Our Big Green Debate this month is about the electric car! Guest author David Powell makes the case for the electric car as part of a sustainable transport solution. Meanwhile, our lead transport campaigner Adam McCusker, says there’s more to cars than how they’re powered. As usual there may (or may not) be a certain amount of devil’s advocate in this, and the view may not necessarily be the view of the author. Julien Pritchard
A serious campaign to confront the dominance of the internal combustion engine must embrace electric vehicles. Having driven 12,000 miles in 7 months in a Citroen Czero all electric car I can confirm the costs are significantly less than a petrol equivalent. It has an 80 mile range, charges up overnight on economy 7 electricity at a cost of approximately £1.00 and is leased for £150 per month.
I visit customers throughout Birmingham to deliver/collect flattened packing boxes. This pretty heavy duty use could not be covered by public transport or cycling. In addition to the £250 per month I reckon I’m saving – consider some of the environmental benefits
1) If all power used is generated from fossil fuels they are still rated at about 25 gms CO2 per km a quarter of the most efficient internal combustion engines- if the electricity supply is linked to Ecotricity/Good Energy then theoretically no CO2 is used. Further if you charge overnight when the grid has excess capacity you are using otherwise wasted energy.
2) They use regenerative braking so when you take your foot off the accelerator you recover a large part of your kinetic energy as you decelerate .
3) No noxious fumes or particulates to clog up the atmosphere, cause illness, or coat buildings with grime.
4) No noise pollution blighting areas near main roads and motorways.
5) Smaller and nippier than conventional vehicles as they use less road and parking space and cause less congestion.
6) In their construction the additional cost in real and carbon terms of the batteries is offset by the fact that no drive train is needed. Batteries can be recycled and can be manufactured without exploiting people in developing countries.
With a positive approach, careful planning, and occasional use of free public rapid charge points (80% recharge in 20 minutes) even the most demanding day can be covered. Cycling and walking can only ever cover a quarter of planned journeys, the electric car can cover most of the rest. David Powell
Whilst I can’t deny that electric cars are a better option than normal cars in pretty much every respect, they are still cars. By which I mean that, for most users at most times, cars are way over-engineered for the simple task of transporting one or a few people a medium distance fairly quickly.
For people who need a car to transport bulky things other than themselves or need to travel long distances, the electric car makes sense, though it only needs to be large enough for their stuff. However, we know from the statistics that, on average, car drivers are using far more energy and space than they need to.
At peak times, the average car occupancy in Birmingham is 1.2 people, whilst the average speeds of cars is less than 20mph within the inner city and rarely over 30mph in the suburbs. 25% of journeys by car are under 2 miles.
Clearly, many of these journeys can be made by bicycle or on foot. We are right to encourage this because these are the most energy efficient forms of transport and are good for us. But there are legitimate reasons for not travelling by bicycle or foot, ranging from health to distance, comfort, safety and the weather.
We don’t have to turn immediately to cars though. The production of energy and materials for cars would remain a significant strain on the Earth’s resources even if we have a world full of electric cars whose electricity is produced by renewable energy. Should we not instead focus on trying harder to stop wasting energy, like transporting empty seats?
There are many alternative sustainable transport options beyond bicycles. Electric bicycles, electric tricycles, electric motorcycles, electric scooters, quad-bikes, rickshaws as well as the Trikke (an electric three-wheeled standing scooter), one or two-seater cars like the Renault Twizy, velomobiles (aerodynamic, reclined bicycles) and even roller blades are all options for travelling various differences for various purposes. Sadly most are either considered unfashionable or aren’t thought of at all.
Cars are poorly designed and if we are serious about sustainable transport, we need to design and use transportation which serves its function in the most efficient manner rather than just copying the standard model we are used to. Adam McCusker