Electric cars, could you be converted?
Some may think that converting to an electric car means having to be an environmentalist or eco warrior but this is not the case, these cars are fun to drive too! In fact part of the ethos of Tesla, the world's most advanced manufacturer of electric vehicles is to make their cars so desirable by being very fast and pleasurable to own and drive but also kinder to the planet on a product lifecycle basis. Launching a new car marque is no mean feat in the auto industry, a notoriously difficult market to crack but clearly, Tesla and others are making a great impact. The Autoexpress Driver's survey 2016 of 50,000 owners had Electric cars score first and second place overall.
Most Plug-in Electric Vehicles are best suited for short, stop start driving but as battery and other technology advance, long motorway journeys will become easier. Tesla is the exception to the rule but their Model S and Model X may be considered overly large for our island roads!
The auto industry is highly globalised and not based around tiny islands like Guernsey and Jersey but more around large population centres where drivers typically cover a combination of motorway and urban driving at much reduced speeds. Many island vehicles never ever see a motorway or once a year perhaps and therefore only travel at very low speeds and this presents a problem especially for modern diesels with particulate filters which need to regenerate to stay working effectively. Average speeds driven over the course of a year in Guernsey are as low as 15 mph. using island vehicle data. Furthermore unlike an internal combustion engine car, an electric car only needs one gear and has tremendous torque, making the driving experience, smoother and easier.
Let's start by running through the various types of electric vehicles. In their 'purist form', they are Battery Electric, where the vehicle is solely powered by lithium ion batteries. These are the most advanced type of battery on the market with a much higher density and longevity compared to nickel cadmium batteries and these are an ocean apart from lead acid batteries. They are used in all kinds of electronics such as smart phones. Typical first generation battery electric vehicles have a range of around 70 to 90 miles in real world terms. The very few high-end new generation vehicles have a range of 200 miles. Battery technology is advancing so quickly that it is only a matter of time before these models become available to the wider market. 'Fueling up' an electric vehicle has more similarities to using a smart phone than a conventional
car. The dashboard shows the battery bars and range remaining. Most charging is done at home on a habitual basis or a destination which might be work premises, a public car park or hotel, anywhere a vehicle will be stationery for a period of time. To charge a Battery Electric car, it needs an electrical power point which may be a three pin domestic socket or a dedicated 7 kW charge phone. There are also faster charge points up to 50 k/wh which enables charging in around 30 minutes. According to industry research, the average vehicle sits idle for 95% of the time so why not use that time to charge them up!
There are various EV charge points makes on the market; Rolec, Charge master, Bosch, Podpoint, EO, Schneider Siemens etc. As a household circuit is not designed to take a continuous load over a long period, it is recommended to use the services of an electrician to check the household or business premises' electrical circuit is up to current safety standards.
The other variants of electric vehicles on the market include Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVS) which have a battery (Smaller than a BEV with less range) as well as a small petrol motor which may act as a generator to charge the battery or power the wheels. (technical details) As long as the vehicle is charged up, it can be a great option. On island, it can be used in electric mode, while off island it will revert to petrol mode although fuel economy will reduce to about the same as a regular vehicle. Next we come to Hybrid Electric Vehicles which cannot be plugged in. They have an electric motor which is used at slow speed while the petrol engine kicks in when the car is under load. They are sometimes called compliance cars as they were first designed to meet California air-pollution regulations. Cars like the Toyota Prius have become popular in the London congestion zone where their low emissions allow them to avoid congestion zone charges. They are more efficient than conventional combustion changing vehicles but best suited to situations where it's impractical or impossible to plug-in for overnight charging ie. on streets. Some other things you may not know about plug-in vehicles; most EV's have software to enable them to be programmed for charging in order to take advantage of lower economy electricity tariffs. There are often apps which can be programmed from a smart phone to set the car's heating to come on while still connected to the mains before driving to work in the morning. A very handy feature on a cold, frosty morning.
The lithium ion batteries in an electric vehicle can be recycled at the end of their vehicle service life, giving them a second life. When they are below about 75% charge capacity, they will be unusable in a vehicle but perfectly suited for domestic battery storage ie. for storing solar energy etc. Other potential benefits of the fully connected vehicle include vehicle to grid charging which would see vehicles being used to help supply power back to the electrical grid and reducing demand for imported energy.