It's nice to drive electric

It's nice to drive electric

13th February 2009, Comments 0 comments

The arrival of the first four-person electric car means that 'clean driving' is now possible in the Netherlands. And if the car uses green electricity it will not emit any CO2. The electrification of the roads has begun.

The family car powered entirely by electricity is ready for daily use. The vehicle has been on sale in the Netherlands for a few days now. ECE (Electric Cars Europe) is a young company in Lochem which was specifically created to manufacture electric cars. It recently delivered its first specimen to the Essent energy company. Essent, which will quickly make a large part of its fleet electric, will advertise with the words: 'From now on electric driving is a real option.'

ECE's methods are as simple as can be. The firm purchases existing petrol cars, guts them, and replaces the complete drive system (including the gearbox), exhaust system and petrol tank with an electric drive. The construction of the electric car is so easy it's like stealing candy from a baby. You only need an engine, wheels and a powerful battery.

But does it really ride? Until recently electric cars were no more than fancy golf carts - ugly, slow, and the battery would have to be recharged after it went around the block. ECE's converted Volkswagen Golf can persuade the biggest sceptic. After spending a night plugged into the power outlet the vehicle has a radius of more than 200 kilometres, which is usually more than enough for driving to work and back. It is only ugly if you don't like the looks of the Golf. And slow? When I felt the acceleration I lost all of my professional reserves.

The electric car

Electric family car

This environment and sustainability correspondent is in any case sold. On the other hand, is an electric car really that clean? The electricity needed to charge the battery comes from a power outlet. And the battery needs a lot of electricity. The electricity is often produced by dirty power stations.

How are you solving problem? The director of ECE, Hjalmar Engel, explains how electric cars are an improvement:

"We could of course generate electricity with wind and solar panels, which is completely devoid of pollution. However, if you use a dirty power station it is much easier to clean the emissions of a factory chimney than of hundreds of exhaust pipes all over the place. You also don't have to worry about CO2 and fine particle emissions in the cities."

Another important difference between cars which run on petrol and those thar run on electricity is that electric cars are four times as efficient. Only 20 percent of the energy stored in a petrol tank reaches the wheels - the rest is lost to friction and heat. Around 80 percent of the energy stored in an electric battery reaches the wheels. So even if the electricity produced for an electric car is dirty, it still emits only a quarter as much CO2 into the atmosphere.

Some problems have still not been solved: One can still not load a tank in a couple of minutes, just about anywhere, in order to take long trips or go on vacation. It is technically possible to build an 'electric tanking station', but they do not yet exist. However, Essent is working hard to find a solution. Spokesperson Rik Hammer explains:

"Of course we are working on 'quick loading points', and they will be built. But the intention is that people will start by plugging their car into the socket as soon as they park their car. So you drive to work, or wherever you are going, and you plug your car into the electric outlet. When you leave you unplug the car and drive back."

Still expensive

The ECE's electric family car is still much too expensive for the average family, with a price of around 100,000 euros. However, thanks to all sorts of environmental subsidies and tax breaks it can be interesting to companies. Moreover, the 'fuel costs' - in this case electricity - are a fraction of the costs of petrol or diesel. A full engine is only a couple of euros.

The price of electric cars will drop substantially within a few years when they start to be mass-produced. The price will also drop because of competition between car manufacturers - electric cars are simple to make. And last but not least, electric cars are necessary since there is no clean alternative.

Thijs Westerbeek van Eerten
Radio Netherlands



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