Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Wanted: climate change cars

As the world focuses on the threat that oil poses to energy security, climate change once again fell off the pages of the world's media. Until yesterday. Oh, and today.

According to the IEA (International Energy Agency), in 2010 greenhouse gas emissions increased by a record amount, to the highest carbon output in history. 

Apparently, the most serious global recession for 80 years had only a minimal effect on emissions. According to the Guardian newspaper's report, last year, a record 30.6 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide poured into the atmosphere, mainly from burning fossil fuel – a rise of 1.6Gt on 2009. Most of the rise – about three-quarters – came from developing countries, as rapidly emerging economies weathered the financial crisis and the recession that gripped most of the developed world.

The IEA has calculated that if the world is to escape the most damaging effects of global warming, annual energy-related emissions should be no more than 32Gt by 2020. If this year's emissions rise by as much as they did in 2010, that limit will be exceeded nine years ahead of schedule, making it all but impossible to hold warming to a manageable degree.

While the emissions data is bad enough news, there are other factors that make it even less likely that the world will meet its greenhouse gas targets.

• About 80% of the power stations likely to be in use in 2020 are either already built or under construction. Most of these are fossil fuel power stations unlikely to be taken out of service early, so they will continue to pour out carbon – possibly into the mid-century. The emissions from these stations amount to about 11.2Gt, out of a total of 13.7Gt from the electricity sector. These "locked-in" emissions mean savings must be found elsewhere.

• Following the tsunami damage at Fukushima, Japan and Germany have called a halt to their reactor programmes, and other countries are reconsidering nuclear power.

• UN negotiations on a new global treaty on climate change have stalled.

Other news: an irreversible climate "tipping point" could occur within the next 20 years as a result of the release of huge quantities of organic carbon locked away as frozen plant matter in the vast permafrost region of the Arctic, according to a study published today by the US National Snow and Ice Data Centre in Boulder, Colorado.  

This stuff is scary.

Much of the growth of emissions is due to the sheer increase in the number of cars on the road. It is clear now more than ever before that we need to get to real 'zero emission' vehicles quickly. This means we need to transition entirely away from the internal combustion engine and into electric vehicles charged by electricity from renewable energy sources (and probably in the interim period nuclear as well).

The EU has set a target of 60% of all new car sales being electric by 2030 and 100% by 2050. This target already looks too conservative. To have meaning, it also needs to be tied strongly to targets for the proportion of electricity generated by renewable energy sources. Here, the IPCC has set a global target of 77% by 2050. What is needed is a clear energy and transport policy with linked goals and programmes at both the global and the national level.

It is time for the politicians and auto manufacturers to step up to the plate and add their voices so that there can be no doubt whatsoever of our direction. Let's end oil.

'End oil' means stop developing plug-in hybrids, not just conventionally fuelled cars. It is only delaying the solution we need and diverting funds from pure EV development. 

Forget 'range anxiety', vehicles with increased range and fast charging are on their way. Just as computers and mobile phones developed rapidly, so too will the performance of EVs. 

The Renault Zoe to be launched in Europe next year will offer a range in excess of 200 km / 125 miles per charge, BMW are aiming for 160 miles for their i3, and lab testing indicates 350 mile range will be affordable and practical within 5 years. With fast charging you can double these numbers for a daily range, effectively ending the debate over range anxiety.

Monday, 23 May 2011

EU EV charging formats to be recommended

The Focus Group on European Electro Mobility was set up by CEN and the European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardisation (CENELEC) and is due to report its initial recommendations very soon.

Standardisation will decide the 'EU plug' wall and car connections for home, industrial, car park and DC charging stations, power quality, electromagnetic quality and batteries. Hopefully it will resolve the squabbling between the Germans on one side and the French and the Italians on the other.

It is a complicated path to navigate but is an important and overdue step towards standardisation,  convenience and importantly, cost reduction. 

Friday, 20 May 2011

Why zero emission is not enough.

Time to move the debate on. 

