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News - 19 April 2009
photo course:Elektromotive

Electric opportunity for Brighton & Hove?

In a new £250m government strategy consumers are to be offered cash incentives to purchase an electric car under plans unveiled today that will also see the creation of ‘electric car cities’ across the UK. Brighton & Hove, the home of cutting edge expertise in this area, could be one of them.

The proposals, which could become operational in 2011, are part of an ambitious plan to revolutionize Britain's road transport network in cities, based on ultra-low or zero carbon vehicles.

The UK has established targets for reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 26% by 2020 and 80% by 2050 and the reduction in transport emissions could play a major role with the initial focus being on urban transport.

In the UK 60% of journeys by car are under 50 km and in Brighton & Hove half of all car journeys are less than 5 km.

If the government is serious the plan will not be without its problems. A report into the prospect of turning Renault and Citroen into mass market electric vehicle manufacturers commissioned by France’s President Sarkozy concluded that it was more realistic i.e. cost effective (since electric cars currently cost about twice that of normal cars to manufacture), to simply improve the efficiency of existing petrol and diesel engine vehicles. And France has the added advantage that about 80% of its electricity generation is already from zero-carbon nuclear energy, although the recent announcement of the sites for 11 new nuclear facilities in the UK might change this dynamic although not before 2017.

Despite this, Renault has subsequently gone head-to-head with Nissan to establish an early lead in a mass market for electric vehicles so they clearly feel there will be a market worth exploiting.

A major challenge to overcome is that the battery life of electric cars still only makes them suitable for short drives although this may change with better battery technology. The hybrid models available today use old-fashioned lead/acid or  more modern nickel-metal-hydride batteries which have the advantage of being (relatively) cheap and reliable. But they have very limited capacity to store electricity and hence they offer a limited driving range.

The popular G-Wiz all-electric car now offers a lithium-hydride model, which increases the driving range from a fairly poor 48 miles to a, not-a-lot-better 75 miles but it doubles the cost to £16,000. A replacement battery pack for the $100,000 Tesla Roadster, which combines zero to 60 mph acceleration in less than 4 seconds with a 244 mile driving range costs the dollar equivalent of £15,000.

Another consideration is that Brighton & Hove, with one of the best public transport systems in the UK, has enjoyed huge success at persuading people to abandon their cars altogether and use the bus. Our problem is just as much about congestion as it is about pollution and electric cars won't do anything to help the former. 

The government's strategy includes £20m to foster a core of cities interested in developing an infrastructure to charge electric vehicles and despite the challenges outlined above, Brighton & Hove undoubtedly has first mover advantages already.

Elektromotive, based at Sussex Innovation Centre (SinC) is the leading UK provider of the technology and hardware for electric vehicle recharging stations. It is close to installing its 100th kerb-side recharging bay in London and it has recently agreed a collaboration with the Renault-Nissan Alliance to speed up the installation of such bays in the EU area.

Also, just across the border in Shoreham Ricardo Engineering is a world leader in automotive design and their Technical Director - Professor Neville Jackson - has just been appointed the new chair of the Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership (LowCVP), a UK Government-sponsored partnership aimed at encouraging the rapid adoption of low carbon automotive technology (see earlier story)

The government is looking for cities to offer themselevs as models for demonstration. At a recent City Council Overview Committee the Brighton & Hove Economic Partnership suggested that the adoption of any new environmental technologies into our economic strategy should be a good fit with our existing strengths and expertise (see earlier story).

This development is not without its drawbacks not least of which electric vehicles charged with electricity from coal-fired power stations would be counter productive, but given our obvious advantages and the fact that many people are so wedded to thier cars that they will not countenance public transport, Brighton & Hove could be first on the list of demonstration towns.

Read related items on:
Sussex Innovation Centre
University of Sussex

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