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Roddy Graham's Blog: 13 November 2008 - Plug and go

Date: 13 November 2008

Roddy Graham is chairman of the ICFM and commercial director of Leasedrive Velo

We all know is that there is no panacea for our green transport problems. Solutions will come from a variety of different sources from use of lightweight materials, even better engineered internal combustion engines, more refined fuels, bio-fuels, hybrids, etc.

And one option gaining increased favour is the electric vehicle. With fuel cell technology improving the possibility of wider take-up of this solution, we are hearing of more trials taking place.

The latest news is that Amey is trying out Smart electric cars in Birmingham, Oxford and Plymouth. This comes hot on the heels of an electric scooter being tested by Lothian and Borders Police in Edinburgh as a potential replacement for the patrol car.

One of the arguments against the electric vehicle is that you are replacing one kind of carbon footprint for another. If you charge an electric vehicle, you need to extract energy from the national grid, which means burning fossil fuels at local power stations.

Research conducted on behalf of the Department for Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform and the Department for Transport has now placed a green cost on recharging electric vehicles. According to the study, greenhouse gasses could be cut by as much as 40% even though there is reliance on burning fossil fuels to charge the electric vehicles.

The study by Arup and Cenex also indicates the national grid has sufficient capacity to handle the extra demand placed on it despite denials today by Government that in 10 years the lights could go out at regular intervals.

Furthermore, as charging would take place mostly overnight, drivers of electric vehicles would be taking advantage of off-peak electricity.

Last month, the Technology Strategy Board unveiled a £10m project, co-funded by the DfT, to pilot up to 100 low-carbon demonstration vehicles across the UK to promote electric and hybrid vehicles in real-life situations. The Board is also to invest a further £10m on the 'electrification' of road transport.

It would appear that fresh impetus has been given to promoting the take-up of electric vehicles, which undoubtedly are a good solution in urban areas. The only major drawback I see is one of silence. How will pedestrians avoid stepping out into the path of electric vehicles when for years now they have not had the familiarity of listening out for the local milk float? Technology will have to be deployed to make such vehicles better heard on the road.

One thing's for sure, the rise in popularity of the electric vehicle will give new meaning to the 'Plug and Go' slogan!