  • 'Zero emission' is a misleading term.
  • All 'zero emission' electric cars are not equal.

Today, the marketing claim is that EVs are 'zero emission', or more correctly, 'zero emission at the tailpipe'. As you know, carbon emissions are generated at the power station and - more difficult to measure - in the supply chain, the manufacturing process and at end-of-life. There is no such thing as a zero emission car, and there are significant differences in the emissions generated by different electric cars in use.

If you charge up a G-Wiz during the day in the UK, it will emit around 50g CO2 / km taking into account the generation of electricity at the power station, the carbon footprint for extracting and transporting the raw materials to the power station, the generation losses between the power station and the vehicle and an amount for decommissioning. 

A Mitsubishi imiev is around 55 g CO2 / km.

If you drive a Nissan leaf, then the number is around 84 g CO2 / km - 65% more than the G-Wiz and 50% more than the Mitsubishi. As Mike Boxwell, author of Owning An Electric Car says, the reason is simple - it's because the Nissan is 50% bigger and heavier.

Unsurprisingly, bigger, heavier cars require more energy to move them and therefore generate more emissions in use, unless they are charged using 100% renewable electricity. To achieve the UK's 2027 emissions reduction targets we will require cars that are smaller and lighter and cleaner than the Nissan Leaf, which by 2027 will be at the upper limit of what is acceptable. For clean diesel and ultra low emission petrol cars the game is over, because these are simply misleading terms for vehicles that cannot be part of the solution for the next generation of motorists. 

We need to educate consumers and to do this we need to find a better method of measuring and comparing the emissions of electric cars and conventionally fuelled cars, one that in the short term includes the emissions generated well-to-wheel by conventional cars. And we need to move away from the term 'emission free' as it does the EV technology and its supporters no favours.

[Figures quoted from Owning An Electric Car by Mike Boxwell)

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

UK takes the lead: 50% cut in emissions by 2027

The UK government became a world leader in emissions reduction policy when it made a legally binding commitment to reduce carbon emissions by 50% (compared to the 1990 base line) by 2027. This puts the government on course for its target reduction of 80% by 2050 and full decarbonisation of transport.

The 50% reduction is equivalent to putting 12.5 million electric vehicles on UK roads.

The devil is in the detail and it is a shame that carbon offsets have been included as a get-out clause, however, the momentum is building...

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

ICE vs EV: compare the real emissions figures

Live in the UK and want to know when is the best time to plug in your electric car? Or compare the true emissions figures for EV marques with conventional cars? Then visit Mike Boxwell's Owning An Electric Car website. I've just been there and here are the results:

Based on the carbon footprint right now (as I am writing this blog piece), this is how electric car emissions compare to those of conventional cars: 
REVA L-ion
Mitsubishi iMiEV
55 g/km
61 g/km
67 g/km
Nissan LEAF
84 g/km

Toyota Prius
107 (89)g/km*
Fiat 500 TwinAir
114 (95)g/km*
Ford Fiesta ECOtec
118 (98)g/km*
VW Polo Bluemtn
119 (99)g/km*
Honda Insight
122 (101)g/km*
MINI Cooper D
125 (104)g/km*
Fiat Panda ECO
143 (119)g/km*
BMW 116i
172 (143)g/km*
Ford Focus 1.6i
189 (157)g/km*
Average new car in the UK
196 (163)g/km*
Dodge Journey
252 (209)g/km*

Mike's calculations take into account the generation of electricity at the power station AND the carbon footprint for extracting and transporting the raw materials to the power stations AND the generation losses between the power station and your electric car AND an amount for decommissioning.


PS Did you notice that there are large differences between electric cars? In the example above, the Nissan Leaf is emitting 50% more CO2 / km than the Mitsubishi imiev. Wait until the marketing guys catch up with this one!

Monday, 16 May 2011

350 mile range EVs by 2017

The US Energy Secretary Steven Chu claims that by 2017 electric cars could cost as little as US$25,000 and offer a range of 350 miles per charge. (The current range of mass market EVs is around 100 miles, although BMW have stated that their 2013 i3 will offer a range of 160 miles).

