Electric cars in the fast lane?
Politicians and representatives of the automotive industry agree that electric cars are a thing of the future. Because an electric car is CO2 neutral when powered by green energy, it’s much more efficient than a vehicle with an internal combustion engine and is also completely independent of petrol as an energy source. So it’s an ideal vehicle to start the energy revolution. Unfortunately, these facts don’t seem to make convincing arguments for the majority of private motorists.
This is the logical conclusion if you consider the sales figures, anyway. Although more and more electric cars are sold – there were 17 series models from German manufacturers by the end of 2014 – only 8,522 vehicles with exclusively electric engines were newly registered by the end of the year according to the German Federal Motor Transport Authority (Kraftfahrt-Bundesamt). Sales are developing too slowly to reach the federal government’s ambitious goal of seeing a million electric cars driving on German roads by the year 2020. As a result, the draft of the Electromobility Act (Elektromobilitätsgesetz) was passed in the fall. It empowers cities and municipalities the right to grant privileges for electric, plug-in hybrid and fuel cell vehicles such as reduced parking fees. In addition, owners of electric cars aren’t required to pay a motor vehicle tax for ten years as of 2012.
Whether it is a sufficient incentive to massively promote electric mobility remains controversial. Scientists recommend sponsorship similar to that in Norway where purchasing an electric car is exempt from VAT, for example, or where a purchase incentive is analogous to a scrapping program. After all, the main argument against the purchase of an electric car is still the relatively high purchase price. Even though the prices have become more reasonable in recent years, some models with electric engines cost about fifty percent more than the petrol version mainly because of expensive batteries. However, many experts expect that prices will continue to decline in coming years because the battery is currently the focus of intense research thanks to its role as a key technology.
In addition to the goal of being able to offer more affordable batteries, an effort is also being made to increase the charging capacity. That’s because at the moment, it still takes much longer to recharge an electric car at a fast charging station than it does to fill a gasoline or diesel tank: charging a battery eighty percent full takes about half an hour. Additionally, the range of electric vehicles is still substantially lower than that of conventional cars. With most models, a fully charged battery lasts for 100 to 200 kilometres. That’s enough for the majority of commuter and city driving but not for long car trips.
It is therefore necessary to expand the infrastructure of charging stations. Up until now, most electric cars were charged in private outlets at home. Those with solar energy systems on their roofs come close to being energy independent. In contrast, public charging stations are still fairly uncommon: the number hovers around 4,500 charging sites nationwide. Fast charging stations represent only a small number of that total, the majority of which are located in large cities. Fast charging stations, however, would be especially important to have on motorways precisely to allow for longer trips. The cost would be paid directly at the station with a debit card or a smartphone. A likely ongoing pilot project beginning in summer 2015 presented by the city of Munich and the capital city’s public utilities (Stadtwerke München) in cooperation with BMW displays street lights with built-in charging stations for electric cars as a way to demonstrate how a reliable charger can be integrated into an urban environment. The three city districts of Schwabing, Bogenhausen and Maxvorstadt are scheduled to install five to ten new charging sites in existing lights or entire lights will be replaced depending on the local conditions.
A compromise that compensates for limited range is the hybrid car – in other words, a vehicle that has both a hydrogen combustion engine and an electric engine. The combustor runs whenever the battery is low. The batteries are also smaller in these hybrid cars which make them even cheaper to purchase. Let’s not forget that e-cars are already one step ahead of their combustible colleagues in a very important area: driving pleasure is much greater in an electric car than a „normal“ one. The e-car accelerates much faster because an electric motor reaches its maximum power from the onset of its first rotation – and it’s as quiet as a whisper.