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Sunny future for EVs

Author : Paul Wolfe

Paul Wolfe takes a look at electric vehicle charging solutions, finds out what one car
manufacturer is doing right here in the UK, and considers alternative methods of charging.

Mitsubishi i-MiEV, courtesy of Mitsubishi

Power and automation technology group, ABB, has announced that it has won a tender offer to build a network of 200 electric vehicle (EV) fast-charging stations throughout Estonia.

The order from the Estonian government is Europe’s largest EV charging infrastructure contract to date and creates the world’s first fast-charging infrastructure with full nationwide coverage.

ABB will start deliveries in the second quarter of 2012 and plans to have all Terra systems direct current chargers running by the end of the year. As part of the five-year contract, ABB will also deliver network operating support services for the chargers in the field and the backbone IT architecture. ABB won the order with its partners G4S and NOW! Innovations, which provide first-line customer support and payment solutions, respectively.

"This order shows that the rollout of EV charging infrastructure solutions is gaining momentum, and complements the recent run of small orders we’ve taken in other European countries from Original Equipment Manufacturers [OEMs] in the automotive industry and infrastructure customers,” said Ulrich Spiesshofer, Head of ABB’s

Discrete Automation and Motion division. “To be successful, this infrastructure needs to be open to any kind of electric car. Our connectivity solutions are designed to support all existing and future connection standards within the same network.”

The growing number of electric vehicles is driving a global market opportunity for charging solutions including sophisticated monitoring systems and software to support the electric grid.

ABB’s DC chargers have been used commercially since May 2010 and reduce charging times from eight hours, using regular alternating current, to as little as 15 to 30 minutes. All Terra systems in ABB’s rapidly expanding global installed base come with a range of connectivity features that help service operators run their network more efficiently through remote maintenance, software updates and high availability levels. ABB’s connectivity suite is compatible with the Open Charge Point Protocol (OCPP) and other commonly used standards for back-office integration, enabling real-time user authentication and authorisation.

“The Estonian government would like to ensure that driving an EV in Estonia is as comfortable and safe as driving any other car,” stated Jarmo Tuisk, Director of the Innovation and Technology Division at the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications. “The country-wide innovative fast charging network with high quality services from ABB and its partners is essential in accomplishing that task.”

The Estonian government aims to provide fast charging in all urbanised areas with more than 5,000 inhabitants. On main roads, they aim to install a fast charger every 50 kilometres, creating the highest concentration of DC chargers in Europe, by far.

The investments in electric mobility are financed by the Green Investment Scheme and funded by the export credit agency KredEx as part of the national government’s plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Indeed, Estonia offers subsidies of up to 50% for private EV purchases and in 2011, the Estonian government provided 507 Mitsubishi i-MiEV electric cars to social workers around the country.

In the UK, Mitsubishi Motors has announced that all of its franchised dealers are to become fully functioning Mitsubishi Electric Vehicle Centres from now on.

By the end of March 2012, the approved dealerships will have two fully trained EV sales personnel as well as aftersales technicians. The move is particularly exciting as Mitsubishi Motors looks forward to the arrival of its first plug-in hybrid technologies that are due to arrive in the UK within the next 18 months.

Mitsubishi Motors was the first manufacturer in the world to mass produce an electric vehicle and Lance Bradley, Managing Director of Mitsubishi Motors in the UK has stated Mitsubishi’s intentions to continue to promote and establish the EV and plugin hybrid technology in the UK market place: “The Pure EV i-MiEV has now been a reality for the last year with lots more new plug-in hybrid technology and vehicles to come to the UK soon. Our dealer network will provide excellent service and be able to offer the best advice to our retail and fleet customers.

“Staff will undertake an extensive training programme so that there is a very clear understanding of the demands and requirements of electric vehicles for consumers, as well as an awareness of the wider industry issues relating to the EV marketplace. Their after-sales departments will also comply with compulsory manufacturer training and require specialist tools to enable the service and maintenance of electric vehicles.”

All Mitsubishi EV Centres will have Mitsubishi i-MiEV demonstrator vehicles that will be available for customers to test and experience over a prolonged period so that they can discover for themselves what it is like to drive and own an electric vehicle in real-life conditions. This will make Mitsubishi the largest EV dealer network in the UK providing sales and after-sales coverage.

But that’s charging vehicles in a conventional method. There’s one company that has tackled the problem in a different way.

The EVPV project, an initiative that offsets the electricity demand created when charging electric vehicles through the use of solar power panels has been launched by tadea.

The Billingham-based not-for-profit organisation provides advice, project management and consultancy services on carbon reduction, sustainable energy, climate change and fuel poverty for households, businesses and local authorities.

The EVPV (electric vehicle solar photovoltaic) project came about following concern surrounding the sources of energy used to charge electric vehicles. Indeed, if fossil fuels are used to generate the electricity they require, the potential environmental benefits from using electric vehicles are drastically reduced.

