Archive for category Electric Cars

Economic crisis - the perfect opportunity for green measures - if only they could see it

No cutsIt’s 2012 and the world is undergoing major economic upheaval. In pretty much every major country the buzzword is ‘cuts’. Cuts to staff, cuts to expenditure and cuts to investment. Although governments are talking about long-term plans, most actions seem very short-termist, and it’s therefore not a very good time for green initiatives, most of which will take time and need investment. This is all meant to save money, but it’s definitely putting a stop to saving the planet!

And, from a CO2 reduction point of view, I think they’ve got it wrong in so many ways. I realise you probably need financial training to work it out, but it seems to me that governments are putting their own welfare over that of the people. Throughout the 4 years that I’ve been writing this blog (ok, not so often recently…), I have focused on one message above all others: the measures you take to reduce emissions can also save you money.

Instead of reducing investment in green initiatives, governments - and especially the UK government should be pushing them forwards and helping individuals, companies, even their own institutions reduce their costs. Here are some examples:

  1. A greater push and tighter regulations on company emissions. Greater awareness on electricity consumption alone could reduce electricity bills hugely across the country.
  2. Backing off from cutting the feed-in tariff. I know the government has just suffered a defeat on this, but they really need to rethink and maintain the higher rate for now. A huge opportunity exists here to help whole communities save money by installing solar panels.
  3. Tightening vehicle emissions rules still further and even considering subsidising the development of EVs. It’s a no-brainer. Let’s make our cars more efficient and stop this bank-breaking dependency on petrol.
  4. Encouraging other forms of green transport. How’s about giving tax breaks to people who cycle? Or allowing them to claim expenses to maintain their bikes? How’s about making the ‘Cycle to work’ scheme obligatory in every company over a certain size? Millions have already flocked to two wheels (me included) but more would follow if given a little push in the right direction.
  5. I know that there are some initiatives coming up that use this kind of thinking, including an loan scheme to help home owners invest in green energy, but more could and should be done.

    There, rant over for today. But I think I’m going to keep on at this one.


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Fast-charge batteries? Good news, though don’t hold your breath… yet

The world’s press got very excited last week by a letter published in ‘Nature’ magazine by two researchers from MIT. They have been looking into enhancing lithium iron phosphate electrodes in order to improve charging times for batteries, and talk about the potential for Li-ion batteries (used in mobile phones, but also in the Tesla electric supercar) that could charge fully in seconds.

Clearly this would be good for mobile phone and laptop users, but just imagine what it would do for electric cars, where probably the biggest barrier to entry apart from how long they last is how long it takes to charge their batteries. Theoretically, our MIT heroes suggest, and the media emphasises, this could mean electric cars that are chargeable in under 10 minutes.

This truly would be an amazing development, although a quick surf around the more intelligent parts of the blogosphere suggests that things aren’t as simple as all that: fast charge batteries may not be capable of providing the same level of power, and the fast-charge process itself could require far more power than today’s typical batter-charge process. And anyway, this is a discovery in its early days…

Still, it does make you think - well, it makes me think at any rate. If I go back to the piece I wrote on Lord Stern’s analysis of what green technologies we should be investing in right now, he pushed the development of efficient batteries right down the scale. I said I didn’t agree then, and I repeat it now. Whilst I fully realise that batteries need to get their power from somewhere, I still think that electric power needs to play a major role in transport before we manage to develop other more efficient, safe solutions such as hydrogen power and maybe one day fusion on an industrial basis.

Electric power already delivers, if you work within its limitations. The Tesla will travel up to 220 miles between charges, and at high speeds, but its hugely expensive. Smaller electric cars such as the Nice Mega City are far more affordable, but with a typical range of 60 miles at 40 mph and only 2 seats. The Vectrix scooter will travel over 60 miles at an average of 40 mph with a 2 hour charge time. Other day to day cars and scooters are arriving on the market that will travel up to 100 miles per charge, even if at limited speeds. As a commuter solution, electric vehicles already work, but they could take far more of the transport market if the challenges of range, power and charge time were improved still further.

To me, the development of fast-charge batteries is one crucial step for electric vehicles, as it takes the pressure off the need for greater range - although this remains important. Also, if you think laterally, it brings into play other potential solutions. If a battery can be charged easier and faster, couldn’t it be charged by green energy in this way? Surely a fast-charge battery would be ideal for a hybrid car, enabling it to take even more weight off the petrol side of the bargain?

So I at least am going to watch this space closely, whilst I continue to save up for my Vectrix, or whatever is the best solution by the time I hit my budget target. I’m convinced that this is the future (or one of the futures) of private and public transport.

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NICE Car Company goes into administration - where’s the support for the cars of the future?

I was going to write a positive article today. I’ve been researching the electric car market this week, and was starting to get excited at the increasing number of options - some of them even starting to compete with the internal combustion engine in terms of top speed and distance between charges, and at the cars that have been announced for the next 12 months.

The announcement of the new electric Mini put me into an even better mood because, although it’s still not that practical (only 2 seats, and a maximum range of 150 miles), and at least for 2009 will only be available for a limited trial, it is tangible evidence of the mainstream car manufacturers looking for solutions in the electric vehicle market.

So, boosted by all of this good news, I was intending to write about how we seemed, finally, to be reaching a ‘tipping point’, where electric cars are actually being taken seriously, even by the mainstream, and looking forward to exciting developments over the next few years: the first electric 4-seater; the first 400 mile electric car; the first electric car that is genuinely worth its price.

And then came this morning, and not one, but two pieces of depressing news:

First, I read that the NICE Car Company, along with G-Wiz the UK’s main electric car distributor today, has gone into administration. Apparently sales had dipped to under 1 car per week this year and, in spite of bullish announcements about new models and a new test-drive stall in the new Westfield shopping centre, they have run out of funds.

Secondly, it seems that this exciting new market has been flat as a pancake in 2008, with a total of 156 sales this year, a 58% dip on 2007. Most of these were sold by G-Wiz, who seem to be surviving, but it must be touch and go even for them.

So maybe the constructors and distributors are waking up to the opportunity, but the public is not? Clearly the recession has played an important part in this dip, but what has happened to the crucial message: invest in low-emissions solutions, save the planet, and save money?

Ok, so I’d be the first to admit that currently available electric cars are by no means everyone’s cup of tea - in fact they are totaly impractical for many of us. In general only 2 real seats, which cuts out families, a short range, which means they are almost certainly a second car, and now most London boroughs have withdrawn their previous offer of totally free parking, replacing it with time-limited free parking. On top of all of this is the price range, running from £8,000 to around £15,000 for the just-launched 4-seater Ze-0.

We musn’t forget, however, that these guys are the forerunners, the start of the revolution. They may not be perfect, but they get our attention, and they get the message out there. This is not the time for things to stumble to a halt and start to go backwards. There is a market for these little cars, even in a downturn, and I think that with some targeted marketing and by running a tight ship, they could easily turn a small profit.

Which is why I am hoping against hope that our dear government, desperate to preserve institutions such as banking, might take a leaf from the USA’s books and also look for a solution to support the electric car industry. The investment will be minimal, but to me it’s absolutely crucial. Still, I’m not holding out much hope - does anyone know any investors out there? If not, do let anyone interested in buying a NICE know that right now, they just might get a good deal. Visit the NICE Car Company web site for more information.

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