Electric cars are coming to Europe

At 13 years of age, this all-electric Citroen Ax is still a baby (here it is shown with the author's wife, Grazia). European electric cars didn't undergo the same destiny as the American "EV1s", ruthlessly crushed to the last one by GM's minions. Nevertheless, even in Europe, electric cars did not succeed in gaining a significant share of the market.

The fate of electric cars in the US is better known than the parallel European story thanks to the 2006 film "Who killed the electric car?" Because of this film, we know the sad story of the EV1, the first all-electric car built by General Motors. After a few years of testing, GM decided to take back all the EV1s it had produced and destroyed all of them. The last ones were crushed to oblivion in 1999. But the European story wasn't so dramatic. European electric cars built in the 1990s are still around and running, although in very small numbers. There are signs, now, that after many years of neglect, electric cars may come back to Europe.

Electric cars have a long story that starts in 19th century. However, the demise of electric propulsion for road vehicles seemed to be complete after the second world war, when a flood of cheap oil made internal combustion engines the only reasonable choice. But, in the 1990s, worries about pollution led governments and automakers to start rethinking about electric cars. In Europe, it was mainly French automakers, Peugeot and Citroen in particular, who were interested. France seemed to be the ideal place for electric vehicles. With all their nuclear plants, the French had plenty of electric power. Even too much, and that forced them to sell power to Italy at rock-bottom prices. What better idea could there be than having a fleet of electric cars that would recharge at night exploiting low cost nuclear power? In addition, the French automotive industry had a tradition of cars that were sturdy and cheap. Vehicles such as the Citroen "2CV" and the Renault "R4" could only be conceived in a culture that had developed the concept of rouler en bagnole , something impossible to translate into English, but that conveys the idea of a way of riding which is relaxed and without problems.

So, in the 1990s Citroen and Peugeot started developing electric cars. I have no data on how many were built, possibly a few thousands. Peugeot also produced electric motorcycles. In most cases, production was discontinued by the end of the decade. However, the vehicles remained in the hands of their owners, unlike the ill fated American EV1's. Many of these vehicles are still around; one is the electric Citroen Ax that I bought just about a month go and that you see in the picture at the beginning of this article.

Made in 1996, this car it has been quietly running up to not long ago with its original set of nickel-cadmium batteries. It weighed a little more than 1 ton and had a range of 80-90 km. Last year, the previous owner had it refurbished with new, state of the art, lithium-polymer batteries. The car shed about 200 kg and increased its range to about 100 km.

One month of use is not much, but I think I can already give you an assessment of this car. And I can tell you that it is a great little car: perfect for suburban commuting. Simple, cheap, quiet, easy to drive. The maximum speed is 95 km/h, enough to run on highways. It is very inexpensive to refuel, it goes 100 km with one recharge that, in Italy, costs less than 2 Euros. Much less for me since I have photovoltaic panels on my roof. The limited range is not a problem, although you have to program your trips a little.

So, after some time, you start thinking that this is the way all cars should be: silent, cheap and zero emission. If you happen to be back at the wheel of an ordinary car; you feel that there is something wrong with all that noise. Also, what is that funny stick protruding out of the floor? Then, you start thinking that you are running around with 50 liters of flammable gasoline behind your back. Doesn't that make you feel uneasy? And, if you happen to give a look under the hood - eek! What is that monstrous thing in there?

Lithium Polymer batteries have surely helped making this car better, but I am sure that even with the old Ni-Cd batteries it was a good car. Yet, these electric cars of the 90s had little success in Europe. One problem, obviously, was price, more than twice that of the equivalent gasoline or diesel model. In principle, there is no reason why these cars should have been so expensive. Think of how simple they are: no cylinders, no pistons, no spark plugs, no valves, no transmission, no radiator, and so on. They have got to cost less, not more. I think that, here, automakers have been playing a softer version of the crushing game played by GM with the EV1.

But high prices may not the only reason for the scarce success of electric cars and perhaps not even the most important one. There is something ancestral that makes us fear the new and keep to the old ways. I can tell you that, after I had struck a deal with the previous owner for the Ax, we shook hands and for a moment I felt a sensation of absolute doom. I felt like a cartoon character who has just stepped off a cliff and has been walking on thin air for a while. I told myself "why in the world did I spend money on that thing? Why didn't I buy a real car?" By now, this sensation is mostly gone, but sometimes it reappears when I look at that curious white thing parked in my driveway. It is like, I can tell you, switching from Vista to Linux, something that I did a few months ago. Linux is cheaper, easier and faster, but the psychological impact during the first months is not unlike that of being abducted by a flying saucer and married to an alien princess.

So, there is an attitude problem with electric cars. People just don't seem to be able to understand that a car may be something that doesn't make noise, doesn't emit smoke, doesn't use fuel. Electric vehicles just aren't seen as "real". My impression is that this is the main reason behind the failure of electric cars to take a significant slice of the market, so far. That also explains the insistence on hydrogen and biofuels: inefficient and expensive as they may be, at least they are fuels. They are something that you refill your car with and, afterwards, you hear the familiar noise of an engine running. Even without evil automakers bent to crushing flat electric cars, these perception problems remain.

But, with peak oil arriving (or already arrived) things are changing. We are starting to realize that we can't wait any longer and we can't keep dreaming hydrogen dreams or using precious land to cultivate biofuels for inefficient thermal engines. Electric vehicles still have problems: range is limited, cost is high and lithium mineral supply may be a problem if we don't learn to recycle lithium efficiently. But it is a technology that works here and now at a reasonable cost and that can be used for this difficult transition period in which we'll have to learn to live with less fossil fuels and even with none at all. There are clear signs that these cars are coming back to Europe, at last!


Some technical data

Citroen Ax model 1996 - three doors, 4 passengers.
Weight: originally 1046 kg, now about 850 kg
Batteries: Lithium polymer made by Kokam. 120 V nominal voltage, 12 kWh storage. Recharging time ca. 6 hours from complete discharge. Rated to last approx 2000 full recharge cycles,
Engine: brushed DC. 20 kW nominal power
Max speed: 95 kMh, electronically limited
Range: ca 100 km
Price: this is a prototype, so its cost is not representative of how much a car like this one might cost once produced in large numbers. Let's say that, at present, Li-po batteries suitable for traction may cost around 1000 eur/kWh of storage, but that depends on the number purchased.

