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back to article E-cars: unaffordable until 2030 (or later)

It'll take at least 20 years for electric cars to become an economic alternative to the gas-guzzling variety, according to a new study. The total cost of ownership (TCO) for hybrids and pure electrics will stay high for the next two decades – despite soaring fuel prices – because of their hefty price tag, consultancy Element …

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FAIL

The law of unintended consequences

I bet most electric cars like the Nissan Leaf are purchased as second (or, more likely, third) vehicles by affluent Londoners looking to avoid congestion charging. The TCO doesn't look so bad when you're saving ten quid a day, maybe £2,500 per working year. Keep a Leaf for five years and it probably works out cheaper than a Micra, while having zero impact on congestion.

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What about

This may be true but there are plenty of small greenish petrol and diesel cars out there which also pay no congestion charge e.g. Fiat 500 twin air. Or you could just get a whopping great Lexus hybrid and pay no congestion charge.

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Facepalm

But they love their taxes

The zero rating on electric cars for congestion charge will last until people start actually buying them. Plus, congestion charge wasn't brought in for green reasons, it was meant to take cars off the road.

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FAIL

2030?

They seriously think they can predict technology twenty years from now?

They're mental.

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WTF?

Re: 2030?

You took the words right out of my mouth. I guess the main technologies that need to improve are:

1) Batteries

2) Clean and genuinely renewable power generation

Confidently asserting there will be no significant breakthroughs coming to market in the next 20 years when some of the finest minds on the planet are working on both problems shows breathtaking idiocy. There's a lot of money and prestige in cracking either and a LOT of people/companies are all over it.

It beggars belief that the halfwits who make these predictions have jobs while we're getting rid of people like doctors, nurses and teachers.

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I smell FUD

Anyone claiming to be able to make quantitative predictions about technology 20 years into the future is talking through their arse.

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Yeah but

They have to base their analysis on currently available technology and what improvements can be reasonably expected in it over the time frame.

It'd be more irresponsible to say that in five years' time there will be commercially available teleporting units available worldwide powered by residual energy from a star in a nearby parallel dimension thus solving the energy crisis and transportation issues in a completely free and non-polluting way.

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Infinite Substitutability.

"It'd be more irresponsible to say that in five years' time there will be commercially available teleporting units available worldwide powered by residual energy from a star in a nearby parallel dimension thus solving the energy crisis and transportation issues in a completely free and non-polluting way."

Which is more or less what conventional economists assume. Tech. will solve all our problems and anyway, all resources are infinitely substitutable. this is because energy is meaningless in economics. Price is all you need.

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I'm not so sure - realistically,

pretty much everything that's likely to be in volume production, at least in terms of highly capital intensive plant like battery manufacture would at least be at the conceptual protoype stage nowadays.

To see a battery technology deployed at the sort of scale that'd be needed to make a difference, you'd expect several years to get to commercial propotype scale, then a few years of operation to establish reliability, then a cycle of small volume production. fifteen years would have to be a fair bet, if not 20.

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Terminator

How do you plug in your car if you haven't got a garage?

Some questions from a noob...

How do you charge one of these without a garage conversion. Are they easy enough to remove so you can charge it up from a plug socket in your house? If not, they should be, otherwise where's the plan to put plug sockets in every car parking space (or at 10m intervals on every road without double yellow lines)?

And how long do these things need to charge? I wouldn't fancy trying to make a trip up the M1 in an electric vehicle. A 240km range is all well and good (no, actually it's shit compared to a 300mi range), but you're not going to get people to use them if they can't pull in, fill up and keep going without having to wait hours at Leicester Forest East.

How about standardising the batteries (if they aren't), making them easy to remove (if they aren't) and having service stations sell fully charged ones over the counter? You could have trade-in schemes, where you take out your spent batteries for a significant discount on another pre-charged one. The service station would then charge up your old one and sell it on to someone else.

Although, where is all the electricity coming from, if it isn't from burning large amounts of fossil fuels in a power station? Is there much of a net difference in emissions when factoring the 6.5m less fuel-burning cars against the increase in generated electricity to charge the batteries?

