Doesn’t the electricity generation produce CO2? So what’s the point of an EV?

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This is just going to be a quick note to answer this question as it is often asked of me by the doubters.

The answer is that electricity generation does produce carbon dioxide, but there are three factors that mean this is much less for an EV than the equivalent fossil fuel car.

1) The electricity is produced by a mix of generating methods, some such as coal produce a lot of CO2, as do oil and gas fired power stations, but others such as nuclear and especially wind, solar or hydro produce very little. As the UK’s energy mix gradually moves toward these cleaner forms of generation the amount of CO2 an EV generates at the power station becomes less.

2) A power station is much more efficient than the engine in a fossil fuel car. Approximately 20% efficiency is typical for most engines, whereas 33-60% efficiency can be achieved by a coal or gas power station. The efficiency of an EV at turning this electricity into movement is 90%.

3) There is a huge energy and CO2 cost in the drilling for, shipping, refining and delivery of fossil fuel to the point of use where it is burned in a car. Even if you subtract the energy/CO2 required to drill, ship and refine fossil fuel for use in a power station, you are still left with the cost of transportation of the fuel to the petrol station forecourt and the cost of providing and running that forecourt. No such cost exists for the 240v plug in your garage and the cost for public chargers is 10-20 times less than for petrol stations.

As such the well-to-wheel cost and CO2 production for an EV is considerably less as the table below shows.

Emissions and Fuel Cost for a 100-Mile Trip
Vehicle
(compact sedans)
Greenhouse Gas Emissions
(pounds of CO2 equivalent)
Total Fuel Cost
(U.S. Dollars)
Conventional 87 lb CO2 $8.33
Hybrid Electric 57 lb CO2 $5.48
Plug-in Hybrid Electric 62 lb CO2 $5.43
All-Electric 54 lb CO2 $3.74
Source: http://www.afdc.energy.gov/vehicles/electric_emissions.php

So EV’s alone without zero-CO2 electricity cannot save the planet, at present in the UK they are about 62% better at saving the planet than a fossil fuel car.

However if you charge your EV from your solar panels or wind turbine then you really do not have to take this line of questioning lying down.

 

Charger-rage – a new phenomenon.

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Okay so there is this network of chargers out there in the world. They fall into three categories (though a few other random types also exist).

1) “Rapid” chargers – these are designed to concentrate electrical power to allow a large, rapid charge to take place. On the main roads and motorways they are provided by Ecotricity, the green electricity company. In other locations a variety of other companies such as ChargeYourCar provide the chargers.

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There are also chargers at Ikea stores, and many Nissan/Renault dealers.

Various maps exist to help EV drivers find them such as zapmap.com but none are comprehensive.

The rapid charger can push 400v at over 100amps into your battery which gets you to 80% charged in about 30 minutes, longer if its cold, as the battery’s internal resistance is higher. The charger communicates with the car but its the charger that limits the charging. Beyond 80% the charging rate has to drop as the resistance in the battery increases – attempting to force more current through would result in heating up the battery, which at best shortens its lifespan at worst causes a massive explosion. So from 80% to 100% takes a further 30-45 minutes. This will have some relevance later.

2) “Fast” chargers – these operate at lower current levels and typically go up to about 30 amps @ 240v. The car’s on board charger (a transformer to turn 240v AC into 400v DC) controls and limits the charging. Some cars can use 16 amps some can use 30 amps so charging takes 2-4 hours. These are again provided by many different organisations. These can be installed wherever there is a standard mains 240v supply so you could have one installed at your work or downloadhome.

Some have a cable attached, or tethered. Some have a socket and require you to have the correct cable to attach your car to their socket. Most of these use a type 2 socket or Mennekes socket. The plug which fits into your car depends on the car you drive.

3) “13amp” chargers. These are domestic 3 pin plugs, just the same as the outlets in your home. To use these you need a portable charger which is a cable with a plug one end for your car, a box of tricks in the middle to provide safety and control of the charging and a 3 pin plug on the other download (1)end. (shown here with a European style plug)

They only pull 10 amps rather than the 13 amps that the socket can provide for safety. In theory since the 10 amps is constant and prolonged i.e. 6-8 hours, some heating of the cable or pins in the plug might take place. So rather than draw 13 amps, 10 amps is used to reduce the risk of heating, and potentially fire. I have installed one of these outside my workplace by attaching an outdoor, waterproof mains socket to the wall. Cabled with heavy duty cable it is attached to a wall socket inside via an RCD which will cut the power if it is damaged, vandalised or water gets into it.

So that was an overview of chargers. But what about charger-rage? Well the issue arises over the use of public chargers. Such as the ones at Ikea. These are currently free to use and therefore you can effectively fill your battery for nothing. So the effective miles per £ is infinite. Whilst the numbers of EV’s out there was low the occupancy at these chargers was low also. EV drivers found that often they would arrive to find the charger standing empty and could plug in and begin charging immediately. After 30 minutes considerate EV drivers would disconnect their car and either move it to another space so freeing up the charger for someone else to use or continue their journey. The higher occupancy of chargers is something I have noticed in the 6 months I have been a Leaf driver.

