Driving an Electric Car

I was fortunate enough to test-drive the Nissan Leaf this week, and thought I would post some first impressions.

The car itself is very comfortable, and for anyone used to a Prius (or any automatic), it drives exactly like a normal car. The car is comfortable, acceleration is quite quick, and overall the car performs perfectly for city driving – my test drive was relatively short and was city based, but I am sure it would perform perfectly for mid-range journeys as well.

The range is stated to be 160km – certainly more than enough for the daily commute in a city. The car comes with Sat-Nav built in, and the available range is highlighted on the map. Obviously depending on how the car is driven, this range can change, but this is all reflected on the map  in real time so you can see clearly what affect different driving styles have on your range. The car also has an eco-drive mode which reduces the rate of acceleration and hence increases the range.

The manufacturers claim that the battery will be able to maintain an 80% charge after 5 years of usage, and 70% after 10 years. This would reduce the range to 128km and 112km respectively.

The car has several nice power management features – it can be set to only charge between certain hours, so you can arrive home, plug it in and it will only start charging during the hours that you choose. You can also set it to switch on the air conditioning at a set time as well, so the car can be heated up in the morning before you reach it – as this is done from the mains it will not reduce your range for the day. The car can also communicate via a smart phone app so all these features can be controlled remotely, allowing you to check if the car is charged from anywhere you have an internet connection.

The charge time is about 8 hours from a domestic charge point, and 25 minutes from a fast charge point. There are plans for 30 of these fast charge points around the country – for details of their locations, see the ESB’s PDF here.

Overall, first impressions were very good, and I can see electric cars becoming mainstream over the next decade.
I would have some reservations about having one as my primary car, due mainly to thinking if it would be possible drive from my home in Dublin to the family farm in Wexford after owning the car for 7-10 years without having to stop and recharge.

However, for any households who based in or near a city, and who currently have two cars, I can not think of any reason not to get one if you were replacing one of the gas-guzzlers anyway. The last census in 2006 indicated that of the 1,462,296 households in the state 1,173,519 (80.25% of total households)  had at least one car, and 609,270 had 2 or more cars (that’s 41.67% of total households, or 51.9% of households with a car) , so  there is a large potential market for electric vehicles.

The Leaf will be available in Ireland from February 2011, and will cost €29,995 after a government grant of €5,000. With running costs of approximately 1c/kilometre, anyone doing a significant amount of urban driving should seriously consider one, particularly if it was to replace a second car that was being upgraded anyway.

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4 Responses to Driving an Electric Car

  1. John Gibbons says:

    Paddy, the perks of being well connected! Have been thinking about going the whole hog with an electric, but, like you, am concerned about it running out of puff on a country road with nary a socket in sight. On the bigger picture, it’s hard to escape the feeling that we’re just fooling ourselves if we think ‘going electric’ is going to make much of a dent in any of the converging crises heading down the track…though it’s a pleasant distraction, helping us to feel like we’re ‘doing something’.

    Decommissioning Moneypoint and building a nuclear plant instead would have been 1,000 times ‘greener’ a step, assuming CO2 emissions and resource depletion are our main worries. These shiny new cars are running, not on petrol, but on coal and peat, since that’s what powers much of our grid. But that ship has sailed. There are 2 million cars on Irish roads; interesting to see if more than 5% of their replacements ever end up as full EVs.

    If only we’d listened to Des O’Malley back in the late 70s, we’d have had our nuclear base load years ago, and would now, with renewables, be moving towards a genuine 100% emissions-free national grid. Not to mention the billions in imported energy we wouldnt have had to buy and burn. Think of all the Greens who cut their political teeth on Carnsore Point and you see the double-bind this presents.

    Still, if someone offers me a Leaf (fig leaf?) for a spin, I’ll happily park my bah humbug for a couple of days and allow myself to indulge in some electric dreams!

  2. Eric Conroy says:

    Dear John et al,

    We need a debate on electric cars! I’m not convinced about them. To me it is just another way to maintain our present unsustainable lifestyle, of which the private car is the major totem pole. I have made the following points before:

    1. Up to 70% of the carbon footprint of cars from cradle to grave is embedded in the manufacture. Encouraging a changeover to electric cars will mean more new cars will be bought than without this policy. This will push up our carbon emissions, not reduce them as electric cars are meant to do.