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Not noob at all

I am under the impression that there will be an outlet that plugs into a special charging point, and a household point that will also be available. Some vehicles require you to have a special point installed in your house, I might be wrong.

Some of the electric offerings give you a poor range, so some people (and this was highlighted on Top Gear) could take up to 3 days to get to work, and then three days back. The actual charging time can be anywhere from a quick charge (8 hours V. limited range) to a full charge, anywhere from 18-36 hours.

Standardising the batteries would be a great idea, and one that would put Toyota to shame, there electric battery actually does more harm than good, when you think of the production AND disposal processes involved Toyota's battery is very harmful to the environment.

Your pre-charged battery idea is a genius one, and probably one you should capitalise on, but from what I gather, most EV and even hybrids, don't have removable batteries as such. Apparently Renault will be producing an electric car soon and part of the deal is that you RENT the battery from them, that is a removable unit, so you can take the battery in at night, charge it in your home and pop it back in in the morning.

I have made a similar point, we;ll be burning more fossil fuels etc, to charge the cars up as this country (the UK) doesn't have enough green energy available to us. PLUS 99% will have to fork out an extra £300+ to subsidise the power companies efforts in this area, which I find highly amusing when you think about the millions/billions they make off us all in profit every year.

I think, with the Nissan Leaf as an example, it was figured that, because it was such a lengthy charging process it would cost approximately £8 in today's money, to fully charge the car.

When you take the production/disposal processes, charging the vehicle using fossil fuel based electricity and so on, these cars are no greener than a small engined petrol vehicle. At least the petrol vehicle will get me 400miles before I have to fill up...

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Boffin

@takuhill - from a comment on a previous article

This is a comment I made on a previous article a year ago about General Motors and Tesla, so some of the content may be out-of-context, but it shows some problems with replaceable battery packs.

<quote>

Someone has to pick up the cost of the loss of capacity after a pack has been recharged a hundred or so times. Leasing makes more sense than owning, as nobody will complain about swapping one that is new for one that is near it's end-of-life it they lease it.

You would still have some uncertainly about range, and you would probably have to have some rules about when a battery pack would be retired or reconditioned. Would you make it 90% of original charge capacity, 80%, 50%?

I'm all for this technology, but there are serious wrinkles that need sorting out, not the least of which is the cleanness of the electricity. Also, could the power grid cope with thousands of battery packs drawing tens of amps at the same time? For example, if a battery charging station has 50 packs charging at any time, which draw 30A each while charging, we're talking 1,500 amps, or at 230V, 345KW per station. That's a lot of power. A typical UK house draws about 0.4KW per hour, averaged out across the year (according to EDF), so the charging station would put the same load on the grid as 800+ houses.

These figures are rough, based on the Tesla's battery pack which apparently take 3.5 hours to charge at 70A at 240V (thanks Wikipedia), mapped into something that is more likely to be found in the UK urban environment.

How many petrol stations serve as few as 150 customers in a day (assuming packs take 8 hours at 30A to charge)? And you would have to be pretty certain that the packs could not be nicked for their scrap value. And how large would the station have to be?

So, interesting ideas, but currently, fossil fuels still rule, as indicated by the icon.

</quote>

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Fuel prices doubling?

So, 'even if' fuel prices increase by 100% over the next 20 years EVs will only just break even?

Um... you do realise that over the last 20 years fuel prices have gone up by well over 200% don't you?

Typical cost per litre in 1991 = £0.395, in 2011 = £1.359

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you need to do that corrected for general inflation (excluding fuel)

3%'s probably a fair estimate for the average over that time, so that's (1.03)^19 = 1.75. That accounts for most of the increase.

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Go

Not just battery prices

Until range and charge time is addressed, I think petrol powered vehicles will always have a place, even if it's as a second car for longer trips.

More should be spent investing in standard form-factor power cells that can be swapped out like the BetterPlace system, which would allow an electric vehicle to be refuelled in only a minute or two. If that was the case, range would be less of an issue.

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Anonymous Coward

Sigh.

Another shite article on how this new newfangled technology wont work.