The driver for this technological development is of course oil. Although demand in the US and Europe is relatively flat, China is set to double the number of cars on the road in the next few years and in the short to medium term, this will push the price of oil up further and further, as supply remains flat.

Mr Chu expectes the price of batteries for electric cars to fall by 50% within the next two to three years, whilst he forecasts that the energy density of batteries will double or triple within six years. Investments in battery research through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act will help build 30 new U.S. battery manufacturing plants, aiding energy security as well as job creation in the US.

Meanwhile, as the race to create jobs via the electron economy heats up, I hear that the US may not adopt the Chademo fast charging protocol from Japan, in what looks like a bit of protectionism in order to give GM, Chrysler and Ford an advantage against the Japanese who are first to market with the Nissan Leaf and the Mitsubishi imiev. Over in China meanwhile, the New Energy Vehicle Development Plan mandates that subsidies are only available for EVs manufactured in China and where a Chinese company owns the intellectual property rights - which effectively excludes GM's Volt. Hmm. 

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Google are starting to look like a serious player in EVs

More cool stuff for cars on its way. 

Google and Ford have teamed up, with Ford to conduct a feasibility study that will use Google's new Prediction API to create cars that can optimise fuel economy and efficiency  and predict routes based on driver habits i.e. use Google's strength in algorithms to use historical data for predictive purposes.

Ford’s announcement signals that in-car technology is moving beyond infotainment to more complicated tasks. The tie-up with Google highlights how algorithms that connect public and private data will be needed to enhance the driver experience.
    Ford sees it working something like this:
    • Vehicle owner opts into the predictive service and driver data is collected and encrypted. The system learns over time and all data is encrypted for privacy and security.
    • When the car is started Google Prediction will use history to optimize routes and performance based on location and time of day.
    • The car via voice recognition would confirm its predictions based on input from the driver.

    Tuesday, 10 May 2011

    An alternative mobility system

    As you may know, I believe that legislators and automakers should pursue a new strategy for electric vehicles, due to the unique limitations and opportunities of EV technology.

    The new personal mobility system would comprise of two car categories. The first is the 'M1' category, as currently exists in Europe for conventional cars. This category is regulated by ever improving safety legislation and the vehicles are optimised for safety, performance and comfort.

    The second category would be a new category, that of 'Urban M1'. This category would be regulated by power - say 20kW max; and by weight - say 600 kg max, excluding batteries. This new category would be similar to the existing quadricycle category but would increase the power allowance by 5kw and the weight allowance by 250kg, to enable increased safety levels for urban driving for vehicles with 4 seats. This category would encourage the development of lightweight and low power vehicles designed primarily for use as commuter vehicles and second cars for the family. These vehicles would be regulated by weight and power and be optimised for low price and energy efficiency.

    Once these new categories have been introduced, how should EVs be incentivised? Put another way, where should government funds and incentives be directed? And what kind of taxation system would work best?

    There are two barriers to adoption of EVs today, the first is the higher price of EVs compared to conventional cars; and the second is the limited charging infrastructure. The bulk of subsidies in the UK are spent on the former. Today, the subsidies are solely oriented to the M1 category. Quadricycles receive no subsidy on the grounds of safety, but the new 'Urban M1' would be an ideal category to incentivise.

    Instead of focusing purely on emissions as we do currently by measuring g CO2 /mile and setting annual road taxes, parking permits (in a few municipalities) and congestion charges based on the emissions figure, we could introduce a new metric, that of energy efficiency, measured in miles / kWh, or a similarly useful measure. Such a measure will directly encourage greater energy efficiency, which will become increasingly important, just as fuel efficiency is today.

    However, if the taxation system was used to strongly prioritise the 'Urban M1' category (the more energy efficient category), then subsidies could be directed at building up a fast charging network, which will benefit both categories. With a ubiquitous charging network, the range of a vehicle becomes much less important (because it can be charged quickly) and also frequently topped up every time the vehicle is parked somewhere. Under such a scenario there would be less demand for extended range vehicles (plug-in hybrids) as motorists would switch to the energy efficient, low cost, low taxed, frequently topped up alternative.

