We all know about electric cars, but I expect not many of us have used one, or even know anybody else who has, so any feedback as to if they do the job properly and what they are like to live with has to be valuable.
There are around 350 electric cars being trialled in the UK and around 110 of those are being trialled in the West Midlands under the banner of “CABLED” which stands for “Coventry and Birmingham Low Emission Demonstrators” and this is now 6 months into its 12 month trial period and data from the trial has been analysed by Aston University, offering us some of the very first feedback ever on these types of vehicles.
One of the big concerns for all of us in this new technology is battery life. Because none of us are familiar with how these things perform, it’s inevitable we are going to worry if we have enough charge left to complete our journey and guess what our worries have even been given a name and it’s called “range anxiety”. Research showed that drivers were habitually charging their vehicles irrespective of the battery is half full or nearly empty, much like you might do with your mobile phone or your laptop (even when they have enough life left in them to last the time you need to use them for).
Aston University’s research should reflect the “real world usage” of the vehicles and it reports that the journey data that’s been gathered so far suggests these vehicles are as cheap to run as conventional petrol and diesel vehicles and comparable on speed also. It seems that typical daily use takes less than 30% of the total charge. It suggested users were becoming more and more confident and happy to travel bigger distances on more occasions.
The results of the trials show that the average charge time per charge is just less than two hours, with a typical energy transfer of 4-8kWh costing between 40p and £1 depending on the tariff and providing sufficient charge for 20-40 miles of travel. Averaged out across a week, daily use is roughly the equivalent of doing one load of washing in a washer dryer.
The most popular time for drivers to charge their cars is overnight (as you might expect), but this is something new for the national grid, for if we all swapped to electric cars, with something like 28 million vehicles on our roads, its not possible that it would be able to cope with the high demand and clearly some infrastructure needs to be put in place which would fit in with drivers needs.
The big energy suppliers are already investigating what they refer to as “Smart-Grid Technology” and one could easily imagine special meters being installed at the homes of users of electric cars to monitor their behaviour and logically I guess control charging times. However, being the sceptic I am, I can imagine these meters might also be a way of separating normal household usage from the power you take to charge your electric marvel, so it would then be easy for them to implement a two tier charging system and at a stroke, increase the cost of charging your car!
There is no doubt that electric cars will grow in popularity but I believe only to some extent, as they are not the definitive fix for reducing emissions, because the electricity for these things still has to be generated in the normal often unpopular and polluting way.
Another point, often not mentioned is the question of the governments lost revenue because if you think the government is going to happily lose the enormous income they get from every gallon of gas we buy across 28 million vehicles and continue to charge nothing for road fund tax on cars of this type, you should wake up and smell the roses, because once we’ve all got ourselves into these things, the screw will be turned and we will find ourselves financially no better off than we are today and yet we will still be chucking stacks of Co2 into the atmosphere whilst our aged power stations struggle to keep up the pace.
Road charges will be an inevitable consequence of any proliferation of these cars, as the government struggles to make up for the immense amount of income it’s lost from road tax charges and fuel duty. In the early days of road charging, the big incentive stick is only likely to be used to beat those of us who dare to have conventional cars, but rest assured when a substantial number of us have taken the electric power option, the merry go round of using the motorist as a cash cow is all going to begin again.
I don’t want to be unnecessarily hard on electric cars, and of course they will sell because for some users, they will fit their lifestyle perfectly, whilst for many others they won’t come close to doing the job. That said, battery technology will improve in the years to come and this will improve the range and perhaps, performance of these cars, but in the mean time unless you do the same journeys every day and are relaxed knowing your electric car will do that, “Range Anxiety” is going to be a feature that you are going to become very familiar with. Imagine having to make the decision first to turn your radio off, and then perhaps drive without your lights on, just so you’ve got enough power to get you home? Ludicrous, maybe? But it could happen.