Saturday, 27 November 2010

Climate Canute

This tide is not for turning
I am not an activist. Today however I did participate in the Brighton living art project 350 EARTH, led by Thom Yorke of Radiohead. Part of his planetary art show, 2,000 of us donned blue and yellow ponchos and stood for an hour in freezing conditions to become King Canute, symbolically holding back the sea. Visit earth.350 for more info and maybe to participate if the project comes your way. Whilst I live opposite and just walked across the road to be part of this event, the irony of course was that several people I spoke to had driven  a long way here to participate...which reminds me: next time you have 45 minutes to spare, I  recommend Robert Newman's short film 'The History of Oil'.'

Thursday, 25 November 2010

EVs: 150 mile range by 2015, 300 miles by 2025

A Road
According to Renault, the range of its EVs may increase by 30% to 150 miles by 2015; and that by 2025 an all-new chemistry - possibly zinc-air or zinc silver - could boost it to 300 miles per charge. Whilst these are conservative estimates, they are encouraging news because a 150 mile range covers 99% of all car journeys. The sooner we can put an end to cars with engines (or generators, as they are called in the range extenders like the Volt) the better, including those environmental miscreeants plug-in hybrids, which delay the demise of ICE and have large dust-to-dirt footprints. [Update 3 December: a Sydney Morning Herald report quotes VW as expecting 800 km / approaching 500 mile range by 2020].

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

'Mutually assured destruction'


Global CO2 emissions are rising again after just one year of decline. Worldwide carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions this year will increase more than 3 percent from last year to the highest level ever due to rapid growth in emerging economies. The increase will follow the first decrease in a decade in the world's overall CO2 emissions last year. The UK emitted 8.6% less CO2 in 2009 than a year earlier, Japan emitted 11.8 percent less CO2  and the United States 6.9 percent less, while emissions by China and India rose 8% percent and 6% last year, respectively. Under the Copenhagen Accord, signed at the end of 2009, 80 countries promised to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. But, even if every target is met, it will deliver less than 2/3 of the reductions needed to stop global temperatures rising by more than 2 degrees (ice caps melting etc).
What this means according to Achim Steinberger, the UN's top Environment chap is 'mutually assured destruction if we do not act now'. The gap between the pledges and what is needed is 'equivalent to taking all the vehicles in the world off the road'. Wake up everyone.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Will EVs overtake ICE at the start of the next decade?

No Overtaking until 2020
At the Reuters Auto Summit held this week, Prabhakar Patil, the chief executive of LG Chem unit Compact Power, said that he expects and has targeted the price of lithium ion batteries to fall by a factor of 2 to 4 i.e. by 50% to 75% over the next five to ten years. This means that electric vehicles will by the end of the decade become as cheap or cheaper than conventional ICE (internal combustion engine) vehicles to manufacture. As the current range of 100 miles is sufficient for 99% of all journeys, and as the true environmental cost of ICE vehicles and hybrids becomes known, then it is not unreasonable to expect that by the start of the next decade we will see electric begin to overtake ICE and hybrid as the predominant drivetrain in many vehicle segments. Note: this view is at odds with the prevailing wisdom! 

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Why the EV market will grow faster than forecast - but not for a few years

Smile - EVs are coming.

