Mitsubishi i-MiEV being recharged
IS RECHARGING A STUMBLING BLOCK FOR ELECTRIC CARS?
WHAT do you think is going to be the biggest problem in getting the public to buy electric cars in meaningful numbers? Price? Possibly but I reckon it’s going to be the recharging infrastructure, the Achilles’ heel of every alternative fuel from LPG to hydrogen.
However I sense a real determination to make electric cars work, more so than with some of the other options that have been tried over the years, with a very broad consensus that the future is electric.
This week Mitsubishi landed the first 25 of its i-MiEV electric cars at Bristol and they will soon be on the road in a government-sponsored trial in the West Midlands.
OK, government agencies might use them and some companies who see them as either (or both) a good marketing tool or part of their corporate social responsibility. But will Mr and Mrs. Average take to them?
The difficulty is that we have become used to the convenience of petrol cars where you can go to a forecourt and put in 300-400 miles of energy into the tank in a minute or so. Electric cars, as we all know, have a very much shorter range, sometimes as short as 50 miles. Worse, the manufacturers proudly say that it can be recharged for pennies overnight from your domestic 240v supply.
There are, of course, a few obvious problems. Not everyone can park their car outside their home and there have to be well-founded security concerns about leaving your car hooked up to the mains!
But I’m impressed by the efforts to tackle this. Already there are vandal-proof recharging stations which can give a car an 80 per cent recharge in literally a few minutes, enough for most people’s commute. It’s what this nascent industry calls a `destination charge’.
So, can you see these being sited at supermarkets and shopping centres, schools, office car parks and so on? I can, very easily. In fact it would be even more convenient than going to a petrol station because the power source would be where you want to park.
You can see the sort of thing that could soon be mushrooming in our towns and cities in the picture here of an i-MiEV being topped up. London mayor, Boris Johnson, is talking in terms of having a couple of tens of thousands of them installed in time for the 2012 Olympics.
A variety of factors need to come together for this revolution to happen – there has to be a perceived need for a change, there has to be a technical solution, there has to be a will for the change to happen and it has to be affordable.
Well, look at it this way – after a century of development the internal combustion engine is still only about 25/30 per cent efficient and although there is still room for development there is a growing realisation that we need a seismic shift, not tinkering.
The solution is becoming more obvious by the day – electric cars supported by an easy-to-use recharging infrastructure, there is certainly a will as evidenced by car makers such as Renault-Nissan staking its colours to the mast of an electric future plus local authorities around the world doing the same and if the early adopters are indeed subsidised so it costs no more to buy than an equivalent petrol car then the floodgates could really open.
This week Mitsubishi landed just 25 cars from the giant container ship that sailed from Japan – how long before that hold is crammed with them?