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Topic Title: The future rollout of low carbon vehicles
Topic Summary: Political and societal factors are more important than technological and economic ones
Created On: 18 July 2012 11:04 AM
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 18 July 2012 11:04 AM
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pmbrown

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If political will and societal impetus are lacking, then fundamental change in the rollout of low carbon vehicles will not come about.

So what do you think could be the triggers for a major culture change affecting attitudes to carbon emissions? Will public acceptability ever be strong enough to overcome the inertia and bring about the political intervention needed for mass adoption of LCVs? Let me know what you think?
 18 July 2012 01:58 PM
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ectophile

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The only trigger I see is cost.

At the moment, battery cars are either rubbish or expensive. When a decent car is available such that, with a modest government subsidy, it costs the same as a normal car, then people will start buying it.

I don't see any technology other than rechargeable batteries taking over in the near future. There are so many completely incompatible technologies*, and I haven't seen any convincing argument as to why we should use any of them.

*Hydrogen, zinc-air batteries, compressed air, flywheels and probably others I've forgotten.

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S P Barker BSc PhD MIET
 18 July 2012 02:40 PM
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bpsbrooks

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Paula
A good question about why the adoption has been so very low. It would be interesting to see if car usage has reduced as a result of the recession (with consequent reductions in employment needing cars for work, and / or reductions in disposable income for use of cars for pleasure). These would affect living / operational costs - and I, for one, am now using trains and buses a lot more than I did two years ago as advance fares and travel passes enable lower travel costs.

But the capital cost of EVs (even with government subsidies) is high, and the fuel efficiency that they promise is being challenged by car manufacturers developing cheaper, more efficient petrol / diesel vehicles.

Then there is the range issue. Even though we are told that most journeys are short enough for EV, and perhaps this is the cultural point, how can users be convinced not to worry about being stranded by a flat battery when away from home? If every car park had charging points, would that address that problem? Is it a chicken and egg problem - without charging points, people will not use EVs, and without more EVs, investors will not supply charging points!

And, as a result of technical improvements and choice of materials, many cars now last well beyond 100,000 miles, and are used for 10+ years, so depreciation is not so significant in through-life cost of ownership terms. However, the longevity, replacement options and replacement costs for batteries are not clear, so deprecation of what are still seen as expensive cars remains an issue.

Schemes for swapping discharged batteries for fresh ones at, say, motorway service stations (as Wells Fargo perfected with horses in the USA in the 19th century), seem to have gone quiet.

So, apart from the technophiles and early adopters, what is there to persuade the millions of annual car buyers to enter this market? Pushing up the cost of petrol and diesel to levels to force a change in the automotive energy source market would be politically very difficult (and would need differentials between fuel prices for cars vs heavy lorries, etc). Conversely, the appetite for larger subsidies for EV might help, but would also be very difficult in today's economy.

So, can technical solutions be found to the short-range, short-life EV energy sources that also bring down the costs of ownership? Is that not what engineers and technologists should be striving to do? Politically driven cultural change is, I suggest, impossible today, but making products that meet customers' needs and expectations (driven by the day's economic circumstances) will do it anyway.

Or, is there another solution out there?

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 19 July 2012 10:50 AM
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amillar

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I'm not quite clear what we mean by low carbon vehicles? My understanding (and I may well be wrong here as I am not an expert) is that in the UK at present the whole life carbon emissions from electric vehicles is as high, or higher, than for internal combustion engines. The argument there seems to be more about reducing polution in the cities that actually reducing carbon emissions. But I may have my facts wrong here, and of course it depends heavily on how the electricity is sourced.

Hybrid vehicles seem a better solution, but again the environmental impact of the batteries (production, disposal, and life) is a serious issue.

Does anyone here know of an environmental audit of IC v. Electric v. Hybrid? Best guess is that the answer will be "it all depends..."

But as to the low take up, as a "light green" I guess I'm in the prime market for at least a hybrid - my daily journey being far to long for an electric. But I can't afford it, simple as that. (By coincidence I got a email yesterday from Volvo trying to sell me their new hybrid V60. The deposit on this would be 5 times the amount I paid for my (aged) V40 last lear.)

