Is the EV the car of the future? | Brussels Blog

Is the EV the car of the future?

posted by on 24th Nov 2015

A recent blog post on the Beacon Dosworth website caught my attention because it concerned a commuter using an electric vehicle (EV) and many see the EV as the car of the future. It produces none of the fumes that cause local pollution, which cause dangerous health problems. Additionally driving an EV instead of a petrol car may help the world cut emissions of greenhouse gasses.

I have asked the commuter, Joel Weekes, for more details.

Joel Weekes commutes with his EV, a Nissan Leaf

Joel Weekes is a upwardly mobile academic and businessman. He drives from Durham to York a few times a week and travels to London regularly. His EV is a Nissan Leaf. On the road, he uses “fast” charging points. The charging point at A1 Wetherby Services fits in well with his trip from Durham to York, after he charges his car at home overnight.

Joel will never buy a petrol car again

Joel has driven about 20,000 miles in his EV in 6 months and reckons he has saved £3000 on petrol at a tiny cost in electricity: It is free at the charging points and very cheap at home: He thinks an overnight charge uses about as much electricity as keeping the fridge on all night.

His Nissan Leaf has really good performance. It is really punchy with excellent acceleration. Turning off the ‘eco’ mode actually makes it too punchy. The weight of the batteries gives good stability and the ride is nice and quiet.

Whilst excellent for short to medium trips, his present EV has too many stops (for charging the batteries) on a long trip, like the ones he does to London. His next EV will have longer range so that his journeys to London require fewer stops.

He is proud to be saving the environment and his electricity is from renewable sources. At home Ecotricity is his supplier. They also supply the charging points he uses.

He is pleased with his car and will never buy a petrol car again.

Joel gives some warnings

1) Be aware of charging times. Joel can charge his Nissan Leaf at home overnight but on the road he uses “fast” charging points, which take him 30 minutes to charge to 80% capacity. (The slower charge at home reaches 100% charge.)

2) Be wary of the manufacturers claims on range. His Nissan Leaf is advertised as doing 124 miles when fully charged. Joel gets about 70 on a motorway and 80 on A roads. Sometimes he even feels the need to stop at the intermediate charging point at Scotch Corner – for a 10 minute top of the batteries – but this is rare.

3) Congestion at the charging points is becoming an issue. There are two charging points at Wetherby. This can lead to delays, especially if one point is out of order. Once, Joel had to wait 45 minutes – plus 30 minutes charging. Congestion could become worse if charging point provision does not keep pace with EV sales.

4) Be wary of the mileage indicator. It can jump down quickly especially at higher speeds. Joel once ran out of battery on the Humber Bridge ten miles short of what was indicated a few minutes earlier. The AA had to send a truck to carry Joel’s car off the bridge despite there being a charging point in nearby Anlaby.

5) Joel cannot drive so far in cold weather. Bill Howard of Extreme Tech explains:

“As temperatures dip below freezing, you could lose 25% of your EV’s precious range. Batteries are less efficient in cold weather, they don’t regenerate as well, and electric heating for the cabin, seats, and windows drains your range, too.”

Perhaps in cold weather Joel will need to top up at the EV charging points at Scotch Corner Services more often.

Battery charging and manufacture

An EV’s carbon emissions are determined by the carbon emissions emitted by power stations generating the electricity to charge the batteries. Another issue is the carbon emitted from making it in the first place, the embodied carbon.  A Roadmap to Climate-Friendly Cars: 2013 says of EVs

“Emissions from producing the battery and other electrical components create a  carbon debt for electric cars that can only be overcome after tens, or even hundreds of thousands of miles”

However, a high proportion of these emissions are from the carbon emitted by power stations generating the electricity used in the manufacture of the batteries. Electricity from renewable sources will reduce this “carbon debt”.

Smaller, lighter, slower cars?

Made with current sources of electricity, an EV creates carbon emissions from its manufacture that may be too large (See The carbon cost of achieving low carbon lifestyles). However, as electricity is decarbonised, this will improve but perhaps in the time before low carbon electricity, we might be forced to look for other options. We should probably travel less with shorter journeys and less frequent trips.

With shorter trips we might like to travel more slowly and in lighter cars making our travel even more efficient and less carbon intensive. Locally that could mean pleasanter, quieter narrower roads – more like cycle tracks – and safe for electric golf carts, Segways, Giroboards.

Postscript 01 Jan 2019

Bjorn Lomborg: Are electric cars green?

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