09/09/2009

electric cars

As the tata group announce that they are studying the possibility of setting up production lines for Electric vehicles in Spain and the UK, and  the Spanish government publish their Plan Movele, do electric vehicles really save energy globally, or will they just move consumption further up the grid, generating more pollution as a consequence of increased demand at a nuclear (or, more likely, coal) power plant elsewhere?

Electric vehicles need to be recharged, and the Tata group's move has no doubt been encouraged by the Spanish government's plan to install 550 public recharge points in Madrid, Barcelona and Sevilla, together with the commitment to put 2000 Electric cars on the roads by 2011, with subsidies of up to 20% for each vehicle. 

Electric vehicles emit no CO2 directly, and are theoretically responsable for emitting indirectly 30% of the pollutants of a normal car, subject to the fuel used for the generation of the electricity required to charge them. As countries are theoretically greening their energy production, then this percentage will gradually decrease. Depending on the country, they can be tax free, immune to congestion charges and would save the average owner of an average car doing an average mileage about 3000€ annually in fuel bills. Exemption from inner city parking charges would also help if only as a short term initiative.

The extra burden on the grid must be taken into account, and the use of off-peak electricity encouraged. A system called V2G (vehicle to grid) is under development in the USA whereby the batteries of recharging cars can be used to store excess electricity using onboard computers and "broadband-over-powerlines" - a system for sending computer data down pre-existing power cables - which asks the car to charge up and store excess power when demand is low, and when demand suddenly spikes, the car can provide electricity to help smooth supply, providing it is still connected to the grid. As more cars are connected to the grid, then more off peak electricity is stored for later use, a storage facility that should be reflected  as a rebate or discount for consumption. Think intelligent parking meters with a plug, with free parking whilst the car is charged, and subsidised parking whilst the car is used for energy storage.

The question of performance, if not mileage, has also been laid to rest. An Electric Tesla Roadster can beat both a Ferrari 550 Maranello and a Porsche Turbo to 100 km from a standing start. As for mileage, over 80% of European drivers commute fewer than 40 km per day, so Electric cars should be the solution for the majority of drivers the majority of the time. And it would stop them polluting city streets, where average journeys are usually less than 5 km.

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