    Emissions can be taxed according to the type and source of the electricity. Charge at home from your solar panels or wind turbine, or at work from your solar array in the car park - zero tax. Charge at home, at work or at a public charging station from the grid - tax rate according to the source electricity type. By taxing fuel at source according to type, with punitive rates for dirty electricity and incentivised rates for clean electricity, we will accelerate the introduction of clean energy.

    To be honest I am still thinking this stuff through myself, but I am convinced that there are real benefits to such an approach. I am a marketing guy not an engineer or a legislator, so I am sure that this can be developed a lot further.

    Monday, 9 May 2011

    Cars could be emission free by 2050

    The Special Report on Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change Mitigation was released today by the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change).

    Their main conclusion is that it will be technically possible - with the right policies and US$12,000 billion investment - for 77% of global energy to come from renewables by 2050. If the roadmap is achieved, electric cars can become virtually emission free and it may then be possible to keep  emissions below the critical 450 parts per million.

    Not only that, since the EU is proposing that all new cars purchased are emission free at the tailpipe by 2050, we seem to have a draft plan after all to decarbonise transport.

    I have been waiting a long time to be able to say that!

    Sunday, 8 May 2011

    Time to say Yes to EV

    Ho hum, another day, another story on the subject of electric cars with a negative slant from the BBC. 

    Famously it was previously how a BBC journalist struggled to drive from London to Edinburgh in an electric car that was never designed to do so (a bit like test driving a motorbike and making the focus of the story that the rider would get wet if it rained).

    This morning I awoke to see a news feed from the BBC with the headline 'Shortfall in electric car charging points'. The story today is that installation of charging points across the UK may fall behind schedule because only 700 of the 5,000 charging stations planned for 2011 have been installed so far. The piece continued by stating that a shortage of charging points may lead to electric car drivers running out of power. It raised the spectre of 'range anxiety'.

    The BBC did not bother to ask any of the new Nissan Leaf owners whether in fact they are suffering from range anxiety as a result of the delay in charging point installation (I suspect that the answer is no, apart from the really adventurous ones who are purposefully pushing the limits of what they can achieve).

    Neither did the BBC make the point that the majority of electric cars are purchased as second or third cars and used mostly for commuting and local leisure, where the number of public charging points is largely irrelevant. Or that there are many EV drivers out there regularly driving 100 miles plus on a single charge and capable of 200 miles in a day with a single fast recharge.

    Oh dear. Where is the context -  that the UK remains one of the most progressive countries in the world with regard to electric vehicles, already with more EVs on the roads and more charging points than most other countries; and that as a result of this and the incentives in place that the UK is a first choice for the launch of electric cars by most manufacturers and therefore a good place to buy and drive an EV.

    Sure, public charging points are important for the penetration of electric cars into the mainstream and delays are unhelpful. But hey, it's happening. The media focus now should be on the experiences of drivers (owners, not journalists) of the new generation of electric cars. That's what is key to whether others are inspired or put off.

    Come on British Broadcasting Corporation, you can do better than this.

    Thursday, 5 May 2011

    'Urban M1' - a new EV segment

    EV DOA?
    The UK's much anticipated Plug-in Car Grant, a scheme offering £5,000 off electric cars and the scheme designed by the Transport Department to spearhead the UK's attempt to regain its position as 'the electric car capital of Europe' and lead its carbon reduction programme to reduce emissions by 40%, is off to a slow start. 

    Just 534 motorists have been convinced so far that £5,000 off an electric car costing £30,000 and roughly one third more expensive than its conventionally fuelled equivalent, is a good deal. Early days as deliveries are just beginning, but the warning signs are there.

    This should come as no surprise as all the research indicated that consumers are not prepared to pay such a premium. In 2009, just 55 electric cars were sold, with almost half of them being the G-Wiz, as motorists waited for the new generation of electric cars to come to market.

