Electrifying the Dutch – Part 3: alternatives for the alternative

Over the past few weeks I have written two articles on Electric Cars, part one & part two mentioning that electric cars are a valid alternative for the conventional car from an economical perspective and that these cars are offering mobility whilst considerably reducing the environmental impact. But still: can I use an electric car for my daily commute? Yes I can! Can I use an electric car to safely convey myself and my family across the Dutch countryside? Yes I can!  Can I get more than 100 km from a single charge without driving like my grandfather or without having to dress like entering an Antarctica expedition when temperatures fall? Yes I can!  Can I use an electric car to drive to Italy in my well-earned holidays? Yes I can! But I’d better make sure that I have extra time to spare.

Obviously the present electric cars do have some drawbacks which stand in the way of an one on one substitution of conventional cars by electric models.

First and foremost, an electric car needs time to charge. There is no denying that. Charging time differ from six to ten hours, which is generally more than the average motorist lingers at a petrol station. Adding injury to insult, a majority of households do not have a private parking space or the possibility to install a charging station. Luckily the number of public charging stations is steadily increasing, decreasing the need to carry around street lengths of extension wires. And most electric cars can use the fast charging protocol, decreasing the charging time till 90% to a mere 20 minutes. And if that’s still to long for you, some companies are aiming at replacing empty batteries with full ones in less then 3 minutes without the need to leave your car. The current aim is to realize well over 450 fast charging station across the Netherlands by the end of 2013, pretty much ending the feared syndrome known by all in the field of electric cars: range anxiety.

Another point to be made is that, when confronted with the limited range of a battery, electric car owners are reassessing the need for mobility and are rapidly becoming the forerunners of a new breed motorist. The route to and from work, to meetings etc used to be determined by the amount of traffic, the possibility of grabbing a nice lunch of combining business with… well business, such as the daily shopping for groceries. Range anxiety and the knowledge that petrol stations are effectively around every corner called for a planning which was the most efficient for the motorist, but not necessarily the most efficient in general.

With an electric car, users are looking for a more effective way to travel whilst meeting their demands and the effect is, to much surprise that the mileage is dropping without the number of meetings dropping. This simply means that users of an electric car are travelling more efficiently. The spacing and location of meetings is planned more effectively, decreasing the mileage. There is an increased use of car sharing programs also decreasing the mileage and – as a side-effect- decreasing the need for an employer to pay travel allowances.

Electrifying the DutchBut still, there are few motorists who willingly substitute there fuel guzzler for an electric car (apart from perhaps the Tesla.) The question is whether we should aim for  this substitution? I believe that electric cars make a paradigm shift from ownership of mobility to access to mobility a reality.

In the traditional way, we own a car. Or perhaps, in the case of a company car, we may not own the vehicle, but we sure feel like we own the car. One car (possibly two, for the school run), used for the daily commute, the trips to friends & family and holidays. One car, owned generally for more than four years. This car, seats four, generally transports 1,7 persons, travels less than 30 kilometers on a daily basis and carries a bag of some sorts, sometimes groceries. So it needn’t be a large car. But still it generally is, because we might want to travel to the grandparents over the weekend, or take off for a weekend to the Ardennes. So that is why we need a large conventional car, which can take us to Italy should we wish to.

But picture this: what if we can use a small electric car for the daily commute, or, even better, use a small electric car readily available, for the commute to work or the shops. Very fuel efficient, and preferably paid only for the use of the car, instead of for owning the car. This vehicle can transport us where we want, given the radius. For example, to a train station. We hop into the train, check in with the same RIFD-card which we used to access the electric car, travel to our destination. Upon arriving, we can choose between a rental (e)bike, public transport or once again, the electric car in the vicinity of the station to transport us to the appointment. The route back home is a repetition of the above! A distant future? No, very possible today.

And for the visit to the grandparents in Limburg, or a cycling weekend in the Ardennes? Could this limit our mobility, if we don’t have a large car with unlimited mileage given the petrol stations abound? No! All it takes is an innovative way of access to mobility! Access which delivers the car of choice (model, not necessarily make) to your doorstep without having to go through the hassle of going to a rental agency and renting a car. The car we need  would be available at the click of a button. Family with two young kids and up for a holiday trip to France? A station wagon! A romantic overnight stay? An Electric Smart! In need of a versatile, small and fast way of transport? Please. Use a bicycle!

What about the costs of renting a different car every single time? Well, it may come as a surprise, but considering the costs of car ownership over the year, renting  a car which specifically suits your demands is significantly less expensive than paying for car ownership. And as proves earlier, an electric car as a rental makes the equation even more profitable.

