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Electric Cars The Road Ahead?

27th May 2011

Some modern electric cars

Electric Cars The Road Ahead?


          The price of oil continues to rise. The motorist sees his costs soaring. What contribution might electric cars to this ongoing dilemma? This was the question asked by John Lilly of Dragon Electric Vehicles when he addressed the recent meeting of Pembrokeshire South East Energy Group.

          In the early years of his career, John had been employed in the oil and gas industry. He had seen the problems caused in the mid 1970s by the first major oil crisis and had become heavily involved in energy conservation.

          He realised that as oil was a finite resource, increasing world demand would inevitably push the price even higher. There had to be another answer. Thirty years ago John built his first electric vehicle and ten years ago set up his company Dragon Electric Vehicles.

          To compete with the petrol engine is indeed a challenge. This has been developed and refined over the last hundred years. The electric vehicle is the new kid on the block. In the popular imagination these are still the ubiquitous milk floats, efficient but slow.

          Modern electric cars are more refined, faster and have a greater range. However the contrast in efficiency terms with the petrol engine is striking. Whereas the petrol engine becomes more efficient at speeds of up to 60mph, the electric car is 80% efficient at low speeds and becomes less efficient as it gains speed. At motorway speeds there is little difference in efficiency.

          The cost comparison is also interesting. Electricity is much cheaper than petrol or diesel. But when the cost of batteries is added to the equation (average 500 pa for lead acid batteries) the difference is less marked. Battery life is also a factor, with lead acid lasting three to four years and the far more expensive lithium having a projected life of ten to fifteen years.

          When range is considered, even the most recent entry to the mass market, the Nissan Leaf, only boasts a range of 100 miles on one charge and this is significantly reduced if driven at higher speeds.

          Service costs of electric cars are however cheaper as their engines has only one moving part far less to go wrong than with the conventional petrol engine.

          Over the next few years it is anticipated that seven or eight new electric cars will enter the market. All will probably show the same strengths and weaknesses. These will all be capable of motorway use, but long distance travelling will require additional battery charging. Many charging points would be needed. Fast charging is technically possible, but if undertaken by a significant number of cars at the same time would impose a huge strain on the National Grid.

          It was John's considered view that it would be a long time before we would be able to produce an electric car that could go a decent distance and be as fast as a petrol driven car.

          Government's approach was also interesting. Currently a grant of 5000 was payable on purchase of a new 'motorway capable' electric car their less efficient use! Electric cars are most effective, efficient and environmentally friendly when used on short runs ideal in modern towns. Government policy would be more constructive if this use was encouraged.

          So where does the future lie? In the short term there is a strong case for owning two cars one electric for local trips and a conventional petrol driven car for long runs. Both vehicles could then be used for work for which they were most suited.

          In the longer term as petrol prices continue to soar, petrol engines may no longer be a practical proposition and for longer journeys it may once again become the age of the train.

          The Chair thanked John for his highly objective, non-partisan and authoritative account of the practicality of the electric car.


Past Articles
13th May 2011Are electric cars the way forward?: A talk by John Lilly of Dragon Electric Vehicles.
22nd April 2011Sustainability in Action: A visit to the Science & Technology Park (Technium) in Pembroke Dock
1st April 2011A Revolution in Wind Energy?: A talk by Vaughan Griffiths from Quietrevolution, Pembroke Dock
25th February 2011Preparing for Floods: A talk by Richard Wickes of the Environment Agency
14th January 2011The Way Forward for Wind?: A talk by Steve Hack of Seren Energy
12th November 2010How Green is your Castle?: The National Trust & Global Warming
15th October 2010Challenge of the Rising Sea: The effects on the Pembrokeshire coastline
10th August 2010The beautiful Welsh coastline: Response to possible rising sea levels
18th June 2010Visit to Costain at Canaston Bridge: Not Costing the Earth
16th April 2010Feed in Tariffs: Power to the People
12th March 2010Heat Pumps & Photo Voltaic Panels: Prepare for the Goodlife
12th February 2010Parliamentary Candiates at Green Question Time in Saundersfoot
15th January 2010Weather & Climate: A Question of Energy
4th December 2009Sustainable Community Ventures: Regeneration in Pembrokeshire
13th November 2009Community Initiatives: Sustainable Wales leads by example
16th October 2009Climate Change Challenge for Candidates & Micro-generation with wind turbines
2nd October 2009A Visit to Castle Pill Wind Farm: Quiet blows the wind
11th September 2009Renewable Sustainable Energy: An Energy Survey for South East Pembrokeshire
10th July 2009A talk by Lorraine Dallmeier of Infinergy: Wind Power - Pembrokeshire's Potential
12th June 2009St. Oswald's, Jeffreyston - Pembrokeshire's Beacon of Sustainability
24th April 2009Solar Panels: Three Cheers for Sunny Pembrokeshire
13th March 2009Ashton Hayes Community Energy Reduction & Hot Water From the Sun
13th February 2009Could Pembrokeshire go carbon neutral?
14th November 2008Environment Wales to provide 'Start-Up' Funding for PSEEG
17th October 2008PSEEG to become a Registered Charity

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