    2. There is no point to electric cars unless the energy going in to the car is fully renewable. This will never be possible. The Irish target is 20% renewable energy in electricity generation by 2020. This is 10 years away, and time we don’t really have to address climate change. I don’t think that any more than 40% renewable is possible in electricity generation. (I may need to be corrected on this). In this environment a lot more than half of the energy needs of electric cars will come from fossil fuels, when we need to drastically reduce their use to withstand climate change.

    3. The cost per mile of charge at juice points will be around 4 times as cheap as equivalent petrol/diesel (RTE interview on Morning Ireland recently). Surely this will encourage more driving by electric motorists and more fossil fuels comsumed as above? Where does carbon tax fit into this?

    4. James Nix’s point of the lithium issue is very important: there simply will not be enough lithium (jncluding energy intensive mining) in the whole world to make the batteries needed to power us all in electric cars.

    I’m just not convinced by electric motoring – am I wrong? This move to electric cars is symtomatic of the desire to maintain our unsustainable lifestyles and just try and use other energy means to do this. We must reduce our need to travel around in single units (cars) which is very energy intensive per person and move to public transport or minimal energy transportation (bikes).

  3. Paddy Morris says:

    Thanks for the comment Eric.

    We definitely need a debate on electric cars and redesigning our transport infrastructure for the long term (next 50 years…) – we are not going to get a second chance at this.

    1. I agree with you, however bear in mind lots of people will be upgrading their cars anyway no matter what options are available, so should be encouraged to think about electric as an option. Not ideal, but better than a Hummer.

    2. Totally agree. Nuclear is going to be needed for baseload to make these ‘environmentally friendly’. Charging these from coal at Moneypoint is nonsensical long term, but is still far better short term than the internal combustion engine, especially for particulate pollution.

    3. Some good data on efficiency of electric cars here, http://www.inference.phy.cam.ac.uk/withouthotair/c20/page_127.shtml
    Again, nuclear baseload would solve this issue.
    Bill Gates gave a good talk at TED recently on 4th generation nuclear, see http://www.ted.com/talks/bill_gates.html

    4. We have loads of Lithium (conveniently located in… ah… Afghanistan). which is handy, particularly if you are the USA and have an army occupying Iraq (largest unexploited proven Oil reserves) and Afghanistan (loads of lithium for the next generation of cars…). http://gizmodo.com/5562473/massive-afghanistan-lithium-deposit-as-in-batteries-could-alter-nations-economy
    Also Lithium air batteries may give a significant boost in efficiency, if/when they become commercially available.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lithium_air_battery
    And given that the time-scale to resolve this is 40 years or so with zero emissions by 2050 the goal, I would hope that someone gets an ultracapacitor working by then.
    http://www.bnet.com/blog/electric-cars/long-in-development-fuel-efficient-ultracapacitors-may-shine-8212-or-flop-8212-later-this-year/1586

    I am not fully convinced by electric motoring either, however I am convinced that continuing down our current path is not advisable (to say the very least…) and it is time to start looking seriously at all the options on the table to fight climate change.

    People will be buying new cars anyway, so I would prefer that they have the choice of an electric car when they are doing so.

    Ideally, if everyone was using electric cars or bikes for their short city commutes, with a decent electric train systems for intercity journeys, combined with a as-you-use system like Zip Cars (http://www.zipcar.com) for door to door transport in cities you were visiting, we could electrify our entire transport network pretty easily, without infringing on peoples freedom of choice – people have to want and choose this option, which means ideally it will have to be cheaper and more convenient.
    Attach baseload nuclear (or import it from the EU) and you can make a significant CO2 saving with a transport system that people will want to use.

    I think you are right to be sceptical about electric motoring, however I would think it is much better than what we have at the moment.

  4. james nix says:

    “The manufacturers claim that the battery will be able to maintain an 80% charge after 5 years of usage, and 70% after 10 years. This would reduce the range to 128km and 112km respectively.”

    I’m wondering if this is part of the warranty (or just the sales pitch)?

    Strikes me as a prediction. The car-builders will have few long-term lithium studies to base it on. (Taking the last 3 mobile phones I’ve had there was a 30-50 per cent drop in battery performance within 3 years: the claim here is that even with a much larger battery, performance will hold up far better.)

    If the battery talk is sales bumpf rather than a warranty, resale becomes tricky after say 5 – 8 years.

    But the real issue is 30k, and the idea of giving 5k of taxpayers’ money to those who can spend 30k on mobility

    If this is what it takes governments to preserve the era of untrammeled private motoring then maybe we should be looking at another approach?