I'm sure people said the same thing about petrol cars when they appeared, I mean who would buy one of those when you have to drive to a 'petrol station' and what happens if you run out? With my horse all I have to do is let it graze for an hour...

This is meant to be a technology site, so you'd imagine it would be able to see past the old 'dont like change' attitude, but no. We get constant crap like this.

To all the 'but where do I charge it' arguments, well folks imagine poles in the ground that have connections on them, so they could charge your cars on the road, we could even make them very tall and put lights on the top to illuminate the road, or make them small and put a timer on them to show how much longer you can park in that spot. (And as a freebie, you get improved security as your essentially chaining your vehicle down.) Sound familiar?

Range and charge times will become better, you know, as technology does. We're not all still using computers that fill rooms now are we? Right now they're a pretty good proposition for a 2nd car use, the one you commute that 20miles a day to work and back. No it wont do to run the family up to Alton Towers, but it probably will in 10 years time.

Oh, and £3/l petrol in 2025? More like £5 maybe £10. As someone else pointed out, its gone up 250% since 1983 (1983: 36.7p, now 129.9p from http://www.speedlimit.org.uk/petrolprices.html ) and thats over a period where we could pump it out of the ground quick enough to meet supply. It will only go up quicker as we have to resort to more expensive means to obtain it.

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don't you see?

Once the fossil fuels run out we will simply have to go throw our hands in the air and go back to horses. It's just the way it is. When the nuclear fuels run out too we will have to go back to candles and manual agriculture.

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Anonymous Coward

Heh

Funny, as there seems to be a whole bunch of people who agree thats the way we should go!

I don't understand people who cant see how things will change, its like they've forgotten that battery technology has improved massively -- remember the size of the first gen phone's batteries? -- all they can see is how it is now, and how a technology doesn't exactly fit their requirements, and as they are the most important human being on the whole planet, the technology is therefore destined to fail and not even worth bothering with.

Oil is going to run out, like it or not, so we need an alternative.

When asked about an alternative, it would appear a lot of people favour Hydrogen, as when electric cars are mentioned they give you a smug look and ask where the power comes from while tapping a plug socket and imaging a big power station, without -- seemingly -- stopping to realise where Hydrogen comes from. (If you're not sure its the same big power stations....)

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Fair point

That's a fair point about the hydrogen requiring power, but as long as both require energy from somewhere, I'd go with hydrogen. A lot of the infrastructure is in place or can be adapted (filling stations, etc), it takes quicker to get a full fuel/energy load, and those heavy batteries are a killer to mileage and performance.

Plus, the environmental impact of all that nickel mining and processing is ignored, but it creates some nasty byproducts that need to be dealt with.

Besides, if Al Gore believes in something, you can count on it being wrong.

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Anonymous Coward

Hydrogen...

I prefer Hydrogen power, but I know exactly where it comes from. I prefer it because you fill your car with hydrogen, the same you would with petrol, takes maybe 5 minutes, meaning even if cars only had a 150 mile range, it's not nearly as crippling.

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Mushroom

Horse Droppings

Wasn't it the BBC that tried driving an electric 'mini' from London to Edinburgh and it took *four* days istr? A four horse + coach team could do it faster than that over a hundred years ago. Or one of the fledgling trains of that time as the East Coast Main Line opened in 1871.. The main problem was battery charge time and the frankly pathetic distances these things could go between charges.

It would be easier - and faster! - using an electric train and then getting an electric car / hybrid / bike / rickshaw or whatever at the station. Not very practical if you carry a stock of IT server spares in the boot but it keeps the treehuggers happy.

Nuke as fission is going to be around for a few years yet.

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Whilst I largely agree with your sentiment

the stone age didn't end because we ran out of stones, nor the bronze or iron ages. Same for oil bud. It'll end because it's old, dirty and sh*t compared with the shiny new stuff we're going to use next.

If not, we may end up having to use those stones again lol

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Anonymous Coward

Hydrogen is just as useless as curent batteries.

You could not use any of the current infrustructure for hydrogen (other than the plot of land the petrol station sits on).

