Electric Vehicles 101
by Pam McKinley
Electric vehicles are great for the environment and your wallet, and amazing to drive. A guide about owning and driving an electric vehicle (EV) in New Zealand can be found in The New Zealand Electric Car Guide. The NZ government has also put out a guide at EECA. If you are on Facebook there is the NZ EV Owners group, plus Dunedin EV Owners has a Facebook page and monthly email newsletter for local owners and anyone interested in EV topics.
What if I were to introduce to you a new kind of engine – the internal combustion engine (or ICE as they are often referred to). These vehicles are relatively cheap to purchase but run on a fuel that is on average 20 per cent efficient. Their owners are then locked into a lifetime cycle of expensive consumables. These owners may even suffer from “cost anxiety” over their fuel choice – the feeling that their car is literally burning their money out of their tailpipes.
There is no cheap, home-refuelling alternative for these internal combustion vehicles. The fossil fuel that powers these vehicles in our country is imported at great cost to the planet in terms of geopolitical imbalance, war and degradation to the environment – the latest major oil spills in the last six months haven’t even made the evening news.
What if I were to tell you the internal combustion engine produces noxious gases as a side product of propulsion and that these toxic fumes are released directly to the open air. Aside from adding to our national health budget through respiratory disease, these gases add to the burden of global carbon emissions.
The world has met and agreed that something has to be done. And urgently. New statistics looking at the world’s current carbon budget tell us that the potential carbon emissions from oil and gas in the world’s currently operating fields will take us to beyond 1.5 degrees warming.
We need to quit our addiction to oil. It needs to stay in the ground, but no doubt it is a complex issue.
At the pointy end of the stick is renewable power generation and a radical shift in the way we transport ourselves. One of the key drivers of carbon emissions comes from road transport and a drastic shift has been identified towards targeting the uptake of electric vehicles (EVs). Last year it was calculated that the last new gasoline-powered vehicles could be sold no later than 2035, if we were to keep global warming to 1.5 degrees, the most stringent of the targets set by the Paris agreement. (This year in January we had already reached 1.39 degrees, so already this date needs revision - the 2035 date assumed that the last fossil-fuel vehicles would remain on the roads until 2050). 2035 is also earlier than the phase-out date preferred by many car makers, but then it would have to be. They need to uphold the illusion of the status quo, because they have lagged behind the development curve of hybrid and all-electric car technology. The sale of new petrol cars is the investment which car manufacturer’s shareholders are seeking from the new-car buying public, in order to fund their next suite of clean tech vehicles within their brand.
Your next car will almost certainly be an EV.
What’s it like driving an EV? They drive like a conventional car but are more fun. Take one for a test drive to find out why. They have regenerative power generation and unlike conventional petrol cars which need primitive gear ratios in order to accelerate the vehicle, electric motors give electric cars instant torque, creating strong and smooth acceleration.
They are cheap to run – equivalent to 30c litre /$3 per 100km (at overnight charge) and cheap to maintain. While I acknowledge internal combustion engines are engineering marvels, running on hundreds if not thousands of moving parts calibrated to within a thousandth of an inch, they are also prone to wearing out and needing repair and maintenance at monotonously regular intervals. EVs have fewer moving parts than a conventional ICE and are cheaper to maintain. Your local mechanic can continue to provide your WOF or VINZ will now offer a special service for electric vehicles at testing stations at the same time as WOF checks.
Charge at home – some power companies offer cheaper off-peak rates. This will provide most if not all the power you need for your daily driving needs. If you need to charge during the day away from home, there are increasing numbers of rapid and opportunity fast chargers in Dunedin city and a nationwide network being rolled out by various charging providers across the country. You can see where the current charging points are on an app or online map called plugshare, for a window on charging stations opening across NZ in the near future you can check out charge.net’s charging map. Charge.net is but one of the private companies rolling out charging infrastructure across NZ. This week they announced a joint venture with BMW to bring forth their plans to install the remaining 80 rapid chargers to electrify the major highway routes of NZ by 2018.Power companies, such as Delta, and energy stations (that was a great piece of foresight and rebranding by Z “Energy” by the way) are also partnering to provide alternatives to fossil-fuels in the very near future.