The upgrade of the Citroen Ax to Li-po batteries was performed by Riccardo Falci (aka "the wizard"), the same person who retrofitted the now mythical electric 500 . I wish to thank Massimo De Carlo (aka "the wise one") and Mr. Guido Chiostri, former owner ot the Ax, who has now moved to an even better vehicle, a Fiat 600 refitted with Li-po batteries (and guess who did the job!)!).

More info on electric cars on TOD:

"Costs and environmental impacts of electric cars" by Joost van der Bulk; http://europe.theoildrum.com/node/5104

"The energy efficiency of cars", by Euan Mearns, http://europe.theoildrum.com/node/5101

"The post peak car", by Ugo Bardi and Pietro Cambi, http://www.theoildrum.com/node/3275

I was back in France a few week ago and discussed about electric with a friend working for Renault in the department designing and testing new car and prototypes. Since my friend is aware of peak oil, we discussed about electric car and he told me that Renault/Nissan (and other car makers) solution to battery limitations and price is going to sell electric car but to lease the batteries. To refill your batteries, you will stop at a station that will exchange them with charged one. This allow "fast" recharche, to sidestep the price of the batteries through rental and to recycle batteries (a good thing since lithium is going to be more and more precious). There was recently an article in French newspaper indicating that the Flin factory (west of Paris) might be turned to make only electric car, with a capability of up to 300,000 car per year in 2012 (in another article the number was 100,000...). Renault is apparently planing to spend 1 billion Euro over the next two years for electric car production, starting with two oe three model.
A similar news was published in UK Auto express:
Apparently Renault/Nissan is busy setting up recharging station all over Europes and even in the US
So, things might be finally moving wup ith electric car. The coming few years are going to be a make or brake (pun intended) for electric cars.
It is still doubfull whether it is going to make any difference to peak oil problems but any good news is welcome right now.

The biggest challenge to the full introduction of the electric car is not technical. The cars are very good and the confluence of technology means they will only get stronger.

The real issues are economic and logistical. The threat of a collapsing fuel price is always present. When fuel is cheap, what is the incentive to go electric, unless you are a true believer in peak oil or an activist on the carbon/greenhouse gas issue?

The other problem is logistical. I live in an apartment far away from my parking area now, so recharching the car would be a major logistical problem. Landlords in the U.S. will not install lightbulbs in the hallway/common areas of the building because no one is paying rent on the hallway, so the odds are hugely against them doing anything to assist electric car recharging unless they are forced to.

In the U.S., interestingly enough, the best potential customers for electric cars are suburban home owners with lots of garage space.

These people already own multiple vehicles. It would be no problem for one of them to be an electric car. They buy vehicles such as off road 3 and 4 wheelers, motorcycles, huge lawn mowers and golf carts purely for recreational activity that are more complex and almost as expensive as a small electric car would be if it were well designed.
But again, these are not people who consider peak oil or global warming as a serious consideration in their buying decisions, so they have no real incentive to buy electric cars (or electric lawn mowers or other electric vehicles for that matter).

I truly believe that electric cars will be forced into the marketplace by carbon release issues rather than the threat of peak oil. If the vehicles can be made "hip" to the younger generation, as much a "style" item as a transportation appliance, they can find customers. The important thing about electric car technology is that it puts something of a ceiling on oil prices. People can go to them if the price of oil forces them to, but oil has to this date not gotten anywhere nearly expensive enough to do that, not even in Europe.


Good news for you people but here in the U.S.A. we don't do nothing untill everybody is screaming for mercy such a shame, big money rules not doing what's right.

In some parts of Australia, particularly Victoria, you would be better off buying a hybrid or even a small-capacity petrol-engined car.

Figures released by the University of South Australia reveal how much carbon dioxide an electric vehicle will produce for each kilometre travelled in each state or territory based on how the electricity is generated.

In Victoria, where 85 per cent of electricity comes from power stations burning more highly polluting brown coal, the figures show an electric vehicle will produce the equivalent of about 130 grams of carbon dioxide a kilometre — about the same as small-engined petrol hatchback.

But recharge the same electric car in Tasmania, where almost all the electricity is generated using more environmentally friendly hydroelectric power plants, and the equivalent carbon dioxide output falls to about 13 grams.


Before we get too excited about electric cars, let's first wait and see which car manufacturers survive the aftermath of the 1st phase of peak oil (2005-2008)

Financial crisis and peak oil explained by actuary Gail Tverberg, Atlanta, Georgia:

Dr Pudney said motorists should be able to buy green electricity generated using renewable resources such as wind farms or solar stations.

And that's the critical point here: whatever renewable resources we develop, we must first REPLACE existing coal fired power plants. The last thing our climate needs are millions of electric cars (maybe with just the driver) which eat up green energy. If green power is used in the transport sector, then for much more efficient electric rail.

We are in CO2 overshoot mode for decades now. Nature will force us with weird weather events to abandon coal much earlier than is naively assumed. We got to come down with our present 385 ppm to at least 350 ppm ASAP.

Latest from NASA climatologist James Hansen:

His talk on "Air Pollutant Climate Forcings", given at Copenhagen last week, is available at:


or with the powerpoint charts at:


Attacking the twin problems of climate change and peak oil is not going to be a cakewalk, but replacing the current fleet of cars with something else (electric-assist bikes, electric cars, mass transit, walking, telecommuting, etc) can be done while we are ramping up non-polluting sources of electricity. We can't wait until the latter is all in place, because Peak Oil would have come and gone, and so would have we.

The typical vehicles now lasts 18 years, so changing over to something other than an ICE has to take place now. The shift to hybrids is helpful, but not anywhere near the speed at which we need to change.

Victoria represents pretty much the worst case senario for power generation (with the possible exception of Eastern European countries busyily burning Oil Shale). If the worst case is that an EV powered by brown coal-generated electricity produces about the same amount of CO2e as a regular oil-powered car, I consider that a win. This is because once the EV's (be they bikes, trains, passenger cars, trucks, whatever) exist, then replacing the generation infrastructure become a matter of economic lifespan.
Already in Australia a large postion of our generation infrastrucuture is approaching the point where it needs to be replaced (the average age of coal-fired plants is 35 years, iirc). Add a Carbon Tax (CPRS, ETS) on top and they may already be financially unviable. If it were made a matter of policy that coal plants were replaced with Renewables, there would be no impact on the end-user (the vehicles), as they don't care a whit about how their juice is generated.