Is this possible today? Yes and no! There are very few providers who can offer such services but the main and limiting factor is us. We are very reluctant to give up the privilege of having a car at our disposal and mobility in its present form is still not too expensive for the average motorist to start reconsidering car ownership. Although some are renting their own car to others already.

However, I, for one, am convinced that in due time, when petrol prices rise (and they will) and the travel allowance is once again being renegotiated, people will reconsider and will realize that in the end, having access to mobility far outweighs the ownership of mobility. Let’s dumb the pump.

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

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.

Electrifying the Dutch – Part 1: the debate

Ever since the introduction of the Th!nk City in The Netherlands in 2009, there has been an everlasting debate on the pro’s and con’s of electric cars in the Netherlands, and there are no signs that we are anywhere near reaching consensus on this subject.

The question is: do we WANT to reach consensus, or rather, why should we strive for consensus? I, for one, see no point in this.

Despite the high costs of purchase, the number of electric cars registered in the Netherlands are exploding, from somewhere to 100 in January 2009 to well over 1500 by March 2012. Of course, when compared to the total number of cars (well over 7 million) this is, well, a modest start. But didn’t Confucius say:” A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”?

One might wonder why those early adopters went ahead and purchased these vehicles in the first place? Expensive, range of 150 km maximum, no public infrastructure for charging the vehicle other than an extension cord, the battery has to remain plugged in otherwise it would bleed and it’s range would diminish to zero in roughly a week. The owners were either admired or ridiculed, depending on the perspective. But still, they went ahead and did it and discovered something amazing.

The sum of all fears for prospective owners (or rather, users) of an electric vehicle is called range anxiety. Only 150 km on a single charge. And refueling the car would take at least eight hours, even more. Not really versatile when compared to conventional cars. But what those hard-core users found out is that range anxiety is fundamentally non-existent. The only issue they had, was that they had to plan their journeys more carefully, to prevent the battery from running on empty. One added advantage of this was an increased efficiency of their daily business practice and a significant decrease of their travel distance, without, obviously, compromising their effectiveness! And of course, with the ever increasing number of fast charging stations (200 by the end of 2012, well over 300 by the end of 2013) the issue of running out of juice is merely a matter of pressing too hard or plain poor planning.

Those first vehicles would set you back roughly € 40.000 which is, frankly, staggering and there was virtually no choice in brands or models. That kind of money would buy you a decent set of wheels, even back in 2009. Lease of these vehicles was no different matter, because nobody in the car business knew what the long term development of their investment in those vehicles would yield, and so the lease-prices were even more staggering. You had to be pretty convinced or determined to even consider using an electric vehicle back then.

Today is an entirely different story altogether. Virtually all car manufacturers of conventional cars are developing new electric models from scratch, for prices which are much more interesting. Yes, those vehicles are still much more expensive than their conventional cousins. But a select number of providers, believing in the residual value of these cars, is starting to offer realistic lease prices, making the electric cars even cheaper than their conventional brethren, when comparing the annual total costs of ownership. This way, enterprises can actually start to convert part of their fleet from conventional vehicles to electric ones.

The prospective users of those cars are, of course, an entirely different matter. There are very few ‘owners’ of a company car who make this decision based on the environmental effects of the car. And those few just might be the ones who bought the first electric cars in 2009. The vast majority makes this decision based on the brand, versatility, fuel consumption and additional tax liability. This last aspect has caused a massive increase in numbers of sales of the Toyota Prius & Auris, the Honda Civic Hybrid etc.

Electric cars can benefit from an even greater advantage, the fuel consumption is dramatically less then it’s conventional counterparts and, due to the emissions on which the additional tax liability is based, there is a 0% tax bracket.

The increasing number of makes & models can provide the same (or challenge even) the level of comfort and ride of the conventional car, makes the electric car a much more valid alternative. And an added bonus is the amazing torque offered an electric car. A necessity is the availability of ‘access to mobility’ providers, for, for example a weekend trip to the Belgian Ardennes in a conventional car without having to go to the hassle of renting a car. Again, certain mobility providers are offering these services as we speak, making this a reality and thus ensuring that the driver of an electric car can access the mode of transportation they need, whenever they need it.

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 question I’ve started off with was, however: do we WANT to reach consensus over the electric car? No we don’t.

I can very much understand and even appreciate ones point of view when someone states that they immensely enjoy the ability to reach 200 km/h and over on the German motorways, or how a particular brand of 4×4 really ‘does it for them’. At present it’s an illusion to think or, even more, to try to convince someone to substitute their beloved brand X for an electric car, and I for one, am not prepared to enter this debate.

What I am convinced of, and I will prove this in ‘electrifying the Dutch, part 2: the proof of the pudding is in the numbers’, is that electric cars offer a valid, and often economically more viable alternative to conventional cars.

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