The generally reported and accepted numbers are that 10% of all new car sales will be electric by 2020 and 40% by 2050. I disagree with these forecasts and believe that the market, whilst slow to take off over the next three years, will grow very quickly from 2015 onwards. Here are my 10 reasons why:
  1. EVs will be purchased by the influencers and high profile in-crowd that will give them cachet and desirability. Those from entertainment, music, the arts and creative industries.
  2. EVs will be purchased as company cars by finance directors seeking to reduce running costs and CEOs seeking the green badge. Once batteries are proven reliable and come down in price such that EVs are cheaper on a whole life basis than conventional cars, we will reach a tipping point.
  3. EVs are fun and easy to drive and to maintain. Once people experience for themselves the pleasure of driving electric they will not go back to noisy, dirty, polluting ICE vehicles. 
  4. Renault-Nissan have invested $4 billion already and before the first EV is delivered to customers. Carlos Ghosn is a smart chap and he will ensure success (GM recently tried unsuccessfully to poach him). 
  5. Better Place will create an EV ecosystem (with Renault Nissan) in Israel that will show the world EVs make sense (even if battery swapping does not).
  6. Governments will force through legislation to decarbonise. From an environmental perspective the current forecast of 40% of cars sold by 2050 will be EVs is far too low - 80% is where we need to get to in order to limit a global temperature rise that could mean serious trouble for billions of people. 
  7. Governments have realised that the low carbon economy will create jobs. The new 'Space Race' is China vs the US for the EV market.
  8. Range anxiety is a very temporary affair. New chemistries will gradually deliver increased range at lower cost. Charging will get faster. People that live in houses will charge at home. People that live in flats will charge at work. 
  9. The doom mongers and naysayers will be proved wrong. Jeremy Clarkson will find a way to endorse electric cars or risk looking even more foolish than he does currently.
  10. Like smoking, driving an ICE vehicle will simply become socially unacceptable and totally uncool (unless you live in Italy).
 [Update 30/11/2010: The CEO of the UK National Grid plc, Steve Holliday, claims that 20% of all new cars purchased in the UK will be electric by 2016 and one million electric cars on UK roads by 2020. Seems like I have an ally who is similarly optimistic about the rate of adoption of EVs, even if he does have a vested interest in talking up the market].

Sunday, 14 November 2010

12 drivers of the EV market

Which way to EV sales?
I have been talking to buyers and people considering the purchase of electric vehicles for seven years now in more than a dozen countries. Whilst each country and culture is unique, there is a common thread of concerns, misunderstandings and reasons-for-waiting. This is not a rigorous or research based list, but assuming availability, safety and reliability will soon be a given, here are my top 12 anecdotal drivers of EV sales growth:
  1. A rapid price rise at the pump of conventional fuel / evidence of supply limitations.
  2. A purchase price no more than 15% higher than a conventional vehicle equivalent / short term financial incentives
  3. Privileges such as driving in bus lanes and priority parking
  4. A powerfully communicated rational for lifetime cost and environmental benefits.
  5. Government signals committing support for EVs.
  6. Municipal commitment to a public charging infrastructure.
  7. Design aesthetics that stir the soul
  8. Removal of customer risk in case of battery failure and customer concern over range anxiety.
  9. Connected-car features that improve the customer experience.
  10. Choice of batteries offering different range options at different prices.
  11. Measurement and communication of dust-to-dirt carbon footprint advantage. 
  12. Rapid customer support in a manner convenient to the customer.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Single but not alone

These are the interiors of the Nissan Land Glider leaning EV (top), the T25 city car concept from Gordon Murray Design and the Renault Twizzy (bottom). All three feature a single seat up front.
As the population shifts to megacities with all the congestion, pollution and energy issues that will arise, the search for smaller, narrower less energy intensive personal transport solutions will intensify. Instead of widening roads at huge expense, the solution will be to squeeze more vehicles into existing road and parking space.
They are not the first of course, there are hundreds of CityEl EVs on the roads in Germany, whilst the  Myers, the Lumeneo Smera, the SEV (Space Efficient Vehicle) and the Tango prototypes spring to mind as well. It is only a matter of time before we realise that shifting huge chunks of metal with one occupant makes no sense and match our vehicles to our behaviour and the environment we live in.  

Keep an eye on VW and Audi, who are also developing single and two seat urban cars.       


Friday, 12 November 2010

Why we must stop flying long haul

Goodbye Mr Chips
We all know that flying is bad for the environment, I have just worked out how bad. I use the train whenever possible, but recently I have flown a lot of air miles on business trips. I calculated that in the last 14 months I have flown approximately 100,000 miles. Now, according to the brilliant Cambridge Physicist Professor David MacKay* if you are an average daily car commuter in the UK doing 30 miles per day at 33 miles per gallon, you will consume around 40 kWh / day of energy, roughly one third of your daily energy consumption. Assuming a plane flies 80% full, a single long haul return flight of say London to Bangalore (10,000 miles, a journey I made 7 times to Reva Electric Car Company HQ in the last 14 months) is the equivalent of consuming approx 30 kWh /day per trip! This year I was also a frequent short haul business flyer around Europe, setting up an EV distribution network. According to Mr MacKay, my 25,000 short haul air miles is equivalent to 60 kWh /day. So, this past year my energy consumption just for flying was 270 kWh/day, the equivalent of driving 6 cars every day and more than twice the current total daily energy consumption per person in the UK. Nearly 200 tonnes of CO2 emitted! I am horrified and ashamed and hereby commit to invest in super fast broadband for skype and never again work in such a way.

