Consequences of an electric transport system

24Feb09

For me, there is little doubt, that the future of private transport, at least in Europe, is electric. I said that I would return to this subject: so, what would be the consequences of an electric transport system?

1./ Increase demand for renewable energy sources.

To supply the entire UK private transport fleet with renewable energy would require an additional 16% of new renewable energy supply. At a capital cost of €1M per MW that is equivalent to € billion of additional investment.

2./ New players will enter the ‘retail fuel’ market.

Suddenly vehicle users will become an important market for electricity generators, distributors and retailers.

3./ The conventional fuel suppliers will be displaced.

Conventional fuel suppliers will be displaced by electricity suppliers. But as transport fuel represents a multibillion dollar market and the key players are amongst the largest companies on the planet, they are unlikely to go quietly. Either they will protect their turf, co-opt the new entrants, or develop a new model for their retail business.

4./ New Infrastructure will be needed.

While electric vehicles will benefit from the existing electricity infrastructure, there will still be the need to develop an accessible, rapid charging infrastructure for individual vehicle users. Most car owners in Europe do not park their cars in a private garage, but rather on the street, often minutes from their home. They won’t be able to simply plug their car in as some suggest. The same is true in the US, where there are 247 million cars  but only 53 million garages, according to Richard Lowenthal, CEO of Coulomb Technologies.

5./ Who will develop the best light, compact, durable battery.

The one outstanding technical challenge for electric vehicles is the battery. The businesses that are able to develop a light, compact, durable, rapidly rechargeable battery will be amongst the biggest winners.

6./ Daily electricity demand profile will change.

Electric vehicles will significantly change the daily electricity demand profile – further augmenting the evening peak. This will mean the need for additional spare capacity in the grid and smart meters for load balancing and shifting.

7./ Vehicle fuel costs will fall.

Electric vehicle fuel costs will be about one-third of the fuel costs of a conventional vehicle[1], and less again once we take into account rising petrol and diesel prices (yes, they will rise again). Amongst less well–off sectors of the community this will free-up a little more discretionary income. Moreover, vehicle users will no longer be hostage to high petrol prices the day before long weekends!!

8./ Expansion of electric vehicles to public transport.

Once ensconced in the private transport sector, electric technology will quickly enter the public transport sector.

9./ Electricity can flow both ways.

Electricity could flow both ways from an electric vehicle once it is plugged-in. There are certainly technical issues to be addressed and we would need a smart grid to manage the load, but it is possible that electric vehicles could become an important store of renewable energy and a source of back-up electricity for the grid. Cars could be charged overnight, used in the morning and evening for the return journey to the office, and left to charge and discharge to the grid during the afternoon, as required by electricity suppliers.

10./ More cars on the road

One of the interesting implications of the roll-out of electric vehicles (in my view) will be an increase in the number of vehicles that households own. Most urban European and American households will not replace their existing (paid-off?) conventional vehicles with an electric vehicle with reduced range. Rather, they will add the new electric vehicle to their family fleet, use the electric vehicle for daily urban driving, and use the conventional vehicle for longer trips. The net result will be a reduction in fuel use, a reduction in emissions, a reduction in congestion, no compromise in lifestyle and mobility, and increasing car sales. This latter point will be much appreciated by the struggling car industry.

Just some of the implications of an electric transport system.

Notes:

1. Fuel cost per kilometre is a function of the fuel price and the fuel efficiency of the vehicle. For an electric vehicle: European household electricity prices are euro 0.2/kWh and the vehicle efficiency is about 8km/kWh. This gives us a fuel cost of 2.5 eurocents per km for an electric vehicle. For a conventional vehicel: fEuropean fuel prices are euro 1.20/litre and the vehicle efficiency of an efficient  compact car is 6litre per 100km. This gives us a fuel cost of 7.2 eurocents per km.

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