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Are electric cars the future?

Posted by NEF Gabby on 23 September 2016 at 12:06 pm

The electric car debate has been a long and contested road, with questions still remaining unanswered about the ability Electric Vehicles (EVs) have to reshape society and replace our gas guzzling needs. Aerospace engineer and Motorsport fan Lukas Willcocks has test driven a number of electric vehicles so we asked him for his views.

Despite suggested benefits, EVs still hold a minuscule share of the global car stock. However, in recent years the UK has experienced a significant rise in the popularity of electric cars. This may be partly a result of a greater level of choice for drivers, tax incentives and more manufacturers adding longer range electric models to their product ranges.

EVs are sold on their environmental benefits of running pollution-free – supposedly without emitting the harmful greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. However, Lukas challenges their claim to be environmental saviours because of the energy needed to manufacture such vehicles, their excessive weight and the sometimes less than green sources of energy needed to power them.

Whilst renewable generation uptake has begun, the UK remains heavily reliant on fossil fuel imports to run the power stations delivering most of its electricity. Lukas explains that EVs require more energy to produce than existing cars such as the humble Ford Fiesta. More energy currently equals more burning of fossil fuels and therefore more greenhouse gases emitted to the atmosphere at the outset. To reduce this problem, car giant BMW has taken the steps in using renewable energy to power their i series factories, but this cannot be said for the majority of manufacturers.

Another drawback of today's EVs is their heavy battery packs. A Tesla Model S weighs well over 2 tonnes. Lukas says that the heavier the car the more energy is needed to get the vehicle moving. Even with the most advanced motors, EVs will continue to experience this challenge until lighter (more energy dense) batteries have been developed. In the meantime innovative use of carbon fibre and aluminium in vehicle body-shell design can offset some of the battery weight.

Size remains as important as weight from an efficiency point of view. The larger the car the more air it has to force out of the way. In slow city traffic drag is less of a factor but EV range is greatly reduced by drag when travelling at over 40 mph. On the other hand the larger the car the less space on congested streets. The lower the traffic flow rate the more pollution from conventional vehicles.

Lukas still contends that EVs may hold great importance in the future, particularly “in busy stop-start city traffic they can make a lot of sense”.

Energy Storage

We're now seeing the potential of lithium based batteries for domestic renewable energy storage and the possibility of connecting your lithium battery EV to your self-generating eco home. It’s possible to imagine how a smarter grid could ‘park’ energy from wind, sun and wave for the time when it’s needed if a web of EV batteries were always sitting ready to take up the charge. Alternatively excess renewable energy could be used to make hydrogen which could then run a fuel cell EV or cater for overnight domestic electricity demands.

Now we’re really getting somewhere! With increased storage capacity, the case against renewables – that they are too intermittent – starts to fall apart.

Green Tour

If you want to go green why not start at home? Take a free tour of Lukas’ inspirational home in Nottingham on Sat 24 Sep 2016.  A home viewing with a guided tour will allow you to quiz him and get frank feedback on what worked and anything that didn’t. Register your place in advance at

Written by Matt Malcolm and Kaoutar Nahli



More information about Energy Saving and Renewable Energy on YouGen.

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5 comments - read them below or add one


ekranoplanComment left on: 29 September 2016 at 7:38 pm

This article is one writer's take on a few of my comments. If you want to know more then please feel free to read my reviews of EVs and other blogs.  

Here's one about the BMW i3 when it first arrived in the UK - much of the comments still hold true for the 94Ah version:

Been a cyclist for longer than the decades I've been involved in aerospace or automotive industries. My regular pedal powered machine is a 19080s Dursley Pedersen from Denmark. It's based on the orginal 1890s design and was one of the first space frame designs.

I have driven many EVs, Hybrids, PHEVS and other "eco" cars.  The truth is I like EVs but they do have negatives. There is no perfect transport solution but there are dangers in a "one size fits all" philosophy. 

A good example is the arguement between the advocates of EVs vrs Hydrogen cars. One of the most balanced articles on these technologies is here:

We also see a massive anti diesel campaign in some parts of the globe. In truth 98% of what we use relies on diesel power to a certain extent. - be that an african farmers water pump, a truck taking goods to market, a ship taking produce to Western consumers, an HGV to storage warehouses, a delivery truck answering the call from an online grocery order.  The reason your iphone can be delivered so cheapy is because of the thermodynamic efficiency of those engines powering chinese container ships. 

The new major of London has just opened a backup electricity generating plant powered by...... yes you guessed it!  Diesel.

The VW scandal has provided us with plenty of mis-information. Very little publiscity was given to recent  (2016) independant  Govt test of a wide range of diesel powered vehicles in the UK. The VWs happened to beat the compettiion in terms of all emissions with their Euro 6  engines.  Sadly they tried to sell excess stock of older Euro 5 engines to the USA by cheating on the EPA tests (mostly by additional Urea injection when off road on an EPA machine). 

There are much bigger problems to tackle if we are to see really efficient cars and less global and local roadside pollution on our roads any time soon.