The great poise….
FAQ – RANGE. The average daily travel by car in New Zealand is less than 29 km – easily within the range of EVs, and 90% of all journeys are under 90 km. (For Blueskin Bay readers an average round trip to Dunedin may be around 40km just in and out with maybe 60km return for trip and ancillary running around.) The range of the Nissan LEAF, which is the EV model I am most familiar with, is around 120km, depending on terrain and weather when there is an increased auxiliary load (heaters, lights and wipers and other things for winter driving). There are ways and means to extend driving range or you could opt for a more expensive luxury model such as the Tesla which has a range of 320-420km depending on model (and of course your budget). Battery technology is improving all the time - longer range LEAFs are coming and the first of the cheaper Tesla models aimed at the family market are due to roll off the production starting in 2017 (2018 for Aoteaora New Zealand).
FAQ - CHARGING INFRASTRUCTURE. The chicken and egg argument goes that people will buy EVs when there is infrastructure. But for people travelling to and from work over the ranges already discussed the infrastructure already exists. You can charge your car as you would your cell-phone – from any three-pin plug in your home. Ideally you would have a plug that was within easy access to where you park your vehicle. So-called opportunity charging and some fast charging is increasingly appearing at energy stations, shopping malls, tourism destinations, accommodation sites, public hot spots (museums, libraries, hospitals, universities, schools, supermarkets). Unless you are transiting between towns or travelling vast distances within city limits most of your charging needs can be done at home and in many cases you would only to charge every second or even third day.
The EV diaries
We are a family of two adults and two teenagers involved in sport and other activities outside of school, which means like many parents in Dunedin we spend the hours after 3.30PM and Saturday mornings driving the width and breadth of Dunedin. While the after-school taxi juggle is seen by many as a normal way to engage our kids in sport (i.e. investing in their future health) the irony is for every kilometre we travel by ICE there is a cost to the planet that no one is paying. We car pool with other families in the same boat, we have bottlenecks, we spend a lot of time at the Edgar Centre which is an amazing facility but it is poorly serviced by public transport. We have had an EV for over a year and we haven’t had to break our stride in terms of after school madness. We are saving around $50-60 per week in fuel expenses and we are doing it with zero carbon emissions.
For those longer local radial trips out from Dunedin - from NEV in Dunedin on a full charge we can comfortably travel to and from Taieri Mouth return, either side of the Peninsula return, Outram return, to the Airport and back. The longest trip we have done in the last year return was to Tumai, north of Waikouaiti – that would be the limit for a return trip in our early model EV. (As the bird flies Taieri Mouth is further but the road to Waikouaiti has the steep motorway roller-coaster hills and the mighty Kilmog to contend with.)
For longer inter-city journeys, Rapid charging infrastructure installed at strategic staging points along major highways, is enabling EVs to leave town and conveniently travel the length and breadth of NZ. Three Rapid charging stations are due to open this year or early 2017 which will enable for longer distance trips north and south out of Dunedin. Refuelling at a rapid charger takes around 30 minutes – time to have a comfort stop and refreshments. This is also in line with the “driver reviver” safety campaign run by Land Transport NZ to prevent driver fatigue. It’s a less stressful way to travel and we will see increasing numbers of café and other tourism ventures opting in to the charging network, via plug share, as a way to service and entertain travellers and also to entice the travelling public to their destination.
For out-of-town longer trips our family personally uses an on-demand model – we borrow a car from a family member or rent from a car hire firm. For the two times a year that we want to head to the lakes or mountains we hire a 4-wheel drive vehicle - just because we have this desire to drive a 4WD twice a year doesn’t mean we feel the need to own a gas-guzzling SUV with bull-bars on the front for our every-day driving needs around town (how many bulls do we have roaming the streets of Dunedin anyway that we suddenly have all these vehicles that need protecting from them on our city roads?!) We also hire a ute if we need a vehicle of this nature but likewise we don’t feel the need to own one for the occasional times we require a vehicle of this type.
