Largest trial of electric vehicles

The British government unveiled the world’s largest coordinated trial of environmentally friendly vehicles this week.

The £25-million scheme, which is designed to accelerate the introduction of electric cars in the United Kingdom, will allow people to take part in long-term tests of everything from electric Minis and Smart city cars to sports cars and electric vans.

From the end of this year, about 340 of the vehicles will be available to qualifying members of the public in eight places around the country including Oxford, London, Glasgow, Birmingham and the north-east of England. Power companies, regional development agencies and universities will also be involved in coordinating the experiments, building infrastructure such as charging points and analysing the way the cars are used.

“Here’s an opportunity to position the UK as a world leader in the adoption of this technology by supporting the largest-ever trial of such vehicles,” said Paul Drayson, the science minister. “That encourages companies working in this field to do their research and development here.

“That knowledge generated by the trial then gets fed back to the follow-on systems that come through.”

About 22% of the UK’s carbon emissions come from transport. According to a study for the department for transport, widespread adoption of electric vehicles capable of a range of 50km or more could cut road transport carbon emissions in half.

“We have about 33-million cars on the road at the moment and it’s going to go up by another 4 to 5-million in the next 10 years,” said David Bott of the Technology Strategy Board, the government-backed agency that promotes the development of new technologies and is coordinating the national demonstration project. “There’s a lot of people buying new cars anyway so the question is: how quickly can we get credible alternatives out there?”

Moving the UK’s drivers on to cleaner forms of road transport would not be addressed by a single piece of technology, said Bott, and so the demonstration project had been designed to try out different cars in different places. “We get to find out what we can’t do and we get a whole bunch of new problems that are real. We get confidence that we’re on the right path or the knowledge that we need to change.”

One branch of the trial will involve around 40 of BMW’s Mini Es available to people living in Oxford and south-east England. The 12-month project will evaluate the technical and social aspects of living with an all-electric vehicle and scientists at Oxford Brookes University will keep track of the drivers.
Anyone interested in taking part will need to meet certain criteria.

“You’ll have to have a garage, for example, and you’ll have to have a fairly modern electrical wiring system,” said Emma Lowndes of Mini UK. “A conventional cable on a normal socket would take over 10 hours to charge the Mini’s battery. We’re talking with Scottish and Southern Energy about putting in a 32-amp box into homes, which would mean a charging time of just over four hours.”

The cost of the Mini E has not been finalised but, in a similar scheme in the United States, the company charged customers about $850 a month to lease the car, a cost that included maintenance and insurance.

In Glasgow, 40 battery-powered cars will be made available by Peugeot, the local council and in partnership with the battery company Axeon.

Scottish Power will provide 40 charging points around Glasgow and, during the year-long trial, the cars will be monitored by satellite to record the number and length of individual journeys. That data will be analysed by researchers at Strathclyde University.

Mercedes-Benz will make 100 of its latest electric Smart cars available in the West Midlands and in London.

And for those who want their environmentally friendly cars with a bit more power, the EEMS Accelerate consortium—a group of small independent manufacturers—are making 21 electric sports cars available. These will include models from the Lightning car company, Westfield and Delta Motorsport. In addition, the wind energy company Ecotricity will build and test an electric sports car that it claims will be the world’s first charged using only energy from wind turbines.

Friends of the Earth’s transport campaigner, Tony Bosworth, welcomed the new scheme, but said: “Ministers must boost the UK’s flagging renewable energy industry because electric vehicles are only as green as the power they run on. Low-carbon vehicles are certainly needed, but we need broader changes to make the necessary cuts in transport emissions. Urgent action is needed to get people out of their cars by making public transport, cycling and walking more attractive options.”

The government’s demonstration project will also examine the attitudes and behaviour of owners of electric cars. Some people might hesitate to buy a typical electric car that might only have a range of 150km on a full charge, said Bott, but their attitudes might change if they tried the cars in question or realised that 95% of all UK journeys tend to be under 40km. The demonstrations announced today are part of the government’s wider £250-million electric car strategy, unveiled in April, which includes potential incentives of up to £5 000 for consumers to buy electric cars.—



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