However now there are many more EV’s on the road, and plug-in-hybrids such as the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, so more often the charger is occupied. This means waiting. Since many are free, the wait often seemed irrelevant. If you were visiting Ikea then you could pop into the store and come back out to plug your car in once the previous user was finished.

So I’m still fuzzy why is there charger-rage? Well the scenarios above describe typical usage by considerate EV drivers, indeed I have had the sort of conversations at chargers with other Leaf owners, that motorcyclists and VW Beetle drivers might have at the services – a camaraderie and general mutual respect prevailed. However as with all things relying on good human nature, bad apples will always be present. The number of such bad apples seems to be on the rise, as the typical EV or plug-in driver changes from the early adopting, eco-warrior to the money-saving, company car tax-saving, typical motorist.

The types of behaviours which are causing charger rage are as follows:

  • Plugging in your car, starting the charger and then buggering off to return some time after charging has finished. The rapid charger can only charge one car at a time although many have two parking bays. The charging plug locks electrically to the car for safety and can only be disconnected when charging is finished. So if the charger is in use when you arrive, you could park in the other bay and see how long is left on the timer on the charger and return (or wait until) the other car’s charging session finishes. At this point you hope the driver of the other car arrives to disconnect, but if not its okay as the standard charge is 80% in 30 minutes after which time the plug can be removed and you can connect your car. However many people set the charger to a higher level such as 90% or 95% and then go off shopping. As such the charger is blocked until this person returns.
  • Setting the charging level to above 80%. This is problematic as the charging rate decreases above 80% as explained above so the time required to get to 90, 95 or 100% is much greater than 30 minutes and even more so in cold weather. Whilst some people might not be able to go where they need to go with 80% charge, there seems to be a lot of people charging to 100% purely because its free, and free things often engender a sense of entitlement that paid-for things do not.
  • Parking in a charging bay when you are not actually charging. This is a very annoying habit and is really rude. The charging bay is for charging, not convenient parking near the main entrance for lazy drivers. This becomes extremely annoying when the car blocking the charger is not even an EV. In this case since an Internal Combustion Engined car is blocking the charger it is said to be ICE’d.

All of this combines to cause a lot of stress and frustration for those who are inconvenienced by these inconsiderate/ignorant drivers. This has lead to harsh words being exchanged and notes being left on car windows.

I propose a national set of rules governing chargers which would establish a default etiquette:

  1. These bays are only for Electric or plug in vehicles. Any other vehicle will be removed.
  2. Please only charge to 80% unless no one else is waiting. Charging beyond 80% is slow so please only do it if there is not a queue.
  3. When your car is charged please move it. You should do this within 5-10 minutes of charging finishing, unless you are parked in a car park where you have paid for a parking bay. Removal will be considered for breaking this rule.

These are not draconian measures. For the larger and more in demand chargers the first rule could be enforced using barriers which only allow those with a charging card, which is required to use a charger, to enter. For rule 2 the issue would be mitigated if batteries were larger. 80% of 40 kWh is better than 100% of 24 kWh. Enforcement could be by CCTV which many chargers already have to discourage vandalism.

If people viewed a charger in the same way as a petrol forecourt they would not treat them as they do. The problem is more acute with chargers. We all get a little annoyed at a busy petrol station, which are more often than not, coupled with a convenience store, when someone has clearly filled up then gone into the shop to do their shopping in a leisurely manner. The wait is unlikely to be more than 10 minutes, at a charger set to 90% it might be an hour!

This problem, as one Leaftalk forum member pointed out, might solve itself. Charging will not be free forever and the introduction of fees will discourage some of this behaviour. A charge will cost less at home than at a public charger. A paid-for charger near to me costs £5 a charge. Still good value compared to petrol or diesel, the most economical car I have ever owned, a Ford Fiesta 1.7 diesel cost £10 per 100 miles to run in 2007, my leaf can go 80 miles on £2 using economy-7 or £3.50 on daytime rate electricity.

Also the number of chargers is increasing. When the number of chargers is high relative to the number of EV’s using them, the problems will be fewer. It will ebb and flow as the infrastructure develops and EV numbers stabilise. As someone else pointed out, in response to a complaint about chargers, we are in the dawn of electric motoring. You could buy a car in 1905 but you couldn’t expect to find a petrol station as easily as you can now. The good news is that it is much easier and cheaper to install a charger or bank of chargers (£1000-£20000) than to build (or buy) a petrol station (£100,000 – £2,000,000). The electricity is already there, running along/under the roads we drive on.

Ps. as an interesting aside, electric cars and their charging networks pre-date the ICE car. They were quite popular around 1900. The demise of the electric car came about when ICE cars became easier to start, due curiously, to the introduction of the battery and starter motor instead of the crank handle. I also imagine the massive wealth of the oil companies, even at that early stage, enabled strong promotion of a vehicle which could go further and faster and conveniently used their product as a fuel and a lubricant.