EVPV alleviates this issue by harnessing the natural power of the sun to deliver a zero ‘well to wheel’ CO2 figure.

Importantly, tadea’s EVPV initiative supports the electric vehicle re-charging infrastructure. It brings local installers of renewable technology together as a consortium to deliver a high quantity and quality of work whilst helping to regenerate the local economy and create revenue for future investment.

The EVPV project installs, often free of charge, 7.35 – 49kWh of solar photovoltaic panels on the roofs of businesses and other commercial properties in the North of England. These solar arrays offset the power requirements of an electric vehicle re-charging post.

At RMB Toyota’s premises in Stockton-on- Tees, the additional demand for electricity will be offset by the installation of 30 PV panels. The new charging points will complement the Charge Your Car electric vehicle infrastructure in the North East.

Five such sites are to be installed in the North East before the end of March 2012 and plans for a further 95 charging points are currently being drawn up. Proposals have also been submitted that could potentially lead to the implementation of an additional 900 EV charging sites across the North of England.

Paul Jackson, tadea’s Chief Executive Officer, said: “The EVPV project is revolutionising the way we power electric vehicles, and it is significantly boosting the environmental credentials of this increasingly popular mode of transportation.

We are harnessing the power of renewable energy to offset the electricity demand required for charging electric vehicles – the environmental benefits are significant. The North East is leading the way in electric vehicle infrastructure and technology, and in providing the skills and training necessary to support it. These are fantastic times and there is a lot happening at the moment in this region. tadea are proud to play a very influential part in this.”

It's fair to say that the drive to bring electric vehicles into the mainstream is picking up speed. Entrepreneurs are jostling for position to produce this generation's 'Model T' and it's clear that major car manufacturers have entered the arena and are following in the footsteps of Mitsubishi by gearing up for mass production of electric cars.

Today's EVs come in three basic but related forms. Fully electric vehicles (FEVs), such as the Tesla Roadster, depend entirely upon battery power and external recharging: there's no backup from an internal combustion engine. High battery costs mean that FEVs are still relatively scarce. Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) are a halfway house. These have a battery that can be recharged via an external charging point, as well as a conventional onboard internal combustion engine. Hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) - the most common electrically-enabled vehicles - cannot be externally charged. These use a combination of battery and internal combustion engine power. The car's battery is charged by the engine and in some vehicles by regenerative braking.

Fully-electric vehicles are often presented as the 'gold standard' in emissions reduction, as they produce no emissions at all at the point of use. But the energy needed to recharge their batteries has to come from somewhere, so the extent to which such vehicles are responsible for indirect emissions depends on how electricity is generated. There are wider 'cradle-to-grave' environmental concerns too, especially concerning the minerals and chemicals required for manufacture.

In the UK, fully-electric vehicles produce lower per-kilometre emissions than vehicles burning petrol or diesel. That's because around a quarter of UK electricity generation comes from low carbon or zero-carbon sources, such as renewables and nuclear.

UK per-kilometre emissions are likely to fall further as carbon dependent generation is stripped out of the mix.

The environmental arguments for fully electric vehicles do not yet stack up in countries such as India and China, both of which depend heavily on coal-generated electricity. Those countries could see indirect emissions rise quickly if EV ownership takes off. But the political arguments for EV adoption are potentially unassailable. Coal-fired energy for EVs at least holds out the promise of increased personal mobility without the supply risks associated with imported oil and the emissions from coal generation will be and are being gradually addressed through cleaner combustion technologies and carbon capture.

What is clear is that it is not environmental arguments alone, but also pragmatic considerations that will influence the uptake of electric personal mobility. It's also clear that the electric vehicle sector is being strongly shaped by government interventions at national, regional and local levels.

These include everything from loan packages aimed at the vehicle industry in the US, worth in excess of $27 billion, to proposed subsidies for British motorists choosing electric vehicles. Canada and Japan are currently amongst the growing number of nations offering subsidies for EV ownership. But providing incentives for change is not all about cash handouts.

Governments around the world are also seeking to nurture consumer enthusiasm for electric vehicles with non-fiscal stimuli. These range from discounted parking to road-user charging exemptions and access to dedicated lanes on busy urban roads.

Given that low or zero carbon personal transport is likely to become essential, rather than desirable, what happens next? Two things are clear. Firstly, the success or failure of electric personal mobility is likely to depend on radical changes and improvements to existing energy infrastructure - generation as well as distribution. The ability to scale-up new infrastructure as vehicle numbers increase, and to ensure consistency and security of supply, is likely to be of critical importance. Secondly, if electric cars are to become part of our daily lives, it must be possible to charge them - and to pay for charging - as easily as we pay for petrol or diesel today. That means massive, nationwide, distribution of charging services capable of providing a universal service, as well as batteries that last long enough to make recharging an occasional - instead of constant - concern.

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