Ideally, my preference is for people to get out of their cars and walk, ride, or use PT, but given the choice of buying an ICEV or an EV, I would suggest people take the EV option, and maybe fork out extra for some PV panels, as a hedge against ever-rising fuel costs (be they oil or coal).

According to the ABS for 2006(?), the average Aussie car goes <60km/day. This is well within range of a EV with anything more modern than old-style flooded lead-acid batteries (and FLA-equipped vehicles could concievably recharge at work/shopping centre/wherever).

If the worst case is that an EV powered by brown coal-generated electricity produces about the same amount of CO2e as a regular oil-powered car, I consider that a win.

I don't. I consider that a loss, because "either petrol or electric cars" aren't the only options. The other option is not to drive your car for that trip, or at all. To get (say) 20% less emissions, you can buy an expensive new car with 20% less emissions, or you can drive 20% less and save money.

Our trip ratio across Australia is something like 85% cars, 10% public transport, and 5% walking/cycling.

As noted by the World Health Organisation [1Mb pdf],

More than 30% of trips made in cars in Europe cover distances of less than 3 km and 50% less than 5 km. These distances can be covered within 15–20 minutes by bicycle or within 30–50 minutes by brisk walking.

The short journeys use up a disproportionate amount of fuel, so even if your six a week 5km trips to the shops are just 6x 5km = 30km of your weekly 200km of driving, they'll make up more than 30km/200km = 15% of your fuel use. This is because engines reach their peak efficiency after fifteen minutes or more of driving, and short journeys involve more stopping - your engine burning fuel for you to stay still is as inefficient as you can get.

as well as short trips, at least two-thirds of trips are discretionary. You can do without them. The following is the data of purpose of journey by car from 1992, the most recent year available for such data for Australia as a whole. [source, ABS]

  • Shopping, 25.7% of all trips, 13 minutes average trip time
  • Work, 22%, 31'
  • Social activities, 18.7%, 20'
  • Voluntary & community activities, 9.3%, 18'
  • Active leisure, 7.4%, 32'
  • Child care, 9%, 13'
  • Domestic activities, 5.4%, 16'
  • Education, 2%, 22'
  • Personal care, 0.5%, 16'
  • Passive leisure, 0.1%, 22'

We have here figures for the percentage of all trips taken for that purpose. The average time spent driving each day is 1hr27'. The average time per trip doesn't add up to this 87' because not every trip is done every day; but when the trip is taken, that's the average time of it.

Only about a third of trips (work, child care, and possibly education) are non-discretionary and more or less unavoidable, assuming zero public transport and not able to bike, walk, etc. The rest can be set aside ("passive leisure", driving just for fun) or rearranged for efficiency - shopping from distant shops can be done weekly all in one go, etc.

And of course, many of those non-discretionary trips are for short distances - my woman, for example, is living with me just 5km from work, and cycles on average twice a week (not to save fuel, but for fitness). There's also a bus she could take which drops her off right outside work. And some of the non-discretionary trips are unnecessary, for example this family has four members who all live in the same house and go to the same workplace, and drive in their four separate cars, at least two of which are fuel hogging cars. They start at different times for work, but some combination of "I'll go early and go to the gym until work starts" and "I'll go to the shops after work and wait for you to finish" ought to be manageable to at least make it 2 trips instead of 4.

So of the the 85 trips taken by car out of the 100 trips taken, about 57 are discretionary, and 28 non. Those discretionary ones aren't going to be eliminated, but it seems fair to assume they could be knocked off by a third at least, down to around 38. The non-discretionary trips, a combination of cycling and public transport and just generally having your shit together ought to knock them down a bit, let's be stingy and call it a quarter, down to 19. So now car trips are 38+19 = 57 of the total, down from 85. This would put the walking/cycling trips up a bit from 5 to 15 or so.

In this way, we get around a one-third reduction in fuel burned by cars, and improve the fitness of our rather obese nation.

Here in Melbourne, even the train network operator Connex admits they could double the number of trains running without any spending on infrastructure (just on the trains themselves, and the drivers).

While the trains here are overloaded, buses are frequently empty. That's because they run infrequently and are often late due to traffic. As purely private operators, they suffer no fines from government or public scrutiny of their performance, which as a result is crap. And no-one is responsible for co-ordinating timetables, so that for example when you get off a train a bus is waiting, or vice versa. A few painted-in bus lanes and two or three competent managers and timetablers appointed could easily handle this.

So it doesn't seem to be too ambitious to say we could double public transport's share of all trips from 10 to 20. Remembering also that the walking/cycling trips would have gone up, we end up with a ratio of

57 car trips : 20 PT trips : 15 walking/cycling trips

or 62 car: 22 PT : 16 walk/cycle

which is a considerable improvement on the current 85:10:5. And all it took was some effort and thought from the public, and a bit of spending on extra trains and a few competent managers. Which could all be achieved in a few years at most, compared to changing the entire car fleet to electric which would take... how long? And cost us how much? And require how much more spending on roads?

And as Matt says, we in Australia need to knock over our stupid coal-fired stations. That in our "sunburnt country" we don't have solar PV and thermal makes as much sense as Barbados refusing to have tourists. Once we burn the coal it's gone forever, but there is no prospect of Australia becoming less sunny in the future. You have two bank accounts, one has $100 million but no interest, the other has a $10 billion principal which you can't touch because it's 93 million miles away, but it offers $10 million a month interest, which bank account do you draw on?

Cars kill 1.2 million people worldwide annually. Wars only kill 200,000. Even if cars ran on pretty girl's smiles and their exhaust gave us vitamin C, they'd be a bad idea. As Lester Brown notes,

Each U.S. car, for example, requires on average 0.07 hectares (0.18 acres) of paved land for roads and parking space. Thus for every five cars added to the U.S. fleet, an area the size of a football field is covered with asphalt. More often than not, it is cropland that is paved simply because the flat, well-drained soils that are well suited for farming are also ideal for building roads.

[...] the U.S. area devoted to roads and parking lots covers an estimated 16 million hectares (39 million acres), almost as much as the 20 million hectares that U.S. farmers plant in wheat.

Whatever they're powered with, cars consume vast amounts of resources and land. As I said, it's a tonne of metal and plastic to transport 1.5 people. This is abombinably stupid and wasteful.

And they make our cities fugly. Below are two city scenes, one designed around cars, one designed around people on foot. Which would you rather live in?

