Glasgow is a compact city. Nowhere in the city is much further than 10 miles from any where else. It is perfect for electric vehicles(EVs) which typically have a short range.
Pictured above are two of the forty electric vehicles being trialled by Glasgow City Council. The trial which began over a year ago is scheduled to run for three years. The vehicle fleet operated by the City Council comprises over 1200 vehicles of which over 350 are cars or car derived vans with the remainder including everything from small vans to bin lorries, minibuses and even articulated lorries.
This is surely a welcome measure to reduce the city's carbon footprint and improve air quality. Or is it?
The trial EVs are a mix of Peugeot Partner Electric Vehicles, pictured, and Nissan Leafs.The Peugeot does not appear to be a standard production model, hence data on their expected performance is not readily available. There is more information on the Nissan Leaf, which indicates that it has a range of 109 miles on a 30.3kWh charge, based in typical driving conditions. This works out at 0.28kWh/mile which leads to carbon emissions of 144g C02/mile(90g/km), based on the typical UK energy mix for electricity generation of 0.52kg/kWh. At a unit cost of electricity of 12p/kWh the running cost can be estimated as 2.1p/km.
Compare this with the most common car in the fleet, the Volkswagen Polo Blue Motion, of which there are almost 200. This has rated carbon emissions of 89-91g/km, almost the same as the electric car. The urban fuel consumption is 67mpg or 4.2l/100km. At £1.40 per litre this works out at 5.9p/km which is almost three times the running cost of the electric vehicle.
The conclusion therefore is that there is no benefit in climate change terms from using electric vehicles compared with the best performing diesel cars at the current time, with the latter spending much less time being refuelled - the leaf takes 8-12 hours for a full charge. The EV has a lower fuel cost than the diesel car. Both of the cars fall in to the zero rate for Vehicle Excised Duty but at a cost of £16,000, the VW Polo Blue motion is about £10,000 cheaper than the Nisan Leaf. This price difference means that the EV only breaks even financially after about 150,000 miles.
The only advantage of the EV at this time is that the pollution caused by them is displaced from the city to remote power stations, which may help to improve the city's poor air quality.
Strathclyde University are to conduct a review of the first year of operation in order to give feedback on their performance. The results of this study would be useful for car developers, helping identify aspects that could be improved, and could also help other large organisations to gauge whether the low emission EVs would be suitable for their fleets. It would be interested to know whether their energy use matches predictions and whether they keep their charge or spend too long out of use being charged.
There are many other issues which must be considered before EVs can be written off as overpriced underachievers. If, as hoped, our electricity production becomes less fossil fuel dependent then the carbon emissions from EVs will drop. On the other hand, if there is another dash for gas, especially shale gas, they will be worse. If EVs become more common, they could collectively act as electricity storage to smooth out the peaks and troughs in variable renewable energy supplies but we also need to consider the whole life carbon cost and the impact of extracting rare earth metals for the batteries.
Information on GCC vehicle fleet, from FOI request: http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/vehicle_fleet_list_79
Nissan leaf Information on typical energy use: Nissan website
VW Polo Blue Motion fuel consumption taken from the Energy Saving Trust website