The biggest enemy is oversizing and excess weight. The current obsession in our supersizeme consumer culture is the post 9/11 SUV / Cross over fashion. It has led to ever bigger , less aerodynamic and heavier cars. In some ways diesel could be blamed for making such cars "cheap" to run. The 1970s oil crisis killed off big american V8s because many of them did under 8 mpg.  Elsbett developed Pumpe Duse in that era which was adopted by VW in the 1990s. Fiat came up with common rail and together more powerful and fuel efficient diesels came to the fore. Some stars appeared (sadly not ior the UK market) Notably the VW Lupo 3L and the Audi A2 1.2 TDI. These were genuinely capable fo 100mpg (imp) and emitted under 86gCO2/km.

But footballers wives and post 911 fears saw the rise of the ever bigger vehicle despite clear evidence that bigger is not always safer even in military circles (snatch land rover being one tragedy). Today we have so called MINIs heavier and bigger than 1970s Range Rovers. The BMW i3 depsite carbon fibre and aluminium tech is heavier than the orginal Ford Transit van!

VW are moving towards more EVs but at present they make 1900 Golfs per day of which just 80 are EV or PHEVs.










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Tim1965Comment left on: 28 September 2016 at 10:19 pm

I've run EVs myself for over 9 years.  Economical, quiet, refined, cheap-to-run, low emissions.  Hard to imagine myself changing back to petrol or Diesel.

Much of the electricity to charge my current vehicle comes from my own solar PV.  I use an immerSUN to enable the charger when sufficient power is available.

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Gordon Glass

Gordon Glass from Comment left on: 28 September 2016 at 10:16 am

Tom - You make a lot of very good points.

There's no question that a city with fewer vehicles sending noxious emissions out of their backend is a much nicer one to visit. Cycling behind an electric car in slow traffic surely beats sitting behind an old diesel smoker by a very long stretch!

As a cyclist I think the Red Ways in Milton Keynes (cycle paths completely divorced from motor vehicles) must be as near to cycle heaven as it gets. I know the fight for space for cycles in London has been growing more and more vocal and demonstrative in recent years ... and rightly so.

So EVs I'd think would make cities a much nicer place for cycling. Although it would concern me if that car pollution started reappearing as power plant pollution elsewhere as a consequence (an awful lot of electricity out there is coming from coal - note also the FT article 'Electric car boom raises pollution fear' for interest). Offshoring our heavy industry and manufacturing has cleaned up Britain, but clearly it hasn't helped Beijing. I'd prefer the march to cleaner air to be global.

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NEF Gabby

NEF GabbyComment left on: 28 September 2016 at 9:50 am


Thanks for your comments. Yes, it is contradictory, but that's the problem. There is so much information and mis-information out there and different people's perspectives on things can have such a bearing on whether they are positive or negative towards EVs.

I think EVs have come on so much in the past few years (just about all taxis I see these days are Prius versions). The tax changes were very disappointing and will inevitably have an impact on sales, but Vehicle to Grid, improved batteries etc etc will make EVs a sensible option on a personal, business and global level that I see them as a major part of our carbon emissions reductions strategies in the future.


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tomharleComment left on: 26 September 2016 at 6:01 pm

I may have been biased in expecting the YouGen blog to conclude an article title like this with "yes" ,but I feel like your summary of Lukas Wilcocks comments is sometimes pessimistic and often contracdictory,

You finish with a paragraph about what must surely be the future for connected homes and cars, which would suggest that 'yes, they are the future because we'll integrate them more closely with our holistic personal energy generation mix'. Surely that's the whole point of your website, to get that point across and sell it to us?

Just re-phrasing some of your points:

Despite their overall low head-count on our streets, sales of new EVs increased 120% this year, against a 2% rise in their competitors.

Energy is required to build all things. If we ignore renewable sources, such as the ones used to power the entire network of UK service station charge points, EVs have potential to benefit our public spaces by moving the by-products of energy generation away from our streets, reducing local air pollution and noise pollution in the process. This creates a better public realm for everyone.

All cars take energy to produce, but some (3 of the biggest selling in EVs; BMW, Tesla and Nissan) offset much of this energy with on-site energy generation and sustainable supply chains.

Electric cars are heavy, but they're often built with lighter materials to compensate - plus, electric motors are far more efficient (as their higher torque transfers more of the energy to the wheels) than traditional internal combustion systems. This is why they often get moving far more quickly than similar sized vehicles. Their lower centre of gravity often makes them safer in handling, and more fun to drive.

Electric cars are perfect for our cities, where stop-start traffic causes heavy build-up of noxious gases and unneccessary fuel waste. When EVs aren't moving, they use negligible battery, and emit no fumes or noise.

To combat the range reduction that all cars experience at speed, many evs designed for long distances have some of the lowest drag co-efficients on the market. The forthcoming Tesla Model 3 is expted to have a rating of just 0.28.

The ford fiesta, a long-established high production volume vehicle from a respected brand, with an affordable price point, shows what will be possible as mass development and adoption of EVs continues.

Integrating car batteries into home generation schemes, either from reusing batteries from second hand vehicles, or by plugging in excess car battery power overnight, will help countries balance their generation requirements during busy evening periods.

Keep up the good work!

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