The places with the highest real estate values for residents, and with the most tourists, are those with few or no cars, good public transport and walkable neighbourhoods. It's what people want. It's just that city planners and home builders are too lazy to give it to them.

I consider that a loss, because "either petrol or electric cars" aren't the only options. The other option is not to drive your car for that trip, or at all. To get (say) 20% less emissions, you can buy an expensive new car with 20% less emissions, or you can drive 20% less and save money.

Or you could do both, seeing as how they are not mutually exclusive whatsoever...

It's question of focus.

The problem with electric cars is that it presents "business as usual" as being sustainable. "We just all change to electric and everything's fine!"

And the fact is that it's just not so. The world simply can't sustain billions of cars, whatever they're powered with. If not oil it'll be some other resource limiting it.

Plus, they make our cities fugly.

Hi Kiashu,

Whatever they're powered with, cars consume vast amounts of resources and land. As I said, it's a tonne of metal and plastic to transport 1.5 people. This is abombinably stupid and wasteful.... places with the highest real estate values for residents, and with the most tourists, are those with few or no cars

Thinking about your comments, I wonder how do we get to the point where the average motorist will tolerate us folks who are trying to move about without cars?

This photo was taken as wife and I climbed (very slowly) up the road from Abbaye de Senanque toward Gordes in Provence, France (we were able to let him pass in a few more yards). The driver of the car did not crowd us (even though it kind of looks that way), blow the horn or use finger gestures. Here in the good old USA, I suspect we would have been subjected to all sorts of abuse - assuming the driver did not have a heart attach from road rage first.

So, I think the first step towards your vision of fewer cars, is to simply get motorists to tolerate slower vehicles on public roads - bikes, scooters, tiny cars, etc. So far, I don't see much hope for that.

I've found southern France is still one of the most tolerant places in the world for cyclist - but even there it seems to be getting less tolerant. Previously, I found Ireland was one of the best cycling places and now it is more like the the US with bigger motor vehicles, more traffic, less tolerance, etc.

My experience tells me that it is going to be a real struggle to move beyond the "great car culture".

Basically, you need to have regulations and road setups which encourage cycling. One cyclist on the road is an obstacle; fifty are just part of traffic. Once you get a sort of critical mass of cyclists around, car drivers get used to them.

Things like,
- no helmet laws
- dedicated bike lanes, with car parking between bike lane and car lane
- lights go through orange as they go to green (as well as the normal going through orange as they go to red) and allow cyclists to go at that time, so they get a head start on cars and don't get tempted to turn in front of them - or similar traffic laws
- promotional campaigns to make drivers aware of cars, and encourage potential cyclists

One city which was mostly cars in the early 1970s, but has since got themselves a lot of cycling is Copenhagen. This blog talks about it a lot.

It's not really very complicated, far less complicated than building new highways and that sort of thing. You just have to have a government which encourages rather than discourages cycling.

Your biggest problem (in achieving your ideal transition away from big auto crowded streets) will be people like some friends I work with. One lives in a high-rise condo just minutes walk from the subway station, but still drives his Beemer 740IL to work "because I can". He couldn't care less what you or anyone else thinks of him for that (traded in a 10 yr old GM for the BMW, so isn't "into" any status thing with it, just likes the car.) Hobby after work is playing keyboards for a local rock band, needs to haul the stuff around. Has a daughter in junior highschool, dance lessons, music etc. Very civil, up-to-date on issues, couldn't even imagine hassling a bike rider. Many are like him. Your only avenue of attack on him to get him out of the big car is cost, and to do that you'll need to hit the top economic 10% with unafordability.

No way. You'll need to come up with an alternate reality than the one you're living in.

I don't expect cars to disappear overnight.

Currently in Melbourne the trip share is 85% cars, 10% public transport, and 5% walking/cycling.

We could get that to around 60:20:20 with just a few legal changes, some bike lanes and better management of our existing public transport. And we could do it within a decade.

To get it to 40:40:20 would take bigger changes in laws, and big investment in public transport infrastructure; or rather, moving the investment from roads to rail and walkability. And this would take about a generation. That's how long it's taken in places like Copenhagen.

After that things are less clear. It may be that cities would need to be entirely redesigned, highways torn up and fields planted, I don't know. But the generation it'd take to get to 40% cars, 40% public transport and 20% walking/cycling, by that time we'll be looking at a real crunch in fossil fuel supplies. So either people like your buddy will be forced off the roads by new laws rationing, or price will restrict the numbers of people like him.

The top 10% are always going to be living wasteful lives, and will be clueless about real issues. I mean, old Obama takes 500 people with him wherever he goes, including his own kitchen staff and 200 Secret Servicemen. You can't expect a guy living like that to have a firm grasp on the urgency of certain issues.

So the other 90% change, and that's enough. Adam Smith wrote that every society has its section of idle and unproductive people who live off the work of the rest. He didn't distinguish between a bum on the street and a manager or prince. Basically the idle and unproductive, the wasteful, are just part of the friction of machinery of society. We can't do much about that. All we can do is ensure that the friction doesn't gum up the whole machine the way it's doing today.

Hi lengould,

As I've posted many times on TOD, the problem is the "problem". Your friend, who sounds like a decent ordinary guy, simply does not believe there is an urgent problem with the availability of oil now or in the foreseeable future. If he really did, he would be very worried about the quality of life for his daughter beyond getting to dance lessons. But, I'd guess that he hears all the disinformation about how technology using "abundant" natural gas, clean coal, alternate energy, etc is going to take care of god's choosen specie.

I live in one of the most affluent counties in the US (I think number 18 to 20 of highest income). Although, I've helped get a very nice recreation trail paved, I've made almost zero progress in provisions for general utility cycling on public roads - hardly anyone here thinks there is a problem with oil supply - and these are supposed to be "smart" folks.

The present network of fuel stations in Europe (let´s stay in Europe) gives you an absolute assurance of refueling your ICE car no matter where you go. This created a feeling of freedom. You can go everywhere from the western part of europe to the eastern part with a car and don't have to worry about refueling. The same doesn't happen with electric cars in the present moment, there is no feeling of freedom, quite the opposite. But is interesting to think that for some people the electric car, despite all the limitations, can give you a feeling of a new Freedom, to be Free from the system (fossil fuels, climate change) and have the hability to move to something diferent, a new paradigm wich we don´t no how it´s going to be but of which we are sure that the path starts this way.