Hydrogen requires masive pressure tanks or extream cooling or if you want the expensive options exotic compounds that absobe/release it.

Hydrogen has a very low energy to weight (and volume) ratio meaning cars with a range similar to current EV's .

Plus Hydrogen leaks through just about everything, so unless you want a fuel tanks that weigh in at half a ton, don't be surprised that when you don't use your car for a week or two and find tanks is half empty.

There are lots of good reasons why the 1970's dream of a hydrogen powered world never happened. The biggest one being getting the Hydrogen, nearly all that is used today is made by processing natural gas.

Liquifying that same natural gas would be vastly cheaper and easier to use than Hydrogen, and would provide better mpg.

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Anonymous Coward

@Armando 123

I'll bet you a groat that I can find more infrastructure for distributing electricity than you can for storing and dispensing hydrogen.

In addition, my understanding is that a hydrogen fuel cell burns the gas to generate electricity to drive the vehicle. Now surly that seems a bit silly. Generate electricity to generate hydrogen, deliver it to the 'petrol stations', to put into a car to convert it back into electricity. Why not just deliver said electricity to your home where your car is parked?

Also, do you really want a heavy highly compressed gas cylinder in your car?

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120km is plenty a day

... for my job as an IT guy.

One of the big problems in Australia is you have to register every car you plan to drive even though you can only physically drive one at a time. As a result, there's no incentive to have an efficient small car as well as a standard or large car. The government doesn't give a damn or they'd change the law.

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UK too soon

We'll have something similar soon in the UK. The gov't is forcing us to insure all cars that are not declared SORN (Statutory Off Road Notice). You may have a classic you only use in the Summer but under the new regulations you'll have to keep it insured even when its in your garage for 6 months.

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@Dan

Way round this is to get a multi-car policy; there are a couple of enlightened insurers about who recognise that yo ucan't actualy be driving two cars at the same time, so their risk at any one time is to the value of one+third party risks on the other, and their premiums reflect it.

I just saved over £1k/pa by switching from two seperate policies.

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Anonymous Coward

@ Matthew 25

Or you SORN your summer car in the 6 months you're not using it...

Just a thought.

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Boffin

re sorn , and Oz

they dont really have Insurance in oz, its in with the road tax , or rego or whatever , pretty sweet deal - quit moaning mike :)

Matt, whats the prob? just declare SORN for 6 months. its free.

Its when they start demanding all cars (inc SORN) are insured you worry!

Anyway I find classic limited mileage cover ( that dont do 6 , only 12mths) is way cheaper than a normal 6 month policy

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FAIL

Battery costs are required to drop below £68/kWh for EVs with a 240km range

Which suggests a *useful* place for govt to put its money in.

Perhaps a prize? £50m (that's 10k new EV/hybrid subsidies) to the first company to meet that spec. No limitations on form factor, weight, materials etc. Only it would seem if you can get a battery pack with that range and that price people might actually start to *want* to buy them without a "Sweetener."

Note that this reports seem to have been sponsored by a group which *wants* EVs & hybrids to succeed, so presumably some of the assumptions are on the *generous* side in terms of uptake, TCO etc.

20 Yrs ago NiCd was still a common battery technology for mobile phones.

Who uses it now?

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@John Smith 19

"Note that this reports seem to have been sponsored by a group which *wants* EVs & hybrids to succeed"

Yes, the Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership is made up of organisations such as the following EV enthusiasts:

* Air Fuel Developments Limited (A company that make synthetic petrol)

* Anaerobic Digestion and Biogas Association (a body whose main aim is the "introduction of binding biogas production targets")

* BP Biofuels Ltd

* British Sugar plc (operators of the first bioethanol production facility in the UK)

* Energenics Europe Ltd (producers of "a fuel borne combustion nanocatalyst for diesel fuel")

* Gas Fuelling Technology Limited (specialist in Compressed Natural Gas for cars)

* Jaguar Land Rover

* Mechadyne International Limited (Develop methods for making ICEs more efficient)

* National Non-Food Crop Centre (biofuels)

* Neste Oil

* Organic Power Ltd (biomethane)

* Shell International Petroleum Company

* UK Petroleum Industry Association

* UKLPG (the Trade Association for the LPG industry in the UK)

* Vireol Bio-Industries plc (Bioethanol)

* Zeta Automotive Ltd (Develop methods for making ICEs more efficient)

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@John Smith 19

"No limitations on form factor, weight, materials etc."