* I recommend the very readable 'Sustainable Energy - without the hot air' by David JC MacKay. Download for free at  

Thursday, 11 November 2010

I'd like 12,000 Volts please

A bit of give and take.
Here we go - the first big order for electric vehicles has just been announced. GE (General Electric) intends to 'prime the pump' and order 12,000 Chevy Volts for its US staff, as part of a 5 year 25,000 mixed electric vehicle order. In the race to monetize the EV segment, GE is aiming for $500 million of EV related revenues in the next three years. If you are a small player or new to the EV segment, you had better have a unique niche, a brilliant strategy and deep pockets. Or a buyer for your company.

Is China catching up in the EV market?

Shenzhen 'Low Carbon City for High Quality Living'
Actually no, it may soon be roaring ahead. Looks like we have a new Space Race, except this time it's electric cars and the US vs China. One example: Shenzhen has no EVs today, but the Mayor of Shenzhen city has stated that in less than three years there will be 35,000 EVs on the city's streets and he should know. Meanwhile, China has set itself the goal of becoming the world's number one market for EVs, with a target of one million produced in China per year by 2020. If that sounds unlikely get this: a decade ago there were no electric bikes in China - now there are more than 100 million.

Fill your heart with joy...

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

What is the scale of the transport challenge?

Houston we have a problem.
1. There are too many cars. Today we are approaching 1 billion vehicles worldwide. We will reach 2 billion within the next 10 to 20 years.
2. The distance travelled by cars is growing rapidly. The total distance travelled by all motor traffic is increasing by approximately 100 billion km per decade.
3. We need a reduction in CO2 emissions of 80% to 90%. The UK target for 2050 is 2.1 to 2.4 tonnes CO2 per head. But an average new car today produces 160 g CO2 / km, which driven at an average of 15,000 km / year emits a total of 2.4 tonnes per year.
4. Demand for oil will soon exceed supply, so we are running out of time. Transport already uses 53% of all the oil produced. There is not enough oil being produced to meet the growth projections of vehicles and we will almost certainly reach 'peak oil' within a decade (the point at which rising demand for oil exceeds the available supply).

So, just how much better are EVs?

End your oil, get on the grid.
One way to compare electric vehicles is to measure their emissions i.e how many grammes of CO2 are emitted per km. Most EVs in the UK charging from the grid average just over 50 g CO2/km compared to the best hybrids and diesels at almost twice as much, and three times better than the average car. Another way is to measure the amount of energy used: EVs are delivering around 15 kWH per 100 km, roughly 80% less than the average conventional car.

Do EVs offer enough range?

Does my shopping look good in this?
EVs are definitely good for everyday commuting. Nissan quote 25 miles per day as the average total distance travelled  in the UK, Mitsubishi and MINI trials reported under 20 miles per day and G-Wiz users average around 10 to 15 miles (most live and work in central London). A range of 50 miles per charge is enough for all these people, whereas the range of 100 miles in the next generation vehicles is good for around 96% of all UK journeys.

It started with a wiz.

Look out, here comes the EV market.
It was all about turning an idea (that cars should not harm the planet) into a cause (to hasten the demise of the internal combustion engine) that would capture people's imagination.
In 2004 I launched GoinGreen in London, the UK importer and online-only retailer of the Reva G-Wiz quadricycle electric vehicle. Like the first computer or mobile phone, the original G-Wiz was a bit clunky and offered only pretty basic performance. Over the years the performance improved and by 2007 there were 1,000 G-Wiz customers, all gained via word of mouse. GoinGreen has picked up 25 awards and has been featured in thousands of articles and dozens of books. Today the company remains the UK leader in EVs whilst the G-Wiz is a London icon. There are around 3,500 of these little EVs on the roads and the wonderful, pioneering people that drive them have notched up close to 200,000,000 km of electric mobility in more than 20 countries.