Whoo Hoo. Go Citroen.
I have had citroens since the Goddess. (DS20) Third best car ever manufactured.
Last car designed by engineers.
Ever since then cars have been designed by Sales and Marketing. Hence the emphasis on acceleration. Acceleration is cheap and the mug punters can be persuaded that it is essential.
Ditto planned obsolsecence.
Have you ever noticed the emphasis on the shape of the grill in the brocures? (Yawn)
My supreeme car would have the following features.
A bed. (Essential for safety.)
A low, low co-efficient of drag.
Stability and comfort.
Oh, and eight in-wheel rotating-field electric motors just so I can blow away the archaic Internal Combustion Engine.
Bad, bad boy!!
Perhaps a nice little Sterling engine to gently recharge the batteries while I fish.

Oh, and eight in-wheel rotating-field electric motors just so I can blow away the archaic Internal Combustion Engine.

Hub Motors create problems with unsprung weight. For simplicity's sake, simply replacing the ICE with a electric motor (perhaps hooked up to a manual gearbox for flexability if you've got a lot of hills) is my preferred choice.

I stand corrected.
Cancel the rotating field and replace them with rotating squirrel cages made of aluminum busbars.
Yeay! I can have hub motors with a low unsprung weight.

I wonder if it is possible to increase the gap and float on a magnetic field?
A bigger gap will cause a reduction in efficiency but a much smoother start. Humm.. A cone shaped variable gap motor..?

Are you listening GM?

made of aluminum busbars.

Do you know how much CO2 that stuff (aluminium) is responsible for?

The EV Mini-Cooper has been designed around HubMotors. We'll see if that works out. Hubmotors are favorites among the E-bike community, however, reducing the weight and space requirements of the propulsion setup considerably.

(older article.. I don't know where it stands now)

Ugo - it would be interesting to have some blue prints - a step by step guide + list of all major components and sources - that I could give to a local garage and say "build that".

How do you stay warm in winter?

One place to start is EV UK; http://www.evuk.co.uk/index.html

Here's a mechanic in Galashiels that does conversions (see one here);

One source of parts in Scotland (undoubtedly others);
- BI Technologies Limited, Telford Road, Eastfield Industrial Estate, Glenrothes, Fife,+44 (0) 1592 66 22 00

Other resources that might help;

Thanks Will.

This should have been my first link above;

Listing of places dealing with electric vehicles;

How do you stay warm in winter?

Ceramic heater element. Just replace the standard water-filled radiator under the dash (make sure the element won't melt the plastic heater box). A key benefit is instant heat, rather than waiting five minutes until you can defrost the windscreen.

Edit: Project Forkenswift. An Electric car conversion on a beer budget.

Sorry, but the batteries will go flat in our climate. Here in the middle of Sweden it often gets to 20 below in winter. That's -20 C (-4 F). You need kilowatts of power to heat a car then, if you use the batteries for that the range would suffer greatly. The best soulution is ironically a liquid fuel heater, like a gasoline heater. Could be run on bio-ethanol. Gasoline, diesel and ethanol packs more than enough thermal heat when burned to keep the car warm even in winter. Fuel consumption is about 0,1-0,5 liters per our, depending on output. I've seen heters rated 4-6 kW with a consumption at 0,6 l/h. These are usually used to heat the engine before cold start as well as the car interior. 20 minutes in -20 C and the car is cozy and starts as easily as in summer. Many people use electric heaters in winter, but some people don't have easy access due to their work and such (people working in the lumber industry, heavy truck drivers etc.)

I was thinking that super-insulation may have a role to play?

Whether or not the batteries go flat depends on their chemistry. LFPs out of China, now around $350/kWh, supposedly operate down to -25C, and with an insulated/heated battery box should be fine for most trips. Maybe not being left in airport parking for months, but for day to day activities theyshould be fine. Granted, most cars aren't built with insulation in mind given how much waste heat is available, but like Euan mentioned, it isn't that we can't insulate them, since we insulate housing and the like, but that we don't.

I don't refute that it is possible to insulate cars. It wont come cheap though. The biggest problem in a car in winter is the huge areas of glass, you know the windscreen and such. And ofcourse it is possible to insulate those, but it won't be cheap. The weight of the car will increase as a result, and the range will suffer. All year round.

And the problem isn't that the batteries won't cope with the cold, it is that they wont cope with the energy needed to heat the cabin. I'm well aware that LiFePo don't care much about cold, but we humans do. And I'm far from convinced that it is even practical to build an electric car that can keep the interior of the car warm without seriously shorten the range of the car. I would be happy if somebody would prove me wrong. But as far as I know, it isn't practically possible. Sure cars are insulated some, but you still need several kilowatts of power to keep the passanger cabin warm at -20 C. I'm satisfied with +10 C inside the car if it is -20 C outside, but most people will se that as a joke. They expect +20 C inside the car when it is -20 C outside. Gasoline heater is thr only possible way I can see as you need kilowatts of power.

I've seen large snow plows with dubbel glass windshields so the snow wouldn't freeze on the windshield. Easy on a 20 ton truck, another thing on a small passanger car.

I really like electric cars though. Would love to own one. or better - build my own! I love to build and tinker with stuff, convert a car to full electric would be a very fun project :)

I don't refute that it is possible to insulate cars. It wont come cheap though. The biggest problem in a car in winter is the huge areas of glass, you know the windscreen and such. And ofcourse it is possible to insulate those, but it won't be cheap. The weight of the car will increase as a result, and the range will suffer. All year round.

Fortunately, most of the worlds drivers, and miles driven are in warmer climes. So while I recognize that EV's may be problematic in cold climates, I don't think that should represent a large problem for marketing them, as most markets won't haveto deal with the problem. Of course if you are an enthusiast, living in a cold climate, you may be out of luck. I think hybrids have a similar issue. We currently have two, but I'm now in California, where it rarely gets under 5C. (I used to live where -30C wasn't uncommon).

You are correct that winter does take a toll on batteries. I live in Utah and drove my EV most of the winter last year and this year.

There are a couple of things to make the winter bearable.

1) Seat Heaters - These are low cost and you can retrofit for less than 100 dollars per seat. They only draw 5 amps on a 12 volt system. Better to heat your body than the air in the car.

2) Use the grid to preheat the car. A small box heater does this job really well. Draws 14 amps on a 110 circuit. 5 or 10 minutes pre heat makes a big difference.

Do these 2 things and then the trip to work is easy. I top off the batteries once I get to work, so I drive home on a full battery pack every day.

