Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Why I think 2040 is actually a very achievable deadline

The UK Government has announced that it intends to pass a law that will make the sale of petrol and diesel cars illegal from 2040 onward. I've read a lot of comments on social media by people who are either scared of losing the comfort they have with a hydrocarbon based fuelled vehicle or misinformed by the 'negatives' of an alternative fuelled car, namely electric battery powered. I intend to address each of these concerns in turn with links to research and sources that will hopefully dispel a lot of these fears.

As a country we will have blackouts if all cars are plugged into the National Grid

Yes if all 36.7m cars on the road in the UK were electric and all plugged in to charge at the same point, there would likely be far too much demand on the National Grid. But this isn't what will happen, in the same way we all don't try to refuel our cars at petrol stations at 9am on a Monday. Those people with home charging will do as most EV (electric vehicle) owners do now and charge them overnight when demand on the National Grid is at its lowest. 

Electricity generation continues overnight and in fact energy producers would love to make better use of that energy consumption lull. As you can see from the graph below, 4pm consumption is just about double the 4am consumption (see live data). Not everyone will charge every night too, especially as battery range/capacity improves. This is called 'smoothing the demand', something that energy companies are keen on as it helps make meeting the demand more efficient, predictable and cheaper. Some expansion of the grid will be required but as this plan is over the next 23 years, adoption will be gradual and so will the improvements to the electricity network.

Solar panels are becoming an increasingly common sight in the UK, and in the future (and in the present too) these could be used to store energy in your home battery during the day and used to charge your car when you are home. Free fuel motoring. 

But I live in a flat / have no home charging availability

You will charge your car like you refuel now, at a refuelling/recharging station. Shell (yes that Shell who sell us refined oil) are fitting their UK forecourts with super charging points. Many others are planning similar installations, after all they'll have no one to sell petrol to in a couple of decades. Also more and more supermarkets and shopping centres are adding charging points.

Currently a trial is being undertaken in Westminster to convert existing lampposts into charging points.

Speed of charge is an issue, I can't be waiting 3 hours to "fill up"

Currently Nissan superchargers can get you to 80% 'full' in 30 minutes. And this technology is improving all the time. In the next 22 years before 2040 rolls around, we could be seeing things like 2 minute charge times, inductive roads (where you only need to drive over the road to charge up - this already is in testing), or possibly to easily swap an empty battery for a full one (I think this is less likely as improvements in battery technology will negate the need for this).

We are still using coal to generate the energy so how is this going to help the environment?

Yes we still use coal as an energy source for electricity generation, however it is currently on average only making up about 1.5% of the total. Gas is still highly used but is better for the environment than coal, producing nearly half as much CO2 as coal.

And this too is changing. You may have seen articles like this showing that renewables (on some days) are making up to 50% of the source for out energy production. See today's mix here.

Air quality in cities should improve dramatically once more and more vehicles are not powered by an internal combustion engine. "But power stations still pollute" I hear you say... Yes but to produce the energy for an electric car vs a hydrocarbon fuelled car is about 9 times less polluting. You have to consider the entire supply chain to see the true difference. Even without that an internal combustion engine can be as efficient as 20% ("tank to wheel"). Electric motors are typically 90%.

Electric cars are far too expensive

No doubt the initial RRP of a typical electric car is more than the equivalent ICE car. Once you take into account the savings on fuel vs charging it may work out over 3 years of ownership to be cheaper, depending on how many miles you do of course. 

One thing is for certain though, EV costs are dropping and will continue to drop as more people buy them and the return on investment becomes greater. The cost of batteries alone has dropped 80% in 6 years with further drops expected in the coming years. This is meaning the some analysts are predicting that EVs will soon be able to match the sticker prices of ICEs by as soon as 2018.

I need to drive 200 miles a day

Personally I think the 200 mile range figure is the key to unlocking the adoption rate of EVs. This will help with range anxiety for most people and should mean just a weekly charge to ensure the daily commute is covered. Here is a list of cars due out in the next 12 months with their expected range (* = not verified by the manufacturer yet).

Chevy Bolt (aka Opel Ampera-e) - 200 miles
Tesla Model 3 - 215 miles
Nissan Leaf (2018) - 200+ miles*
BMW i3 (2018) - 200+ miles*

Everyone knows batteries lose their ability to hold as much charge over their life and perform poorly in the cold

It is true that batteries start to lose their capacity levels but not quite as bad as some people think. This is another area of technology that is improving too, Toyota are developing a solid state battery that can be supercharged quicker (something that traditionally affects long term battery life), perform better in cold temps and be lighter (helping economy/range) and more dense to allow for more charge per gram. They also reduce the small risk of fire that come with traditional batteries used.

Once an EV battery comes to the end of its useful life, it isn't all over. They still hold more than enough charge to be used as home energy stores, similar to the Tesla Powerwall - something that both Renault and Nissan are actively pursuing. 

All this new technology must make maintenance costs higher

There are fewer components that make up a typical EV than a regular ICE car. And as such less to go wrong. Also an internal combustion engine is still a very complicated piece of machinery. Swap that for an electric motor and the simplicity change is dramatic. The biggest cost would be if you had to replace the battery. Typically at 100,000 miles you may have lost 20% of the capacity, but some studies show that a well maintained battery could last around 20 years with few issues.

What about Hydrogen?

Have a quick watch of this and then tell me if you'd like to be within 100ft of someone refuelling their Hydrogen powered car. Although Toyota claim they've solved the 'explosive' issues with Hydrogen. 

And finally I have a question for these people... If we don't go electric, what do we do about the air pollution in our cities that kill an estimated 40,000 people prematurely each year?