grid and electrical supply is also undergoing a transformation in supply as well as demand. Last year wind power became the greatest new source of power in Europe and 90% of the power came from renewable sources. This is leading to a change in dynamics as the power is coming from many areas and not from a single power station, already demanding a change in the grid and the way it currently works. So if this leads to a great grid re-shaping, then the ability to cope with the extra demand from EV’s could be factored in to the infrastructure enhancement work.
In the UK, the department for transport outlined plans to increase the number of charging points dramatically to try and incentivise the public to buy more EVs, aiming to give the image that it can be convenient, the recent tax changes seem to contradict and penalise those who chose to opt for EV’s though, highlighting the current governments lack of a coherent and long term investor-friendly policy in regards to renewable power sources, EV’s and anything remotely environmentally friendly. In the US, under the Obama administration, came the news of 48 charging corridors to be constructed along 25000 miles of highway.
Worldwide, there is an obvious requirement for Electric Vehicles, they are the future whether we like it or not. Last year there were 2 million electric cars registered on the road. After a slow start and a few false beginnings, it seems that the demographics are now changing, putting EV’s at a continual upward moving market share, as technology and infrastructure improves, this uptake will become exponential.
Worldwide, pollution in cities is becoming a massive, current and desperate health problem and a rapid change to clean, electric vehicles would be a simple part-solution to this problem, as cities are after-all the ideal place to use them, where there is easy access to a large number of charging points.
Pollution from petrol and diesel engines is not only contributing to climate change, but also to the decline in health of every nation. The increase in asthma and deaths from lung cancer caused by traffic pollution has become a major problem worldwide. The use of EV’s, especially in cities, would bring about a radical reversal of this.