Lots of people say, my employer will not let me charge at work. I say find a new employer. If they really want you they will not complain about a few cents of electricity every day.

You can see my car and the solar charge station here.

Thanks for your input - it is always very interesting to hear from people who have hands on experience :)

People around here use grid preheaters with their ICE cars already - to heat both interior and engine. Seat heaters are pretty much standard in all cars. I think I could cope just like you, but I know my mom and dad would not. Neither my brother and his family, they expect a car to keep warm by itself in winter. Hence the gasoline heater, with one installed I think everybody would be pretty happy. And a gasoline heater can be fueled by renewable fuels, like ethanol, biodiesel, methane etc. I bet my brother would be able to grow all the crops needed for a heater on a neglectable small part of his land and make the fuel himself. He has already talked about making biodesel to run his ICE cars on, fuel for heaters would be a small fraction of this.

You can see my car and the solar charge station here.

Nice site! I like your cars, and now I want one of my own even more. I need to get a better paying job so I can build an electric car. That will sound good at my next job interview :D

If you're considering a gasoline heater, smarter to put in a small IC engine generator and scavenge the exhaust heat for cabin comfort while topping up the batteries.

Most cars have for some time been sold with an air source heat pump, this could make electrical heating more efficent but it wont work when it is very cold.

Just to keep this option in the discussion of heating an EV..

I want to see an Ultralight EV with Pedals and Electric, so the Driver can help with the propulsion (At higher speeds you're probably not helping a lot, but it's still helping and NOT hindering the batteries) and heat themselves. With that dual source, the driver can put in just enough work to keep warm, if getting sweaty at work is going to be an issue.. and they've still contributed to pushing the cart.. Double Plus!

I'm sure a clever lantern or cookstove rig could safely blow warmed air onto the windshield, if there isn't a way to do it with well-managed cold airflows.

What you desire is now available... a velomobile with electric hubs;

See a test drive of a Twike (in Dutch).

Yeah, I've googled these for a couple years now. Pretty! The sketches on my drawing table are for a Velo Trike that is built with Wood and Skin, like a Kayak. I also have some lobbying ahead of me, so there are roads I'm allowed to ride on with it.

Meantime, what I'm actually closer to building is a Bike Trailer that takes a motor and batteries, so my bike can run under my own steam, but if I'm pulling the girl or some purchases.. I've got the option of snapping on a power-pod to those wheels. (The Girl will be pedalling, as well. She likes helping.) The motor, controller and wheels I expect to use for this are all from scrapped E-Scooters and Razor bikes (400w, 36v)

Euan, first of all; about heating. The Citroen Ax has a 7 liter gasoline tank that can be used to run a heater that warms the inside. It is there because of regulations obliging cars to have some way to avoid fogging of the windows. Indeed, here the climate is rather humid and without that it is difficult to drive in winter. I figure that in Scotland it would be absolutely vital to have a heating system like this. Some different EVs use energy from the batteries; my friend Pietro Cambi uses a hair dryer. It depends on the local climate - maybe there are also ways to coat the windshield in such a way to avoid fogging.

About a "step-by-step" guide, it depends on what you want to do. You can buy batteries from manufacturers in China or in Korea, but you need to find a workshop with some experience with electric cars to assemble the whole thing. IN principle, it is not very difficult, but starting from scratch may be a bit steep. My impression is that there is a chance for the development of a cottage industry making cheap EVs and that would bypass the clumsy traditional automakers. They are too specialized in the old ways. Probably, their destiny is extinction. That's sure if the best idea that FIat and Chrysler could concoct together is to have Americans driving the new version of the "500".

Any chance of a transcritical CO2 heat pump retrofit becoming affordable on your side of the pond?

I must admit that I don't know what is a transcritical CO2 heat pump. Can you give us details?

Cool War article at wiki. I thought maybe some European Countries had already made the move to R-744 in the automotive sector, but looks like not. If they were I though maybe retrofits for electric cars were on the market. The properties of CO2 as a refrigerant can lead to heat pumps of small size that heat well with quick response. The Aptera intends to use a heat pump for climate control, but using a standard refrigerant AFAIK.

Euan, A step by step guide is hard to come by for EV's. The best I have found is the book "Convert It" by Mike Brown. 126 pages of some very good information. It is listed on amazon.

Parts of the book are a bit dated, but still it's worth the time and money to read every page.

Shari Prange also writes about EV's in Home Power magazine. You can get past issues in PDF format. These are also a good sources of information.

If you want someone else to build one for you contact me direct.

Well, that may be all fine an dandy, but if I am to believe what I heard on an NPR radio broadcast yesterday after Chrysler merges with FIAT (by presidential decree), we here in the US are going to be driving the new Chrysler Fiat Cinquecento ;-)

I kid you not the lady on the program was seriously proposing this. I almost choked on the coffee I was drinking at the time I was laughing so hard!

BTW I fondly remember driving up the cobble stone streets of Old Bergamo with four big guys in a Cinquecento so I'm not dissing the little car. I hope for FIAT's sake they don't make the mistake of getting into bed with Chrysler, I hope they have better sense than Daimler.

To soften the transition from ICE to EV, many people have generator trailers, so that they can hitch them up and go anywhere an ICE can go if they so choose. Some are even PV arrays on wheels.

Another alternative is battery trailers (instead of a GenSet or Pusher trailer). If you were going on a long trip (say, between 100 and 1000km), you could go to the local servo (where they already rent rubbish/car/horse trailers) and hire one, saving you the cost burden of having to keep one around 'just in case'.

Of course, if you have a family with two or three EVs, you could conievably just combine battery packs if taking a long trip.

Edit: The T-Zero was way ahead of its' time! :)

For a multi-car family, one EV for errands and one plug-in hybrid for long/group trips would seem to work fine.

We routinely pick who drives which car based on the style of trips each driver is making, and it would be simple to integrate a decent EV or plug-in hybrid into the mix.

I know, many will say the whole problem is living a multi-car lifestyle, but with teenagers in suburbia there is no other practical way unless our personal economy crashes a whole lot harder such that there is nothing left to travel to.

There is a Swedish company, Precer, that's trying to market stirlings fired by pellets for transportion use. They marketed (or attempted to market) an offroad ATV with a stirling powerplant, it's not currently displayed at any obvious locations at their site.

