Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Who really made the first electric car?

Decarbon.ise: Electric vehicles are nothing new; in fact the concept can be traced back to 1832. The world’s first useable electric car is credited to Thomas Parker, a prolific inventor who built his first car in London in 1884. By the turn of the century almost one third of all cars produced in the United States were electric, and major cities like New York had a network of public recharge stations available. General Electric offered both AC and DC chargers (pictured below). Electric cars such as the Baker Electric were marketed at ladies, as they were cleaner, easier to drive and it was considered ‘unladylike’ to crank-start a petrol-driven vehicle.

In an excellent review of the history of electric car charging Scott Wilson tracks the changes since 1900, and surprisingly, there aren’t many. Many of the problems encountered by the early industry are still hampering progress today.

Lady charging her electric car (c.1900) see Edision Tech Center - Electric Cars and History

The history of the car is inextricably linked with industrialization and our modern society. Transport represents around 25% of total energy demand and global CO2 emissions. Many of the lessons to be learned from the history automotive power can be applied to the wider energy industry, in particular that decarbonisation will require a combination of energy efficiency and finding clean sources of power.

On energy efficiency, the trusty internal combustion engine is woefully inefficient. Enormous savings can be made by hybridization, reducing weight and drag, and by recovering energy lost in braking.

As for renewable sources of power, the biggest lesson is the interchangeable nature of fuels. Fuel is not really a ‘source’ of energy, rather it is a form of energy storage (a vector). Whether a car is powered by the chemical energy stored in gasoline, electrical energy stored in batteries or the potential energy stored in compressed air, the energy must first be derived from a primary source; fossil, nuclear, wind or solar.

Modelling tells us that the quickest and most effective route to decarbonisation will include a variety of technologies, based on renewables.

Using these low-emissions sources of energy to produce a range of fuels for advanced fuel-efficient vehicles is the most effective way to decarbonise our transport sector. So we can look forward to many new and innovative machines coming down the road in the future