Err, no, that is not acceptable. The battery has to be "safe" in the event of a crash (at least no more of a hazard than a tank of fuel) and from materials that are not too toxic to use, and that are not in such a short supply that the cost of £68/kWh can still be met when the global demand is in the 10s of millions per year (and some country with the only viable deposits decides to enjoy the profits a bit more).

Furthermore the costs of implementing a charging grid needs to be considered, both the practicalities of charging stations and the infrastructure to deliver enough power. Hell, just now we are looking at brown-out in the near futures due to lack of capacity WITHOUT adding the demands of motoring.

Realistically, transport costs are going to rise a LOT, one way or another, and nations should be looking at how to plan employment and distribution to avoid this.

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Happy

@Paul Crawford

"Err, no, that is not acceptable. The battery has to be "safe" in the event of a crash (at least no more of a hazard than a tank of fuel) and from materials that are not too toxic to use, and that are not in such a short supply that the cost of £68/kWh can still be met when the global demand is in the 10s of millions per year (and some country with the only viable deposits decides to enjoy the profits a bit more)."

Some excellent practical points, but I suspect just hitting *those* storage & price targets will be difficult enough as it is, although the safety items should apply to all entrants.

*if* more contestants step up then I guess those would be deciding questions.

"Furthermore the costs of implementing a charging grid needs to be considered, both the practicalities of charging stations and the infrastructure to deliver enough power. Hell, just now we are looking at brown-out in the near futures due to lack of capacity WITHOUT adding the demands of motoring."

True but IIRC HMG does have some plans to start looking at this. it's not a minor point but it does not require *breakthrough* technology, but it does require *lots* of cabling, generating capacity and some way to incentivise people and companies to install them.

As has been pointed out lots of people's daily commute is within the present capacity of EV's *provided* they could re-charge at work (which if they had no *offstreet* parking is also the only place they could get charged up).

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E what?

Are we supposed to get enthused about an energy-efficient device which depends upon the entire global industrial infrastructure to exist?

Even my bloody bicycle relies on rubber, steel, Tarmac, petroleum (lubrication) etc etc etc

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FAIL

Energy from the grid getting more expesive too

Anyone see the Downing Street Memo?

They've only 'just' realised that green energy generation is expensive. More expensive than fossil fuel generation.

So, to charge up your E-car with green electric is more expensive than charging your E-car from fossil fuel electric.

Not to mention, if they want to build E-cars in the UK, the factory running on green energy will cost more. And so will the wages of all the people who work there.... Or, maybe they'll send the manufcaturing offshore, again.

And, with new gas extraction coming online, gas generation will (at least for a while) get cheaper. Already has in the USA.

So, not only do you get a more expesive car, with reduced range. But it also will get more expensive to charge, or it will be less environmentally friendly than they tell you.

How long before after much shuffling of feet and mumbling does someone imporant admit that E-cars are not the right answer?

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Megaphone

Duh! that's because the environmental costs are not included!!!

...wait until the Carbon tax comes... then you'll see a fairer comparison.

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Environmental costs? of which bits?

Those nice chemically battery packs that need replaced?

Those twirtly whirly things that generate at less than 20% efficiency?

That gas turbine plant thats cheaper to generate from? But oh, its fossil fuel?

That coal plant thats cheaper to generate from? But oh, thats fossil fuel too?

Or did you mean the internal combustion engine that is already taxed at: Point of sale & Per mile & Per year. (Not to mention import, and servicing)

I don't doubt that current hydrocarbon cars have got to go. But E-cars are not currently the answer, and most would agree not the answer for a long time yet.

Hydrogen is here, it works, its similar enough to hyrdocarbon that we can reuse lots of infrastructure. It can be produced in green ways if it must be. Doesnt require that a major component of the car is replaced after a few years.