This looks absolutely great! A tonne of pellets sells for about $200. It would last you 10,000km?!!! (their spec sheet says 1kg pellets for 10km.)

Rather than trying to convert cellulose type molecules into liquid fuel, just straight burn it. Saves a lot.

If this is true, we're out of the woods re. the need for transportation power.

Just burn the corn, the straw, the wood, the trash, everything.

obligatory response, about how burning "everything" leaves no organic matter to maintain the soil, forests, etc.

"Everything" means just "all kinds". And organic matter is constantly being produced from inorganic. It shouldn't be a problem.

Great information! I totally agree that these cars should cost less as the mechanics are 1/3 of an internal combustion engine which waste more than half the fuel on heat. An aggressive entrepreneur could start retrofiting existing old cars with the Michelin motors in the wheels and the battery that you mentioned.

What was the cost of the retrofit?

Just an opinion and I have 2 EV's .... it ain't going to happen.

Better chance we will be driving old cars like Cuba.

Just an opinion and I have 2 EV's .... it ain't going to happen.

Since you seem to be so qualified being an EV owner, would you be able to expound upon your opinion? Why do you say it won't work?

I don't feel it will economically viable , and therefore will not replace the current fleet.

People will not pay for a vehicle with limited range and a high price tag.

You can buy an electric vehicle currently ... but how many are selling?

A few wealthy folks for a second or third vehicle?

How many folks will be able to afford a Volt or Aptera ,etc ?

Who can afford LIFEPO4 batteries ?

A few folks are converting vehicles but not a big percent.

It was mentioned that the battery is 12 KWH and cost 12,000 Euros. It can be fully charge/recharged cycled 2,000 times which works out to a cost of 6 Euros per cycle. This is in addition to the 1 to 2 Euros to buy the electricity. So a full tank costs say 7.5 euros for 100 km or 13.3 km/Euro. The biggest operating cost therefore is the cost of buying the battery. With electric cars it always comes down to the cost of the battery.

Correct. We made LCA calculations on other models of EVs, and the largest cost is always that of batteries - around 50% of the vehicle's life cycle cost. But I expect improvements here: the price I have cited is for a custom made, single set of Li-po batteries. The market is so tiny, that they make it expressly for you (if they like you).

Now, think of how much an internal combustion engine would cost if they had to make it expressly for you as a single piece. Considering that, it is, actually, surprising that these batteries cost so little! If they start being manufactured in large numbers the price must crash down: after all they are just lithium, polymers, traces of cobalt and manganese and some aluminium for the contacts. There is also a lot of development being done for these batteries for improving life and performance. So, I think we can afford to be reasonably optimistic here.

There will also be economic and design pressure to make various EV models smaller and lighter so they require fewer batteries, pushing it all in a good direction for price, materials required, and finally, energy consumed moving people around. This will help the 'cost per commute' of the battery pack replacment, the charging, etc..

Right now, there is design pressure to make an EV that can safely operate in a high-speed SUV environment, keeping the design heavier than is probably necessary. Let's hope we see some change in that environment soon!~

Similar LFP batteries from China (2000 cycles to 80% dod) are supposedly around $350/kWh, so an enterprising individual could put something similar together for about 3,300 Euros, plus whatever additional import/shipping costs. That isn't in volume either, so a major manufacturer could probably get the same thing for a little over half the price.

Two sentences of pure speculation. Any sensible investor would kick you out on your ear.

That's the framing of a business case concept, not a final presentation.

Complete speculation! Here's some more speculation regarding the purchase of said batteries, and if you go through the speculation in that thread you'll find a link where a forum member has speculated testing the batteries they didn't buy but instead speculated about. They have even speculated graphs that mimic what their actual test results would be if they had bought the batteries and tested them. It's great speculation I tell you! And really, it's not like there's even such a thing as a volume discount in business, so why would there be one with batteries? ;)

It was mentioned that the battery is 12 KWH and cost 12,000 Euros. It can be fully charge/recharged cycled 2,000 times which works out to a cost of 6 Euros per cycle. This is in addition to the 1 to 2 Euros to buy the electricity. So a full tank costs say 7.5 euros for 100 km or 13.3 km/Euro. The biggest operating cost therefore is the cost of buying the battery. With electric cars it always comes down to the cost of the battery.

Thats the real killer, without a good battery with high KwHr*cycles per unit cost, they aren't economical. The Nickel metal hydride batteries do better on this count, but are rather heavy per unit of energy. Until someone demonstrates long lifetime on Lithium Ion, I would be wary of them.

Your prices on batteries are quite high. eg. ElitePower in US offers LixPO4 retail at about US$650/kw. http://elitepowersolutions.com/products/product_info.php?cPath=16&produc... Chances are that a manufacturer could do MUCH better, down to perhaps $325 / kw. At that point, one is under 2 Euro / cycle. How much does a diesel engine and transmission cost again?

I had the diesel version of the Citroen AX in the 90s... my all-time favourite car. If I could buy an electric one, I would!!

Even the small cars have grown much heavier since then... I think Europe will have to backtrack on safety standards (or employ some lateral thinking) in order to get the weight down on electric cars.

That's an excellent point. Crash testing not only adds usless weight (eg. learn how to drive instead, it'l do far more for your safety) to the vehicle, but high engineering costs and testing costs to development. It's mostly a means for the large-volume manufacturers to keep out small-volume startups. eg. why does retrofitting a car fromgasoline to CNG require full crash testing of four examples of every model proposed before approval for selling. Just scamming from big auto.

Without any doubt whatsover: Electric cars are the future. (And I know I'm now in for an attack from the fuel-cell groupies).

And now for my boldest prediction on the Oil Drum: By the end of 2015 over 25% of the cars sold in Europe will be electric.

No! You scream. It will take time to ramp up production. Not possible you shout: Well, I'm an optimist and beg to differ. There are now a huge number of manufacturers ready to swamp the market with electric cars within the next 1-2 years. To name but a few:

www.tesla.com (Roadster in Production. Mass production of the model S will start in 2011).
www.fiskerautomotive.com (Production start in 2010)
www.think.no (If given DOE loan mass production could start in US this year)
www.fastcompany.com/blog/kit-eaton/technomix/proton-and-detroit-electric... (Proton intend to produce 40,000 in 2010 and then 270,000 a year after that)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tata_Indica#Indica_Electric (Will be launched this year)..

And hey. Once all these start-ups have proved how easy it is. Surely the majors will have to get into the game as well?