I suppose my feeling is that those with the buying power don't (on average) care about the environmental impact, those who care don't (on average) have the money to make the choice. So I guess that's coming down to the fact that in my view it would require political intervention.

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Andy Millar CEng MIET CMgr MCMI

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"The aim of argument, or of discussion, should not be victory, but progress." Joseph Joubert
 19 July 2012 11:06 PM
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ectophile

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Originally posted by: g3xoi

Is it, perhaps, that the car makers are trying to run before they can walk?



Should they start with a city car, one which has, say 50 mile range and 50 m.p.h. Perhaps a two-seater, like a modern version of the bubble cars of the 1950s



This might sell, and at a price that one could afford



Then, as technology improved,particularly in the battery area, they could move up to more convetionally sized cars for the open road.



Just a thought!


The trouble is, you can already buy a cheap "city car" for around £8000, that carries 4 people and does over 70MPH. And if you pick the right model, you will pay little or no road tax in the UK.

No half-decent electric car can compete with that.

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S P Barker BSc PhD MIET
 21 July 2012 10:43 PM
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ectophile

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Originally posted by: g3xoi

You can also buy a steamroller, but that was not the question!


But the point is whether or not there will be a significant shift over to non-fossil fuelled cars. So long as you can get a petrol or diesel car that has a higher specification and at a lower price than an electric one, few people are going to switch.

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S P Barker BSc PhD MIET
 22 July 2012 04:49 PM
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jcm256

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Why did the LPG fuel not really take off in a big way, only guessing, but was it because refill station hard to find, or resale value of vehicle, or the tank in the boot taking up space, (think there is tank made to fit in place of the spare wheel for taxis), or the cost of conversion. LPG is half the cost of petrol however, could you trust the government not to raise fuel duty. I know it is not suitable for diesel engines but think diesel engines can run in mixture of diesel/LPG. Well if they have 1000 years of shale gas as they said, in the UK. 1000 years of low cost clean burn fuel, what more could you want. Note: not sure, (Natural gas is it suitable bus or car) One snag with LPG ship waiting off shore to see where it gets the best price, have seen the dismay myself working (inspecting in main storage intake area) where the load went to China.


http://www.lpg-cars.co.uk/faq/

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Jcm I Eng MIET
 22 July 2012 10:51 PM
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ectophile

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I suspect there's a lot of chicken-and-egg with LPG cars. Nobody wants an LPG car if you can't find anywhere to refuel it, but nobody wants the expense of setting up LPG pumps if there are no cars using it.

Electric cars may have the same problem - people need charging points for their cars, but nobody is going to provide them until there are enough cars to make it worthwhile.

I can see electric cars gradually gaining ground as a second car in two-car families, where there's a garage or driveway to plug it in. For a short commute, or a trip to the shops, an electric car is fine, even without charging points anywhere else.

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S P Barker BSc PhD MIET
 23 July 2012 08:31 AM
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rogerbryant

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I can see two different ways that increased use of low carbon (I am assuming that the OP means electric) vehicles can be achieved:

1) Produce a vehicle with sufficent range and short recharge time that it can be used for all journeys.

2) Reduce the costs of having two vehicles, a small electric one for local use and a 'conventional one for higher loads/longer journeys.

1) Is not realistic with current technologies. A fuel cell system may work but may well require a different (hydrogen, ethanol,...?) refueling infrastructure. There may be some further work to be done in the hybrid/range extender vehicles but these carry a significant cost and weight penalty.

2) Requires changing the current insurance, registration, road tax system. Several mainland European countries have a system whereby you have one set of registration plates that can be swopped between vehicles. You pay the insurance premium and road tax for the largest/most powerful car and a small fire and theft supplement for the other one.
This also enable the intermediate step of owning a small economical vehicle for low occupancy in town use and a larger, may be an estate, car for travelling with the familly at weekends.
I appreciate that you have to cover depreciation and maintenance on both cars, but this still offers a significant running cost reduction.

