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Our Friends Electric

Electric cars – the realistic future or just an idealist's dream?

Written by . Published on July 25th 2011.

Our Friends Electric

WHEN it comes to electric vehicles (EVs) the Mayor of London has a dream... He is officially on record saying he wants to put London on the map as the capital of electric transport in Europe. As stated on Source London's site, Johnson said, “I want to rapidly accelerate the uptake of electric vehicles and make London the epi-centre of electric driving in Europe.”

"One of the biggest hurdles to greater use of electric vehicles has been a lack of charging points. But now Londoners will see Source London points popping up in locations all over the capital." 

He and the government have also set themselves some serious targets in order to achieve this. With the advent of peak oil and the ever increasing concern for the environment, rising petrol prices and the need for alternative, greener and more sustainable energy sources, the guys in charge are very keen on promoting power points over petrol pumps.

A Labour initiative has made provision of over £300m during the life of this parliament for the PlugIn Car Grant to reduce the upfront cost of eligible vehicles and improve EV infrastructure.

Put simply, this means the introduction of a £5,000 subsidy towards the purchase of EVs from the start of this year to encourage buyers to invest in a vehicle that typically costs a third more than a rival petrol car along with £30m for the Plugged-In Places programme to fund eight pilot projects installing and trialing recharging infrastructure in the UK.

The subsidy has survived the coalition's cuts with the proviso that it will be reviewed in 2012 – in only the first year of funding, £43m or 8,600 cars, are guaranteed. But with only 534 being sold in the first quarter of this year, if sales don't pick up it seems unrealistic they will reach a quarter of the initial target.

Issues with going electric aren't only about price. With an average range of about 100 miles before you have to plugin, the term 'range anxiety' has been coined. Also the lack of variety in models has not helped Johnson in achieving his dreams.

To add to his difficulties only one car, the Mitsubishi i-MiEV has been available to buy upfront with the government subsidy since the start of the year. Others eligible include the Smart Fortwo electric drive, Citreon C Zero and the Peugot Ion, which are available to lease, but not buy. The Nissan Leaf and Tata Vista have been available to buy since March. The Tesla Roadster, an electric sports car is now also eligible. Others on the list in future include the Vauxhall Ampera, Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid and Chevrolet Volt and several models from Renault all on the market from early 2012.

But, what are the positives? Well, although they are more expensive to buy, electric cars are cheaper to run than the conventional alternative. A car such as the Leaf would cost 2p per mile to charge and run, compared to around 14p per mile for a similar-sized petrol or diesel car. They also pay no vehicle excise duty, have cheaper insurance premiums, are exempt from London's congestion charge and can be charged for free at some public car parks.

There are currently around 2,000 registered EVs in the UK and this year's sales figures are a significant increase on 2009 when, not helped by the recession, only 55 were sold in the whole year, with nearly half of these being the G-Wiz. But things are picking up with the advent of new models on the market and the ever-increasing number of power points.

The opening of the Source London scheme on 26th May this year, means there are now 400 recharge points, adding 150 to the 250 previously installed in the capital leading the way in the UK's electric car infrastructure, accounting for two-thirds of the 700-750 available nationally.

The plan is to have 1,300 points by 2013, or no more than one mile from every Londoner, paid for by a mix of public and private money and managed for the first three months by Siemens. 

Johnson added, "One of the biggest hurdles to greater use of electric vehicles has been a lack of charging points. But now Londoners will see Source London points popping up in locations all over the capital." 

Electric car owners will pay £100 per year for membership, which supersedes the previous disorganised charging membership schemes that only permitted car owners to recharge at roadsides, car parks and supermarkets in the borough they registered in.

So what does the future really hold and is electric really set to take over in the coming years? According to The Greater London Authority's EV Infrastructure Strategy, it is, “In the period up to 2015, we expect to see tens of thousands of plug-in vehicles on the roads in the UK. From 2015 to 2020 we expect to see the number of plug-in vehicles accelerate as costs reduce and vehicle manufacturers bring forward a wider range of plug-in vehicle models in order to meet their stringent 2020 CO2 targets under the European New Car CO2 Regulation.”

The government's climate advisers, the Committee on Climate Change, say that the UK as a whole needs 1.7m electric cars by 2020 to meet its carbon targets but experts say this is extremely optimistic and would require batteries to become much cheaper and conventional cars much more expensive through taxation and fuel prices.

There are also potential barriers to increasing the electrical fleet and Johnson himself has warned of the troubles that would occur if the government subsidy scheme is put on hold after the review next year. A grant of £1,000 was initially given to G-Wiz buyers in the first two weeks of its release but was pulled and it killed the market.

In the end, as is always the case with the future, we can only wait and see to see how things pan out. It is clear however Johnson and the government are doing everything in their power to encourage the uptake of greener energies and as long as these initiatives remain, supported by endorsement from public and private bodies, we can look forward to a greener, more sustainable transport network in London.

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AnonymousJuly 25th 2011.

What a great and informative piece on the past, present, and future of electric vehicles. If only all articles were this interesting.

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