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Oh, that settles it then

We had best cancel all future developments of anything. I'm glad you told us just in time.

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Battery price falling? You're having a laugh

We're off grid, so batteries and battery prices are of great interest. Three years ago I bought a set of batteries. The battery bank in "car" terms is about 15kWh, and is simply lead-acid. At the time, it cost about £1500.00. Now it costs about £2000.00. So the cheapest form of battery, unsuitable for a car, then cost £100 per kWh and now costs £133. Doesn't seem likely that costs are reducing.

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"it'll need 6.4 million EVs on the road"

Presumably these replace a similar number of infernal combustion cars?

Perhaps it would be better to see if we can eliminate some of those 6.4 million vehicles all together, or at least reduce the number of miles they travel?

Far more jobs can now be done remotely than (say) 20 years ago. A greater percentage of jobs are office style jobs (as opposed to shop floor jobs) and the technology has improved to increase the sorts of jobs that can be done remotely.

Why then do we need more cars now than we did 20 years ago?

If we want to reduce emissions, than maybe we should be trying to shift society back towards shorter commutes.

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Childcatcher

Why then do we need more cars now than we did 20 years ago?'

cos the world population increased from 5.3 billion to 7 billion.

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FAIL

On Yer Bike!

Giving £5,000 to anybody who exchnges a car for a bike would do more in cutting our fossil fuel consumption and possibly our health bill too. It also means the poor as well as the rich would have access to the subsidy.

Ah, I see, that's the problem ...

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And no car purchase for a few years

Have to make sure they don't take the money and drop it on another car. Therefore the person must be denied buying/registering a car for a few years. Bus and bike isn't bad, and it does work quite well. My bike folds up and stores under the bus seat, no problem for me.

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battery replacement

Is this also taking account of the costs of replacing the batteries after the meagre amount of years the current ones last (3-10 years for different cars - fast recharge kills them more quickly). A new battery pack costs around a mere £7000...

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Anonymous Coward

The problem with electric cars is -

- batteries. Actually, the real problem with electric transportis that of trying to replace internal combustion cars, like for like. In other words, we're still in the horseless carriage phase.

Instead of relative infrequent contacts with the electricity supply to top up a large battery, you need an infrastucture that supports very frequent charges to a smaller battery. One big enough to get you across a box junction, for example.

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Good Id

Yes, or something like a dodgem where power is drawn directly from the grid.

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@Matthew 25

Top Gear beat you to that idea.

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Anonymous Coward

Dodgem

Exactly - or Scalextric.

In order to avoid complicated wiring at junctions, you have a small battery or super-capacitor to allow short bursts of disconnected travel. This is in use now on trolley buses. Russia also used to power 'commercial' road traffic via overhead wires, so there is precedent for use cases other than public transport.

The missing bit, entirely possible with today's technology, is billing for energy used.

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Mushroom

LPG

If more people switched to LPG (approx 20% less CO2 output than petrol) we could reduce the amount due to traffic by a bit. LPG conversion kits are available now and work with lots of existing cars & we have a supply infrastructure in place. (I drive one and think it is great, so I am totally bias).

I did think of writing to the plod and ambulance services to ask them if they would switch their fleets over as both of them are high mileage and should save quite a few tones of CO2 if it knocks 20% off.

<- No they dont do that when you crash, you are already carrying plenty of petrol and it does not constantly ex plod!

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FAIL

Hydrocarbons <> Fossil fuels

Battery power is not the only 'marginal' becoming more palatable as fossil fuel prices go up.

It will soon be cheaper to run your diesel on organic extra virgin olive oil than paying up at the forecourt.

I'd bet on alternative hydrocarbon sources becoming viable ahead of battery power.

Can anyone find anything definitive on the theoretical limits of battery storage?

Yes - I have Googled it and become lost in a storm of venture capital seeking guff and <50% improvement hopes/claims where >500% is plainly needed.

This is the best I have done so far

http://www.thebulletin.org/web-edition/columnists/kurt-zenz-house/the-limits-of-energy-storage-technology

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