    I took a look at the model in a few French cities (Paris, Lyon, Strasbourg) and compared it to here.

    http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/motors/2010/0811/1224276534107.html

    Subsidies not the electric answer

    Wed, Aug 11, 2010

    ELECTRIC CARS: Taxpayers’ money needs to be used fairly for energy-saving initiatives. The best way to do this is to scrap the subsidies for electric cars and introduce a nation-wide car share scheme which will benefit us all, writes JAMES NIX

    THE GOVERNMENT seems hell-bent on offering a subsidy of €5,000 to buyers of electric cars. Exclude the subsidy and a saloon-sized electric vehicle would cost in the region of €35,000. So, under the draft scheme, taxpayers stump up €5,000 for each electric vehicle but, unlike public transport, ordinary taxpayers have no opportunity to use these vehicles, unless, of course, they are among the small number of purchasers.

    But who are the would-be purchasers? A recent report by Deloitte Consulting found that it would only be “young, very high-income individuals” that could afford to take up the US government subsidy for electric vehicles, which is set at roughly the same level as planned here. Typically, these purchasers would come from households with incomes greater than €150,000 a year.

    The major selling point with electric vehicles is their ultra-low fuel cost, with some manufacturers claiming an 80 per cent saving. So, if the Government persists with its subsidy scheme then, as oil prices rise, the wealthy become wealthier.

    It’s an extreme policy contradiction: the Government is proposing to use tax receipts to insulate the wealthy from rises in travel costs. But as the Government knows only too well, this is the last income group that requires help with fuel poverty.

    There is simply no need to be socially exclusive in introducing electric cars.

    Next year Paris will launch its all-electric car share scheme, known as Autolib, with 3,000 vehicles located at 1,000 stations in the city and surrounding region. The plan is to have a monthly subscription of €15 with every half hour charged at €5. The southern French city of Nice is examining a similar scheme with 200 vehicles at 70 locations.

    Consider a share scheme in Ireland where €20m of taxpayers’ money could be used for the outright purchase of 600 electric vehicles which are then deployed to 200 stations across Ireland, giving access to shared vehicles in every town and city.

    Introducing a public transport dimension yields much wider benefits. Electric cars can then be used not only by motorists within walking or cycling distance, but also by those dropped off at car stations by family and friends. Public transport will also be used to get to and from car stations.

    The point is taxpayers’ money benefits a far broader section of society than is currently proposed and it brings public transport and electric vehicles together.

    Let’s try to put some numbers on it. How many would benefit under a car share scheme? A great deal depends on the pricing policy but we’ve already proven ourselves wholesale enthusiasts for share schemes.

    Dublin Bikes started off with 450 hire bicycles and assumed that little more than three regular users would sign up per bike. In fact, more than 80 people have signed up per bike and the total number of annual memberships may not be far off 40,000 by the first anniversary of the scheme this September. If 600 vehicles are bought for a share scheme, and just 40 people sign up per vehicle, the total number benefitted is 24,000 (counting individual drivers only).

    Now contrast this with a subsidy scheme. Taking that same €20m, the Minister for Energy, Communications and Natural Resources, Eamon Ryan, is looking at just 4,000 purchasers of electric cars with a €5,000 subsidy given to each one.

    In other words, six times more people could experience electric cars under a car share schemeand this leaves aside all the ancillary benefits that the Minister should be interested in.

    THE PUBLIC transport dimension of a hire scheme allows families to shed second cars as they can share vehicles and people in their 20s and 30s can avoid the cost burden of car ownership altogether thanks to car sharing. Dublin Bikes has already helped lever a cultural shift in the capital in favour of low-energy transport.

    A national car share scheme would take this one step further.

    The reasons for a share scheme are also environmental. Pristine salt plains in South America are being churned up to make the lithium batteries required by electric cars. Mining lithium is a dirty process. Vast amounts of chlorine are used destroying the local water table. Industrial lithium production has already laid waste thousands of square kilometres, leaving water supplies too polluted even for agriculture, and ending farming in parts of Chile and Argentina. It threatens to do the same in Bolivia.If this is expanded, the whole area could end up being ruined.

    If electric cars are for the ecologically-conscious, then at the very least there’s an environmental imperative to use lithium sparingly and to make sure it delivers the greatest good for the greatest number.

    Low-cost mobility should not be a rich man’s ride, and to avoid this, electric vehicles have to be available to the public. Taxpayers’ money needs to be used fairly for energy-saving initiatives.

    James Nix is coordinator of Plan Better, a joint policy initiative of An Taisce, Friends of the Earth, Friends of the Irish Environment and Feasta

    © 2010 The Irish Times

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