Electric vehicles: running on night-time solar power?

Tesla – probably the best electric cars currently available

Tesla – probably the best electric cars currently available

I attended a breakfast briefing on biofuels in Brussels on Tuesday morning, January 27th.  I was fascinated by a presentation from the pony-tailed Dr. Chris Malins of the International Institute for Clean Transportation – a lobby group.  He clearly knows a lot about bio-fuels.  He presented statistics showing that if you make ethanol from maize, using typical yield figures, the emissions over the whole process are substantially higher than with regular petrol.

However if you make a series of heroic assumptions – like improved yields; reduced demand in other areas; use of marginal land, and so on, it comes down below 50% of the emissions of fossil fuels.  My take-away message from his presentation was that you can only justify bio-fuels in emissions terms with an extraordinary amount of dodging and weaving.  And it’s difficult to justify them in economic terms at all.

We then heard a different view on biofuels from Johan Peeters of ABB.  He was the alternative opinion.  Arguing that biofuels were hugely inefficient, he made the case instead for electric vehicles.  He said an eight-hour overnight charge at home on domestic AC would give a range of 100 km, and that the range could be extended to 300 km (say 200 miles) with a couple of half-hour DC “fast charges” in the course of a journey.  Batteries were getting cheaper.  In ten years we should all be driving electric vehicles.

I have a few thoughts and questions for Mr. Peeters.

That overnight charge: where will the electricity come from?  Solar power, perhaps?

Suppose I really don’t want to stop for two half-hour recharging sessions on my 200 mile journey?  And where do I find re-charging points (he says there are several at the Brussels Midi train station – but I don’t drive there very often – or ever).   I was interested to learn that there are at least four different types of plug – French, German, Japanese, American.  Confusion reigns.  And 200 miles is not too bad, but what if I want to use air-con and wind-screen-wipers and headlights?

Finally, where is all this extra electricity going to come from?  And how “clean” will it be?  You say we’re all going to be driving electric cars in ten years’ time.  But the only CO2-free baseload power comes from nuclear, and it takes fifteen years to build a nuclear power station.

Back to the drawing-board, Mr. Peeters.  Of course electric vehicles will come eventually, but not until we have very much better battery technology than is available today.

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23 Responses to Electric vehicles: running on night-time solar power?

  1. Electric cars running on unsustainable subsidies for fuel, and improbability drive, will not only drive us into the future, but also provide storage for the energy we need to balance the grid.
    …According to Oliver Letwin Minister for Government Policy at ‘the Great Energy Debate’ at the Mansion house in November.

    Surely then you must be in denial mr Helmer if you question our present governments grip on energy policy? Or is it in fact mr Letwin that needs to get a grip?

    • Flyinthesky says:

      But they haven’t figured out how to get the battery storage back into the grid, it would require a sophisticated inverter to back feed the battery to the grid.
      Sorry boss I can’t get to work today the grid has emptied my battery.

  2. Flyinthesky says:

    As an aside to the charging question, do we have enough natural resources to manufacture the many millions of these batteries that would be required. Also what are the implications of dealing with the spent ones.

  3. David H. Walker says:

    The first “successful” fuel cell was built twenty years prior to the electric car, and the first “successful” electric car was built about twenty years prior to the first “successful” petrol car. These advances were all achieved in the middle of the 19th Century. Diesel came even later.

    Electric vehicles easily outsold gasoline vehicles between 1870 and 1910. Steam cars outsold electric cars most of those years.

    Government blathers and slathers regulations onto the automotive market, and consumer demands for performance make it ever more difficult for any pure electric to find a popular niche.

    Electric vehicles will eventually come only when consumers embrace them despite all their limitations, or if there are significant revolutions in transfer/storage/consumption/weight. The odds of the former are much greater in the event of market dynamics, the latter is not likely in the near term no matter what.

    I would love to have an electric car for dashing around my little ‘berg, but my two centenarian hot rods are so much more fun.

  4. Jane Davies says:

    Slightly off topic I know but just read this on my news feed on facebook and am hopping mad. Please get out of this EU madness before I return to the UK.


  5. Ex-expat Colin says:

    Batteries…rare earth stuff. Import again! Electricity generation and transmission….price always climbing + vat.

    100km is 60miles and a journey is not always straight forward is it, especially around the M25. Weather conditions?

    None of it makes much sense and of course nor does petrol/diesel. So its really has to be the worst of the evils and that ain’t battery. Likely works for taxi’s but Customers have to cough up a lot there.

    Need cow power really with lots of steak, milk and decent leather shoes – home grown of course! I Heard some woman on BBC WS or R4 this am on about cow products needing banned. There are alternatives it appears?

