Electrifying the Dutch – Part 2: the proof of the pudding is in the numbers

When I was thinking about writing an article on Electric Cars in the Netherlands, my stance was that I was not willing to enter the ongoing debate on whether or not one should WANT to abandon the conventional cars or not. In fact, as I mentioned in the first part, I can fully understand the merits of a particular brand of fuel powered car on the German Autobahn, or a 4×4 in the terrain.  That’s emotion, passion, even conviction.

However, I am equally convinced that in this day and age, there is no logical reason why we should not choose an electric car over a conventional model for our daily commute and for most of business travel by car.

The most obvious factor contributing to this opinion is the fact that an electric car is much more economical to run. Contrary to common belief, this is not achieved by driving the way my grandparents do. It is mainly due to the increased efficiency of an electric engine compared to the efficiency of a conventional internal combustion engine. The running costs of an electric car are considerably less than those of a conventional car. € 50,- would buy you enough regular petrol to get you roughly 350 km. € 50,- of electricity would get you approximately 1.000 km.

However, every car, whether electric, petrol- or Flintstone-powered is less than 100% efficient, the images below, taken from the Tesla Motors Website clarifies this.

Internal combustion engines are relatively inefficient at converting on-board fuel energy to propulsion as most of the energy is wasted as heat. On the other hand, electric motors are more efficient in converting stored energy into driving a vehicle, and electric drive vehicles do not consume energy while at rest or coasting, and some of the energy lost when braking is captured and reused through regenerative braking, which captures as much as one fifth of the energy normally lost during braking. Typically, conventional gasoline engines effectively use only 15% of the fuel energy content to move the vehicle or to power accessories, and diesel engines can reach on-board efficiencies of 20%, while electric drive vehicles have on-board efficiency of around 80%.

Only when we take the entire chain of processes into account (for electric cars and conventional cars equally) we can make a fair comparison. Once again, the Tesla Motor Company has created an of excellent image to explain this.

Another significant improvement of the electric car is the Well-to-Wheel efficiency. Normally fuel consumption and CO2-emissions are measured (literally) in the car. In the case of electric cars, this is not the whole story. Obviously the CO2 and other emissions at tailpipe are zero in the case of an electric car, there are emissions during the whole process of generating, transporting electricity etc. It is understandable that, when the electricity comes from renewable sources, such as solar energy, wind, water etc the emissions are far less that when the electric cars are charged from the grid, using electricity from coal-powered power plants.

There are numerous studies being undertaken for the Dutch & European situation at this moment, but because of the increasing number of available  models, their efficiency and perhaps even more important the debate on the power sources, following the nuclear disaster in Japan, there is no real accurate study at this moment. In the US however, the Union of Concerned Scientists have released a very recent study on the electric cars in relation to the power source and grid stability in the US (This shows that even in the area’s where the grid the least stable and electricity is generated from coal, the electric car is as fuel efficient and has the same or less of an environmental impact that a relatively small car, such as a Ford Fiesta.

So, does this end the debate? No, it does not in my opinion.Yes, electric cars are more efficient, cheaper to run, have an equal or less environmental impact than conventional cars. But an electric car cannot take me to Spain, unless I have a lot of time on my hands, the number of models are limited and obviously charging times are still very long. But I feel strongly that when electric cars are combined with smart alternatives, they can and will offer a valid alternative to the ownership of a conventional car. So stay tuned for part three: “alternatives for the alternative?”

This post was originally written for and published by TEDxBinnenhof in close collaboration with Ivo Stroeken, Advisor Electric Transportation, and Max Herold, owner at Managementissues.com.

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