Best regards

Roger
 23 July 2012 04:56 PM
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amillar

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Originally posted by: rogerbryant
2) Reduce the costs of having two vehicles, a small electric one for local use and a 'conventional one for higher loads/longer journeys.
2) Requires changing the current insurance, registration, road tax system. Several mainland European countries have a system whereby you have one set of registration plates that can be swopped between vehicles. You pay the insurance premium and road tax for the largest/most powerful car and a small fire and theft supplement for the other one.

This also enable the intermediate step of owning a small economical vehicle for low occupancy in town use and a larger, may be an estate, car for travelling with the familly at weekends.


I think that's very interesting. We have two cars, but both have to be of reasonable size and range to cope with our jobs, neither are really suitable for nipping a mile down to the shops. It has long annoyed me that there is no cheap way of having a low energy vehicle to do this with. It's like the fairly common practice of a having a software licence that covers your work and home PC, as long as you don't use both at once.

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Andy Millar CEng MIET CMgr MCMI

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"The aim of argument, or of discussion, should not be victory, but progress." Joseph Joubert
 15 August 2012 12:54 PM
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melanieosborne

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The government are pushing these are pushing these 'low carbon vehicles' via tax breaks and subsidies and manufacturers are slowly improving the cars and recharging points are increasing in number. But the public still aren't going for them. Only 1000 electric vehicles were bought in the UK during 2011 Guardian report here.

Aside from the upfront cost, lack of range, charging infrastructure and poor battery life, the thing that really worries me is unless the electricity used to charge the batteries is produced from renewables, why bother?
nipping a mile down to the shops

And do we need to make all those car journeys anyway? If I can have three children under 5 and live without a car to get to work/nursery/school/shops then surely nearly everyone can?
 15 August 2012 01:33 PM
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rogerbryant

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"Aside from the upfront cost, lack of range, charging infrastructure and poor battery life, the thing that really worries me is unless the electricity used to charge the batteries is produced from renewables, why bother?"

Two points here I think, both relating to urban use:

1) An electric vehicle is generally more efficient in stop start conditions than an IC engined one (hence the hybrids), although with engine stop start technology the gap is reducing.

2) It may well be better to burn the fossil fuels in a large power station where the emmisions can be more closely controlled then emmitting them at street level in a highly populated area.

"And do we need to make all those car journeys anyway? If I can have three children under 5 and live without a car to get to work/nursery/school/shops then surely nearly everyone can?"

If you are in the UK and can do this you are quite lucky. There are many quite sizeable comunities with no or very limited public transport links and local shopping.

Best regards

Roger
 15 August 2012 02:23 PM
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melanieosborne

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Roger, according to the UK Government's National Travel Survey 2010 85% of UK households live within a 6 minute walk of a bus stop. It also says that a large majority of households were able to access by either foot or public transport within 15 minutes a shop selling groceries (92%), chemist (85%), Post Office (85%) and a GP surgery (81%). SO I would put it to you that rather than being very lucky to be able to do this in the UK, I am in fact one of a large majority for whom this is possible.

To answer your other point
2) It may well be better to burn the fossil fuels in a large power station where the emmisions can be more closely controlled then emmitting them at street level in a highly populated area.

Pumping combustion products at street level is not desirable, but this is not the problem that this thread is seeking to address. We are talking about the roll out of Low Carbon Vehicles. I would say that an electric car charged by a coal fired power station is not a Low Carbon Vehicle.
 15 August 2012 03:03 PM
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rogerbryant

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"85% of UK households live within a 6 minute walk of a bus stop"

This may well be correct but is also somewhat limited. The survey also considered availability to be at least one bus per hour. In this case for rural populations the result dropped to nearer 50%. The other area not taken into consideration is first and last buses. When I lived in England there was a bus between the town I lived in and the next town where I worked, but it could not get me there for an 8 am start. and to get the last bus home I would have to leave work by 6:30 pm.

Best regards

Roger
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