11 April 2016

The thrill of electric cars

I detest exhaust fumes, and have to stop myself approaching vehicles idling unnecessarily to ask the drivers to turn off their engines. Not always do I stop myself, and have learnt from grumpy drivers that refrigerated trucks indeed need to leave their engines running, or the food inside warms up! But did you know that diesel exhausts contain a known carcinogen?

That's just one reason I'm keen on electric cars. A few weeks ago I drove an electric car (a Nissan Leaf) for the first time. It was, well, the same as a normal car except quieter, and outside there were no fumes to sicken people. The flash keyless starter was also new to me, because we refuse to waste money on expensive cars. Our safe oldish station wagon serves us well.

The highlight of my recent reluctant mall visit: an
electric vehicle charging station in the carpark of
 Bayfair Mall, Mount Maunganui.

Eventually, though we will almost certainly go electric, and the Leaf is the most affordable option. One day I may even be lured to a shopping mall by the convenient charging stations they supply in their carparks. While I try to avoid wasting money on junk as my children beg me to do otherwise, at least the battery will be getting charged.


Apparently it costs only about $3 at current electricity prices to recharge an electric car's battery. It costs about $90 to refill our car! (Although I'm sure a tank fill takes me a lot further than a battery fill, but nowhere near 60 times further). Because most of New Zealand's electricity is renewable, it's also a climate-friendly way to fuel your transport. (We shouldn't be too supercilious about our renewable electricity, though: damming rivers for hydro-electricity is ecologically disastrous, and it's only the electricity portion of our energy that's mostly renewable. We rely on fossil fuels and gas a lot, so our actual energy use is less than 50% renewable).

We get free electricity at home when the sun shines, so when we eventually own a Leaf, much of our battery charging will be free.

Policy and clever Norwegians

At Easter there was a fascinating radio interview by Kim Hill with the Secretary General of the Norwegian Electric Vehicle Association. Kim told her that the NZ Government would probably let the market decide when electric vehicles would become commonplace here. The clever woman replied that WE HAVEN'T GOT TIME for that. There is this thing called global warming. We burna de oil, we warma de planet (my words, not hers; her English was excellent.)

Fortunately it seems Kim was not altogether correct. From the latest Automobile Association magazine, page 43: the Minister of Transport has asked officials to investigate what can be done to increase the uptake of electric vehicles. Hopefully they'll come up with some of the clever encouraging tweaks that the Norwegian government successfully introduced years ago.

Indeed the government is aware that eventually, due to some type of global carbon tax (not to mention drought, famine, floods, climate refugees, etc), emitting greenhouse gases is going to hit us in the wallet. Transport accounted for 17% of our greenhouse gas emissions in 2013 (page 3 of this document), and dropping that percentage will help us meet our emissions targets. In Paris last year, New Zealand presented its target to drop greenhouse gas emissions to 30% below the 2005 level by 2030.

Let's make sure we do what we say we will!

Electrifying concerns

  • Manufacturing a new car is a polluting act. According to New Scientist (sorry I don't have an exact reference), it takes about three years of driving to account for the emissions caused by the car's production, although of course the exact length of time depends on your mileage.
  • Will my battery go flat amidst paddocks? Possibly, which is why a network of recharging stations is vital. Or, you could splash out and buy a hybrid, which has a tank of fossil-fuel back up.
  • What if it breaks down and costs a lot to fix? Electric vehicles are apparently far less costly to maintain and repair than what is currently "normal".  

p.s. Note to self: bike not drive, bike not drive, bike not drive!

A clever UK "ride your bike" promotion.

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