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Electric vehicles still in the foothills 

Saturday, January 14, 2017 7:26
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As the author suggests, the wishful thinking of policy makers in the world’s better-off countries shows little sign of turning into success ‘on the ground’ when it comes to electric vehicles. Public concerns about cost, range, battery life, recharging and so on are not going away.

An article in Power Engineering International magazine in 2013 by Penny Hitchin identified progress in the development of electric vehicles, as well as the barriers to progress, writes PEI’s Diarmaid Williams.

Four years later, despite a relative surge in uptake of these vehicles, much of the same barriers remain. It’s anticipated that the evolution of the electric vehicle will transform the nature of electric power, but this evolution is unfolding at a slower rate than perhaps anticipated, or desired given the political expediency to decarbonise.

When Hitchin penned her piece, Charging ahead: EVs and the grid, there were 130,000 electric vehicles in the US. In December 2016 that figure was 542,000, according to Recode website, so there is an incremental rise, even if it’s not as rapid as hoped. The same problems are besetting countries around the world in moving away from fossil fuels and capitalising on the extraordinary progress of renewable power.

It’s a similar situation for cars.

‘Range anxiety’ mightn’t be a phrase that has caught on as yet in the greater public consciousness, which is illustrative in itself, but for many electric vehicle owners it’s an all too familiar condition. A seamless public charging network has so far gone unrealised and for some EV drivers, their vehicles are only really to be relied upon for short journeys.

There are no assurances of working or compatible chargers, and there is also concern at the cost of electricity as well as the rate at which it is dispensed. People expect to change habits to adapt to a new paradigm, but at the moment planning even a medium journey can be complicated.

At the moment despite legislation and taxation eroding the appeal of the fossil fueled vehicle it is still comparatively more attractive than its electric cousin. Most electric vehicles need 30-60 minutes to take enough charge to achieve 60 miles of range. The conventional car takes five minutes to achieve 300 miles. Because of the underdeveloped network at the moment the possibility of pump congestion is a real one.

TSO operators point to the implications for the electric grid if the network is not smartened up to contend with increasing popularity of the vehicles, but they should rest assured that a tipping point appears some way off yet.

The Times letters page recently featured some dissent from electric vehicle owners on these issues. One individual pointed out the outlandish, hard to justify, insurance quote they received when preparing to purchase an EV. Another pointed out that the financial case was lost for a pure EV, when compared to the advantages of the hybrid.

Rather like the idealists in the power sector who believe the world is ready to go fully renewable, cheerleaders for EVs are blinded to true realities. Just as a mix of gas, nuclear and renewables seem in pole position to produce the lion’s share of the world’s power over the coming decades, while storage is perfected, the hybrid vehicle seems to be a better bet, in terms of a bridging transition, than the EV right now.

PEI report continues here


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