    What they did not expect was that the new EVs would be so expensive. 

    The grant has enough funding to cover the sale of 8,600 cars this year, but this target looks increasingly unlikely following the figures from January to the end of March. 
    The UK may well have made a mistake in excluding quadricycles from the grant on safety fears (see my blogpiece below this). The EV market was being driven by low cost, low speed micro-cars which the government effectively killed off by announcing that they would be excluded from the grant.

    What happens when customers reject a new technology, product, or way of doing things because it does not address their needs as effectively as a company's current approach? Xerox photocopiers, IBM's minicomputers, in each instance manufacturers listened to their customers, gave them the product performance they were asking for, and in the end, were hurt by the very technologies their customers led them to ignore. Are motorists now asking for conventional cars that happen to be electric - but are not prepared to pay the price of such products - when what they really value is cheap mobility that happens to be clean?
    It is frustrating to see this as for  years I have argued against excluding quadricycles from subsidies and of the danger of EV vanity projects distracting attention from a successful roadmap to low carbon mobility. You cannot blame the manufacturers, who view the world through a very well defined lens, just one that is blind to genuine innovation given the issues. 

    I still believe the solution is to make safe, lightweight and low speed vehicles for urban commuting and Monday to Friday second car usage, not to take a big heavy car and add an electric drivetrain to it. The economics are not there yet and there is a danger that EVs might stall as a result. 
    I am convinced now that we need a two segment solution: an amended quadricycle (or 'Urban M1') segment (see blogpiece and comment below) focused on optimising affordability for second car city commuting; and an M1 segment focused on optimising performance capabilities through fast charging and possibly battery swapping

    Wednesday, 4 May 2011

    EVs: Create a new category

    Is there a place in Europe for low speed, lightweight cars for urban use - at a lower price but with with less safety integrity than conventional cars?

    I think the answer is yes - but the regulations need updating first.

    Europe has around 300,000 micro-cars, or quadricycles. The heavy quadricycle (L7e category), such as the all-electric Reva G-Wiz, is limited to 400 kg in weight without batteries and a power output of 15 kW, which in practice means a top speed approaching 50 mph. there are those that would not allow quadricycles however, on the grounds that they are not as safe as conventional cars.

    The European Quadricycle Manufacturers and Importers Association (Association Europeene des Fabricants et Importateurs de Quadricycles) estimate that the rate of accidents per '000 vehicles in conventional cars (M1 category) is more than three times that in quadricycles. This is because quadricycles are designed for and used as low speed vehicles not on fast roads, whereas most serious injuries occur as a result of driving at excessive speeds. The association claims that the accidentology record of quadricycles (the number of deaths and serious injuries expressed as a percentage of vehicles on the road) is twice as good as it is for conventional cars.

    Both the G-Wiz and the Twizy are quadricycles capable of almost 50 mph. The G-Wiz has been driven for nearly 150 million miles with a single fatality and no serious injuries, an admirable safety record. (I understand that the fatality may have happened regardless of the vehicle, such was the nature of the accident). The Twizy will be launched next year.

    The UK government and Top Gear both conducted the standard M1 category crash tests on the G-Wiz and not surprisingly it failed as it was not designed to pass them and is in any case limited by weight which restricts safety levels. The safety cage was subsequently strengthened within the regulations but remains unable to meet the standards required of conventional cars. Jeremy Clarkson called for the G-Wiz to be banned, the UK government has called for an EU review on quadricycles.

    Nontheless, based on the evidence above there  appears to be a case for quadricycles rather than against. However, there are advantages and disadvantages with the current quadricycle regulations.