  6. Ian Terry says:

    You cannot make this up all this green rubbish. As usual they the greenies are urinating before they have got their flies open. Just as with the wind turbines erect 1000s and then try and install the infrastructure to carry the power generated. Reeks of a scam and incompetence. Electric cars are being presented in the same manner. The real technology and infrastructure to make them viable is light years away especially if there are no subsidies. When are the mass of politicians who promote all this rubbish going to remove their heads from dark places and see the sunshine. With the national debt running as it is plus the state of over 80% of Europe like all the green “nice to have policies” we cannot afford them and until you get the world all on the same hymn sheet, in tune you never will.

    • David H. Walker says:

      Why be honest and truly industrious when one can use the perception of crisis to win the vote, use government force to define political and financial winners and losers, and shake down tax payers while doing little to nothing to earn it?

      The Era of Crisis Construction is a socialist/fascist wet drem

  7. Katie says:

    Not much use to me when I visit my family in Hampshire. I live in S Ayrshire which is 500 miles away so I would have to either take the train or fly which would mean travelling pretty lightly every time. If I wanted to drive it would take me several days. There wouldn’t be enough public transport to cater for everyone . How are we going to get rid of the batteries when they wear out? How are we all going to afford this? Where is the power going to come from???? Wind turbines, solar, biomass etc???? I don’t think so. That would mean even more power being required than now and without our fossil fuel power stations this is a non starter. Bio fuels have taken away land from people who are now starving and vast areas of rain forest have been cleared for bio fuels. What a mess!!

  8. Thomas Fox says:

    Could an electrical engineer explain how the National Grid would be able to cope with many thousands of plug in cars charging simultaneously when local low voltage transformers to domestic houses would take excessive loading?

    • Richard111 says:

      Maybe that is what ‘smart meters’ are for? If there is a sudden demand for electricity in your local town, especially if you are close to a motorway, domestic houses will be switched off. Oh, and hope it is not 10/10 clouds over head.

      • Thomas Fox says:

        Agree Richard 111 may be the Greens can explain how all this electrical power to drive everything is going to work by windmill generation when the true science tells me it,s not possible ??

      • Brin Jenkins says:

        Photo Voltaic panels produce only 12% of their July output. We need to cover 8 times the area for our Winter months?

        Nuclear is the only viable option without new inventions, or we return to the dark ages including an 80% population reduction.

      • Jane Davies says:

        I have lived in the frigid winter winter conditions on the prairies here in Canada and one has to plug in your vehicle when ever it is parked for more than a couple of hours or the engine will freeze. Overnight at home and when parked in public parking lots one has to plug in. Every space in the parking lots have an electrical socket so one can plug in whilst going to work etc. It is normal life here where temps go down to -45 in places. It’s built into the infrastructure, the UK will have to get on board if electric cars are ever going to be an option.

      • Brin Jenkins says:

        In the UK I think that extra load would break the camels back on load balancing.

  9. Brin Jenkins says:

    From Grid watch I found this link that give a good insight to all energy matters including cars. http://www.withouthotair.com/

    cars only

    The extra energy required per day to replace oil is substantial, and not without considerable costs.

  10. Ex-expat Colin says:

    I am not an electrical engineer, I am an electronics engineer that had to study electrics on the way up. However, as a matter of interest I note this wiki article about the Global EVN systems.


    I have seen the taxi chargers in London and wondered. Parking is a prime issue. Just trying to imagine cables trailing across pathways from houses..and its raining etc. Dense housing areas!

    Outlet chargers are rated at 13A and 32A as per domestic supply systems. As regards area supply (distribution transformers), where charging approached area overload (peak use times), load sensing would back off charging or switch it off. So on return to your expected charged vehicle…at times it wouldn’t be fully charged? If current draw rate is not controlled the area trips will actuate and everybody in that area looses power – in the worst case.

    13A outlet (fused) charging is the standard battery safe charging rate (automotive type batteries/10 hour rate)
    32A outlet (fused) charging is the fast charging rate….batteries don’t like too much shortening life.

    We do not hear about EVN charging experiences and are pretty much left to assume it works ok. Perhaps it does now…just wait for a big demand. Commercial can do what it likes…we should prepare to be stuffed!

    There appears to be many types of batteries (performance/cost) for vehicles with both on-vehicle and off-vehicle charger types. Money required.

    • Thomas Fox says:

      Thanks Colin with an inquisitive mind I could never understand why electricity generation and its distribution can run most transport without excessive upgrade costs , alas our MP,s fail to tell us the truth of the matter ??

    • Flyinthesky says:

      Notwithstanding, people who use dual tariff electricity for water and central heating would find the off peak times reversed with millions of cars on charge overnight.
      Climate crackpots and politicians are not looking at the full picture, as usual.

  11. Ex-expat Colin says:

    Lord Monckton trashing models again – latest monthly/annual (Dec 14) report below.



  12. Brin Jenkins says:

    I spent time arguing CO2 on the Guardian today… waste of logical time.

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