Will Green eMotion initiative put the drive back in e-cars?

14 Apr 2011

There’s been much hype about electric vehicles of late and how Ireland should be paving the way for a cleaner alternative to fossil-based fuels.

Just a few weeks ago, the EU announced a €1.5m fund for Ireland to develop electric transport. The fund, which is part of the cross-European electro mobility initiative, Green eMotion, will be shared between Cork City Council, CODEMA, Trinity College Dublin and ESB Electric Ireland.

And while the aim of the Irish Government is to have 10pc of all cars electric by 2020, the grant scheme of up to €5,000 for electric and hybrid cars for motorists is still not approved, even though it was originally set for this past January.

Says Energy Minister Pat Rabbitte TD: “I have asked my department and SEAI to finalise the details of the scheme for my consideration. Ireland is well positioned to be an early mover in the introduction of electric vehicles, given our geographical size and we are already, through ESB Networks, working to develop the necessary infrastructure.”

E-car charge points in Ireland

By the end of 2011, ESB Electric Ireland, which is leading the rollout of the electric car infrastructure in Ireland, will install 3,500 charge points for e-cars – encompassing 2,000 domestic and 1,500 on-street charge points. As part of this, it will install 30 fast chargers along major inter-urban routes, circa 60km apart, to enable longer e-car journeys. Via the latter charger, you’ll be able to
charge your car to 80pc capacity in 20 to 25 minutes.

Paul Mulvaney, managing director, ESB ecars, says the aim is to have 2,000 ecars on Irish roads by the end of this year and 6,000 by 2012.

Last week I had the opportunity to test-drive the all-electric vehicle, ESB ecar. Right now, the ecar is being trialled by both businesses and individuals here, while ESB ecars is also conducting a two-year ecar trial with Trinity College Dublin.

“This particular car is a Mitsubishi i MiEV but there will be a whole range of ecars available in Ireland over the next couple of years,” explained Mulvaney.

“This car is the same as the Nissan LEAF and both of those are around €30,000 net of the €5,000 Government grant towards the purchase of the car and there’s zero VRT.”

While the cars are still a little expensive because they are at the early stage of production, he says they will become cheaper.

What it’s like to drive an ecar

So the first thing I noticed about the ecar is that you don’t need a key to start it, as there’s no engine to ignite. It is also automatic so there’s no clutch, and the indicators are to the right of the wheel.

As we set off for a spin up Fitzwilliam Street in Dublin and around the block, the car glided effortlessly along. Because it’s automatic, there’s no gear changing so it’s really smooth, and the fact it is totally silent is one of the most attractive features of the ecar. That said, you do need to watch out for unsuspecting cyclists and pedestrians as people automatically assume they’ll hear an engine.

The ecar really is a pleasure to drive, especially in heavy traffic, and it’s a great feeling to know it is not emitting any CO2 into the atmosphere. And while compact enough, it can accommodate four people snugly.

The battery is contained at the rear, but there’s still a small boot that would hold your shopping or a small case or two.

But aside from helping the environment, what’s the incentive to opt for an ecar? Mulvaney points to the lower running and maintenance costs.

“Typically, the running costs of an electric car are one-fifth the cost of the price of a petrol car to run. So, if you are charging a car at night using night-rate electricity, it is only two to three cents per kW hour. The savings would be roughly €1,500 per year on fuel, depending on mileage.”

An added draw is that for the first 2,000 ecars that are purchased, ESB is also going to install a home charger for free.

“Those chargers are small, wall-mounted units. You can have them in your garage or garden,” says Mulvaney. “Most people will charge their car at home at night time or the other most popular place is likely to be work.”

So while there are imminent challenges for electric vehicles, such as the initial high purchase cost for many of the models available right now, and the technology around car charging and battery development, the ecar’s possibilities really hit home after test driving it. It has the potential to be a perfect city-friendly car – zero tailpipe emissions, no noise pollution and it will lower your overall running costs in the longer term.

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic