by Alok Jha
UK government's £25m scheme to slash emissions from transport will allow public to take part in long-term trials of a range of electric cars.
The UK government will today unveil the world's largest ever coordinated trial of environmentally friendly vehicles. The £25m scheme, which is designed to accelerate the introduction of electric cars to the UK will allow people to take part in long-term trials of everything from electric Minis and Smart city cars to sports cars and electric vans.
From the end of this year, around 340 of the vehicles will be available to qualifying members of the public in eight different locations around the country including Oxford, London, Glasgow, Birmingham and the north-east. Power companies, regional development agencies and universities will also be involved in coordinating the experiments, building infrastructure such as charging points and analysing the way the cars are used.
"Here's an opportunity to position the UK as a world leader in the adoption of this technology by supporting the largest ever trial of such vehicles," said Paul Drayson, the science minister. "That encourages companies working in this field to do their research and development here. That knowledge generated by the trial then gets fed back to the follow-on systems that come through."
Around 22% of the UK's carbon emissions come from transport, with 13% of these from private cars. According to a study for the Department for Transport (DfT), widespread adoption of electric vehicles capable of a range of 50km or more could cut road transport carbon emissions in half.
"We have about 33m cars on the road at the moment and it's going to go up by another 4-5m in the next 10 years," said David Bott of the Technology Strategy Board (TSB), the government-backed agency that promotes the development of new technologies and is coordinating the national demonstration project. "There's a lot of people buying new cars anyway so the question is how quickly can we get credible alternatives out there?"
Moving the UK's drivers onto cleaner forms of road transport would not be addressed by a single piece of technology, said Bott, and so the demonstration project had been designed to try out different cars in different places. "We get to find out what we can't do and we get a whole bunch of new problems that are real. We get confidence that we're on the right path or the knowledge that we need to change."
One branch of the trial will involve around 40 of BMW's Mini E available to those living in Oxford and south-east England. The 12-month project will evaluate the technical and social aspects of living with an all-electric vehicle and scientists at Oxford Brookes University will keep track of the drivers.
Anyone interested in taking part will need to meet certain criteria. "You'll have to have a garage, for example, and you'll have to have a fairly modern electrical wiring system," said Emma Lowndes of Mini UK. "A conventional cable on a normal socket would take over 10 hours to charge the Mini's battery. We're talking with Scottish and Southern Energy about putting in a 32 amp box into homes which would mean a charging time of just over 4 hours."
The cost of the Mini E has not been finalised but, in a similar scheme in the United States, the company charged customers around $850 (£520) per month to lease the car, a cost that included maintenance and insurance.
In Glasgow, 40 battery-powered cars will be made available by Peugeot, the local council and in partnership with the battery company Axeon. Scottish Power will provide 40 charging points around Glasgow and, during the year-long trial, the cars will be monitored using GPS to record the number and length of individual journeys. That data will be analysed by researchers at Strathclyde University.
Mercedes-Benz will make 100 of its latest electric Smart cars available in the west Midlands and in London."We're asking the public to come forward and apply to be one of the drivers of these vehicles," said Dermot Kelly, managing director of Mercedes-Benz cars.
"What we want is a diverse group who are commuting to work every day, who have the ability to charge their cars at home. The power supply companies will be supplying smart metering to work out when people would charge their cars up and when they would use them."
Kelly said he wanted to know how people used electric cars. "What we're hoping to learn is ... what we need to do to make the car as friendly and adaptable as possible to people's lifestyle."
For those who want their environmentally friendly cars with a bit more power, the EEMS Accelerate consortium — a group of small independent manufacturers — are making 21 electric sports cars available. These will include models from the Lightning car company, Westfield and Delta Motorsport. In addition, wind energy company Ecotricity will build and test an electric sports car that it claims will be the world's first charged only using energy from wind turbines.
Friends of the Earth's transport campaigner Tony Bosworth welcomed the new scheme, but said: "Ministers must boost the UK's flagging renewable energy industry because electric vehicles are only as green as the power they run on. Low-carbon vehicles are certainly needed, but we need broader changes to make the necessary cuts in transport emissions. Urgent action is needed to get people out of their cars by making public transport, cycling and walking more attractive options."
The government's demonstration project will also examine people's attitudes and behaviour around owning electric cars. Some people might hesitate to buy a typical electric car that might only have a range of 100 miles on a full charge, said Bott, but their attitudes might change if they tried the cars in question or realised that 95% of all UK journeys tend to be under 25 miles.
The demonstrations announced today are part of the government's wider £250m electric car strategy, unveiled in April, which includes potential incentives of up to £5,000 for consumers to buy electric cars. London's mayor, Boris Johnson, has also announced his intent to make the city the electric car capital of Europe. He wants to introduce 100,000 electric cars to the capital's streets and build an infrastructure of 25,000 charging points in public streets, car parks and shops.
Electric car top trumps
Top speed: 95mph
Range: 150 miles
Charging time: Around 12 hours on a standard household socket
Cost: unknown but around $850 per month in the US
Good points: It's a Mini
Bad points: The back seats are taken up with a whopping battery
Cool factor: 5 out of 5
Smart Electric Drive
Top speed: 60mph
Range: 50-70 miles
Charging time: Full recharge from flat in 8 hours on a standard household socket
Good points: Nippy, perfect for cities
Bad points: Still looks like a toy car
Cool factor: 3 out of 5
Top speed: 130mph
Range: 180 miles
Charging time: 4.5 hours on standard household socket
Good points: sat nav, MP3 player, DAB digital radio and digital engine sound
Bad points: We don't know the cost but it doesn't look as though it'll be cheap
Cool factor: 4 out of 5
Peugeot eExpert Teepee
Top speed: 70mph
Range: up to 100 miles
Charging time: Unknown Good points: carries eight adults
Bad points: It's a box on wheels. Not the most stylish thing
Cool factor: 2 out of 5
This piece originally appeared in The Guardian.
It is a good idea. The electric car is the future trend. Ihis will solve the envoirment and power problem.
No mention of the other essential infrastructure development that could truly make the electric car a winner, and that is battery-swap stations!
These programs ALL seem to have the same basic flaw, and that is viewing the battery as part of the car! Shai Agassi of "Better Place" will sell people the car, but his company owns the batteries thank you very much. He compares buying the EV AND battery to buying not just a car, but the whole oil well for that car, all with the first purchase. No. He has a better economic and energy model.
1. Sell them electric cars but the battery remains the responsibility of the supplier.
2. Provide an integrated GPS SatNav trip planner that informs the driver of where all the charging points are AND where all the BATTERY SWAP garages are. This is missing from the plans above! The battery swaps are automated, much like driving through a car-wash only much faster... faster than fueling up on conventional petroleum even!
3. Pay the person a discount if they have to swap their batteries over 50 times a year, because that is inconveniencing the driver.
4. This overcomes the whole "Don't want to have to charge for 4 hours if I drive out too far" aversion.
See his talk to TED here. Being implemented in Israel over the next few years.
I forgot to add, Renault are doing 100 THOUSAND of these cars in 2010. Plans are for selling millions within a few years.
Makes the UK's plan look like so much navel gazing.