Electric vehicles update

electric-carElectrification of vehicles presents opportunities and risks, the Office for Low Emission Vehicles’ Director Michael Hurwitz told the Northern Ireland Energy Forum.

The sales of electric and hybrid cars has been slow in the UK, with only 1,289 ultra-low emissions vehicles registered from January 2010 to June 2011 compared to 3.1 million petrol and diesel cars in the same timeframe.

This is mainly due to the cost, but with technological advances and proper incentives for motorists and manufacturers, they will become more popular, according to Hurwitz.

Currently a ‘plugged-in places’ project is underway in eight areas across the UK including Northern Ireland. Between January and March 2012, 41 22KW charge posts will be installed in Belfast, Newry, Armagh, Enniskillen, Derry and Larne. Confirmed locations are at the end of the M1, on route to Derry near the Glenshane Pass, Newry and Sprucefield.

Data received from those will be used to analyse how drivers would use and recharge their electric vehicles and will help prepare the electricity grid for future demand.

“In 2008 I asked a group of middle-aged men what they thought of when I said electric vehicles?’ and they answered: ‘Milk float, golf buggy, Sinclair C5 and a G-Wiz,’” remarked Hurwitz.

“It is remarkable how far we’ve come,” he added pointing to the Jaguar CX75, the BMW I3, the Peugeot 308 plug-in hybrid, the Renault Kangoo van and the Ford S-Max, all of which will be on sale by 2013.

The fact that Ford which is “a very good barometer of an extremely cautions, capital-intensive, high op-ed industry” has started making investments into electric vehicle technology is a positive sign for the market.

Fear of running out of battery power during a journey is another disincentive. This “irks” Hurwitz. “A number of plug-in hybrid cars [such as the Chevrolet Volt and the next generation Toyota Prius] do 20 to 40 miles from when you plug it in at home, and when that is depleted there is an on-board generator which keeps it going.”

A national chargepoint registry was announced by Transport Minister Norman Baker on 11 November to “get us away from the mind-set of: ‘Will I, won’t I get there?’” It will be a publicly accessible database of chargepoints across the UK.

There are opportunities and risks with electric vehicles, Hurwitz contends. In Northern Ireland, 100 per cent of freight is transported by road. Light vans would be “particularly susceptible to electrification because of their predictable duty cycles and back-to-base ownership,” he suggests.

Load balancing will be essential and it should be remembered that cars are parked on average for 22 hours a day, Hurwitz continued. ‘Smart charging’ will be essential to avoid a situation whereby “you come home from work, have a power shower, cook your dinner in an electric oven, watch EastEnders on your plasma screen TV and plug in your vehicle at the same time.”

Research and development and manufacturing could benefit from electrification, according to Hurwitz. Approximately 70-80 per cent of all cars produced in the UK are exported and the business cases for the other 20 per cent rely on those cars being sold locally. For example, Nissan chose to build the Nissan Leaf and the batteries in the North East of England and it assumes it will be able to sell 20 per cent of the fleet in Great Britain.

The Office for Low Emission Vehicles hopes that grants will incentivise motorists to consider buying an ultra low emission (i.e hybrid) or electric car. The UK plug-in car grant subsidises 25 per cent of the cost of the vehicle, up to a maximum of £5,000 if it has tailpipe emissions of 75/km or less. In addition, the European Union’s strategy for electric vehicles suggests taxation to promote green vehicles, simplifying the administrative rules for obtaining EU research grants and ensuring that a standardised charging interface is established to allow users to charge vehicles during ‘off peak’ hours.

Hurwitz concluded: “It’s time to start thinking in energy terms as to how [electrification] will affect our electricity distribution systems.”

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