    The disadvantages are that the weight limit without batteries of 400 kg means that manufacturers may have difficulty improving the level of safety. The Twizy will have a four point drivers harness and 3 point rear seat belt and a drivers airbag, it will not have other safety features typically found in M1 cars such as side airbags, disc brakes and ABS. It is questionable whether such features would make much difference to safety in practice in city driving, but regardless the weight limit impedes additional features (and the Twizy lacks decent doors, presumably as a result of something having to be omitted to meet the 400 kg weight limit). The Twizy has yet to be crash tested to M1 standard so we do not know how it would perform (and it is not a requirement that it is tested this way). If the weight limit was increased from 400 kg to 500 kg, then this would give manufacturers the opportunity to explore improved safety whilst adhering to the spirit of a low speed, low weight vehicle. There are some exciting developments in the use of lightweight composite materials that would add safety and charging efficiency at light weight eg the work being done by Gordon Murray Design, or Imperial College London's STORAGE Project.

    If quadricycles were excluded from use on motorways then this would add another level of safety and emphasise the distinction between vehicles designed for low speed and high speed use.

    Look at the advantages of such a decision and of electric quadricycles in general:

    • lightweight means low energy requirements, a key driver for future vehicle design
    • most city driving is with 1 or 2 people, quadricycles are ideal for this, particularly urban commuting
    • electric drivetrain means emission free at the tailpipe and the opportunity to make cities pollution free
    • as the percentage of electricity generated from renewables increases, so these vehicles become cleaner still
    • 2 such vehicles can be parked in a single parking bay, freeing up much needed parking access
    • quadricycles offer motorists low cost mobility. The Twizy will cost £6,995 plus around £40 per month to lease the batteries. Compare this price to the £30,000 charged for M1 electric cars currently.
    One more point: these low cost, low speed, urban quads have the potential to ignite the market for electric cars and should be included in the subsidies. At £3,000 subsidy a Twizy will cost £4,000, everyone will want to drive one and the government will have a runaway success rather than a potential failure on its hands - and more EVs on the roads.

    Some commentators raise the threat of a quadricycle being hit by a driver of a large vehicle such as a Range Rover. The solution though is not to discourage quadricycles, but to ensure that motorists are encouraged to drive low energy vehicles with adequate safety levels for their usage in cities and to discourage large, heavy, energy intense cars. This is the manufacturer's view - let's build bigger cars that offer very high safety levels (and profit margins) - rather than an approach which designs a mobility system around our energy, climate and built-up environment.

    Electric cars are forcing us to rethink the one-size-fits-all nature of a car due to the limitations of range and the need to reduce emissions and energy consumption. But why should a car be designed for the 2% of journeys rather than the 98%? Car clubs with plug-in hybrids, fast charging and public transport offer a solution to the other 2% anyway.

    Maybe it is time to review the quadricycle regulations to ensure that the best solution is reached for urban mobility.

    The 2011 Electric Car Guide

    My friend and EV expert Mike Boxwell has just published 'The 2011 Electric car Guide' available from Amazon and all good bookstores.

    According to the product description it is 'the most detailed and comprehensive book on electric car ownership available today'

    What you will find in The 2011 Electric Car Guide:

    * Everything you need to know about owning an electric car.

    * A discussion on the benefits and drawbacks of ownership.

    * Comprehensive and up-to-date information about the latest electric cars on the market.

    * Access to the author - if you have a question about ownership, you can ask Michael Boxwell directly through a special web site set up specifically for people who have purchased the book.

    * The environmental benefits of ownership.

    * Long-term owners views on ownership - in their own words.

    I have known Mike for five years now and he understands more about EVs than anyone else I know. His books are always packed full of useful stuff so it's a yes from me!

    Monday, 2 May 2011

    155 mph, 255 mile range electric car

    This is the Neora concept presented at the Shanghai motorshow by Taiwanese manufacturer Luxgen.

    Luxgen are targeting the Chinese and Taiwanese markets and there are no plans for Europe or the US. What's interesting is the claimed range of 255 miles, top speed of 155 mph and 0 - 62 mph in 6.5 seconds, thanks to a 180 kWh motor. This puts the Neora in similar territory to the forthcoming Tesla Model S.

    I like their boldness and ambition, a timely reminder to the American, Japanese and European manufacturers that BYD are not necessarily the Asian benchmark for EVs.