EVs are a good-practice solution that we need to embrace sooner rather than later to mitigate the effects of climate change. Carbon taxes are not a vote winner but they will come as the world moves to carbon neutral and carbon negative economies. At that point on a level playing field, petrol cars will become a financial liability.
At the moment cost is the biggest barrier to EV uptake. Although the initial purchase price of an EV is up there, the operational costs are exponentially lower and if you consider the total cost of owning a vehicle, the EV comes out ahead.
Second hand late model low mileage EVs with full charging capacity are now available in Dunedin and across the country from specialist dealers, priced around the $20,000 ball park, plus or minus $ depending on model, age, mileage and battery capacity, as one might expect. These vehicles mostly out of Japan take advantage of heavy subsidies in the Japanese domestic market which the NZ second-hand market is able to capitalise on. In addition the NZ government has just extended its exemption on Road User Charges until approximately 2021 when it is thought there will be 64,000 EVs on NZ roads. New EVs are also being imported and the range of product available is increasing every month. EVs are being developed by the major car manufacturers and new brands (more familiar as computer hardware brands) will become increasingly familiar. All types of vehicle including, utes, vans, buses, light and heavy trucks are getting the EV treatment.
We saved the Ozone – we can save the climate (a bit)
The Great Fridge Revolution of 1987 saw ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) banned by the ratification of the Montreal Protocol, an international agreement signed in 1987 to phase out the production of CFCs. Since then the use of CFCs has fallen more than 75 percent from its 1988 peak. As a result of collective international efforts, the ozone layer is healing itself and is expected to recover by the middle of this century.
We can mitigate the effects of climate change. Driving an electric car produces 80 per cent fewer CO2 emissions than a petrol car – making an EV much better for the environment. Closer to home Dunedin has a high rate of car ownership and thus a dependence on imported fuel. 40 per cent of Dunedin’s carbon emission come from cars. Even when you take into account the embedded carbon from production, there are 60 per cent fewer carbon emissionsacross the life cycle of the EV (cradle to grave – see EECA full life cycle analysis). So EVs need to be a part of our immediate transport solution, particularly in areas of high urban density.
Internationally cities are opting for a different model, moving away from car ownership and moving to car sharing schemes and mobility services. Car share schemes serve discrete communities, cities and regions. In the Netherlands there is an EV-car-share scheme specifically servicing the interests of students, in Los Angeles a scheme is addressing the transport deficit in a low socio economic area. Everywhere they address traffic congestion and pollution. Studies have shown that for every car added to a car share scheme, between nine and 13 cars are taken off the road. They knit together existing forms of active and public transport, made easy by the evolution of smart phone technology. E-Car share schemes are also being set up in Auckland, Wellington, Tauranga and Christchurch. If you would like to know more about a feasibility study for a similar scheme in Dunedin please fill in this online Survey.
Around the world
The Netherlands, Norway, Germany and Sweden are now vying for the podium to be the first country to ban non-electric car sales from 2025. India and China are in hot pursuit. In the UK the number of public EV charge points will soon outnumber petrol stations. Many states in the US have progressive EV policies – an outstanding exception being Michigan which has simultaneously taken an oppositional stance by banning the sale of Teslas, while at the same time increasing its investment in Tesla shares by 224% – go figure. The irony meter is off the scale and smoking with this one - Nero and fiddle playing come to mind. Many cities have created carbon free areas within their city precincts. Paris has a car-free day on the city's most popular avenue, Champs-Elysée, once a month. In other cities increasingly pedestrian-only retail sectors are serviced by park-and-walk hubs or other forms of radial transport into, and out of these areas. The space freed up by unnecessary car parks is being converted into shared walkways, seating, park and public garden areas. What will Dunedin’s response be?