GREEN VIEW: Pros and cons of electric cars

Green View by Peter Gudde
Green View by Peter Gudde
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I have read many articles announcing that the latest car technology will be the solution to our environmental problems, but even I am not blind to the fact that we make decisions based on other things than whole life cost, writes Peter Gudde.

That being said, the UK car fleet is becoming more resource efficient with cars designed to be lower air pollution emitters. Improvement will take time to work through the nation’s 35 million vehicles, with last year’s car sales at their highest since 2007 at over 2 million.

Recently, I road tested one of the latest plug-in electric hatchbacks which made me wonder whether these will be the’cars of the future’? Let me share with you some pros and cons as far as I can see.

First the ‘Pros’. What initially struck me was how normal the car looked and felt. I remember the Sinclair C5; what I drove ain’t one of those.

Starting a car and driving off in absolute silence is weird but great compared to my diesel. Maybe petrol heads would miss hearing the engine rev, but once you get going all there is a little road noise. The ‘Clarkson 0-60mph’ part of driving has never been a big deal for me. Taking it out of ‘eco’ mode meant that the car was as nippy from a standing start as I would expect. This made it almost a guilt-free pleasure to accelerate away from the lights.

Our health and safety culture didn’t apply when Karl Benz was alive. In a petrol-powered car we sit on 50 litres of highly flammable material whiletrying to avoid others with the same crazy idea. With the plug-in, the biggest excitement is thinking about re-charging in the rain, which in reality is not a problem.

Now to the ‘Cons’. For significant mileage, the current battery capacity is a major cause for concern giving a limited range. However, I see this as a problem with a solution. First, the infrastructure for charging is growing rapidly with a national network of points along with free home installation available. As for battery capacity, manufacturers realise that they need to increase the distance between charges and some commentators predict ranges similar to petrol power in a couple of years.

Con (possibly moving to Pro).The bigger picture stuff around lifecycle is referred to as ‘the well to wheel’ impact. Currently, plug-ins take their power from an electricity grid reliant on coal and natural gas. Unless you are refuelling from low carbon energy sources, the CO2 emissions could be higher than a petrol engine equivalent. As we move to a lower carbon electricity supply and more efficient plug-ins, this will change significantly.

Finally, one of the major obstacles is the sale price. Even with the government grant the price will put many people off. Ultimately the market will deal with this with batteries becoming more efficient, cheaper and lighter. May I therefore suggest that you pays your money then maybe takes your plug?

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-- Peter Gudde is environment manager for St Edmundsbury and Forest Heath councils.