Who's up for a bet?

http://www.zenncars.com/ (Zero Emissions No Noise), especially IF EEstor every comes through with their ultracap replacements for batteries.

[QUOTE]"EEStor's technology is a tenth the weight and volume of lead-acid batteries, and significantly smaller than the most advanced chemical batteries today," said Clifford.

Zenn said EEStor has publicly committed to commercialization in 2008, and that EEStor's first production line would be used to supply Zenn.[/QUOTE] http://cleantech.com/news/2644/zenn-gearing-up-for-eestor-powered-car

I know, still some doubt on reality of EEstor, but if not them then someone else, eg. Maxwell just signed a deal with a Chinese bus company.

The initial distribution of TH!NK city will be targeted to the most `EV friendly’ cities in Europe.

Due to high demand for our vehicles and our finite production capacity in 2009 we want to make sure that we concentrate our efforts on the European cities where you will receive the maximum benefit of buying and using the TH!NK city.


Sorry, but with this kind of thinking from "TH!NK", I don't think they'll be surviving the Credit Crunch. How about auctioning the cars to the highest bidders or simply selling them to the people who pay the most. Then re-investing the extra money in more capacity.

Or, how about doing a van or a taxi first. Y'know, high mileage vehicles where the fuel savings really mount up.

From only £5,600 +VAT

So, there is an attitude problem with electric cars. People just don't seem to be able to understand that a car may be something that doesn't make noise, doesn't emit smoke, doesn't use fuel. Electric vehicles just aren't seen as "real". My impression is that this is the main reason behind the failure of electric cars to take a significant slice of the market, so far.

I've done an informal poll with friends and coworkers (here in Montreal) numerous times asking a variety of people if they'd be happer with an EV based on a 75KM range and a 100kph top speed then they are with their current car. All of our electrity here is Hydro, so we do not have the same power-plant emissions problems that other jurisdictions do. Pretty much everyone I speak to says they would love to have it if it was available and reasonably priced. I do not believe there is as much of an attitude problem as you suggest. I figure the problem is the availability of an EV at a reasonable cost.

Depending on your definition of "reasonable" this should fit the spec:


It may fit with reasonable price, but it isn't available to me here.

I keep on reading that hydroelectric power is "clean," that it does not have emissions. Wrong.

Dams produce copious amounts of greenhouse gasses, principally in the form of methane. This is significant because methane is a 20 times more efficient at trapping heat (http://epa.gov/methane/). In certain situations, the heat-trapping power from methane and carbon dioxide for a damn is actually greater than that from a conventional oil-powered plant.


Thank you for the very informative links. I will correct my stance on the matter but will continue to insist that hydro power from Quebec is cleaner than coal or oil power plants as the studies and reports that you linked to confirm this. Tropical hydro power plants are the culprits as there is so much more organic material to decay to produce the methane.

Since electricity is shipped most anywhere, having a nearby, relatively clean plant does not give a pass that "I'm not using the juice from a coal plant." If you are using it you are burning coal, whether directly or indirectly, by supplanting the hydro-electricity that would have been shipped elsewhere.

By that logic it's OK to use coal and release lots of CO2 on the basis that if you don't some one else will until it's all gone.
When most nations start to reduce CO2 emissions, it will be easier to force the last GHW skeptics to also stop increasing and also reduce CO2( or not buy their dirty products), if no one does anything no change will occur.

Electricity production will be reduced if the overall demand goes down. There are peaking plants designed for this purpose.

There is only one electricity network. This is a single basket that is fed by coal, oil, methane, nuclear, hydro-electric, and (marginally) wind power plants. Your personal contribution to greenhouse gas emission from these sources is directly proportional to your use.

That mostly depends on the dam. If the area flooded has plenty of greenery, then it'll decompose and emit a lot of methane, but if the area is clear, then it'll be fairly clean in terms of GHGs. IIRC a country in South America had serious objections with this since they've recently flooded an area with plenty of plants, and if the methane emissions are included they can't claim Carbon credits or whatever the equivalent was.

Dams are an ecological and social disaster, and among the choices, it is by far the worst kind of power plant. New dam construction is confined to places like China, where these objections can be ignored. In the US the trend is to dismantle dams, often to restore the estuary. Most people would rather live with the greenhouse gas emissions from a coal plant than mess with a river.

In any case the potential for new large hydroelectric around the world is not very great. The WWF estimates total global “economically feasible” capacity is around 2,270GW.

In 2007 we already used 816GW of this. Condering climate change we can expect that some old sites will become untenable. Rivers change course or dry up, rainfall patterns change and so on. Some countries will decide that since their river carries silt which fertilises the fields along its course, and since that silt blocks up the dams anyway, it's pointless to dam the rivers.

So remaining capacity is probably half the WWF estimate, around 750GW.

By contrast, current world energy use is about 15,500GW, around 2,000GW of which is electrical. Looking at that, you might be tempted to say, "wow, just reduce our electricity consumption a bit and we can be all hydroelectric!"

The problem are two. The first is that the other 13,500GW of energy use is burning fossil fuels. So when we use less of those, either from choice (climate change worries) or forced to (they pass peak), we'll want to replace that fossil fuel energy use with electricity of some kind.

The second is that the electricity, like everything else, is not evenly distributed around the world, but the poor would like some, too. Icelanders and Swedes consume around 25,000kWh each annually, Americans and Australians 12,000kWh, Germans and Danes 8,000kWh - but Ethiopians 300kWh. So we can't just turn all 13,500GW from fossil fuels to electric, we have to have some combination of reducing Western consumption and increasing Third World consumption. Given efficiency in the West, total world demand needn't increase; but we seem reluctant to be anything but profligately wasteful.

Other generation methods have a much larger capacity than hydroelectric. It's got its place, but it can't do everything.

Gobs of assertions without a single reference. Where are you getting this?


So when we use less of those, either from choice (climate change worries) or forced to 
(they pass peak), we'll want to replace that fossil fuel energy use with electricity of
some kind.

I ask that you pay closer attention to your pronouns: maybe you want to replace fossil fuel with electricity. Not me.

You should read my blog, which I often link to, and where more detailed articles generally have useful though not exhaustive references. Look especially at the "ecotechnia" series of articles. Of course you may object that you are not interested in reading more articles. If so, there's not much sense in my providing reference, is there?

But anyway most of what I mentioned is very easily checkable, such as electricity use per person. Are references needed for things which would show up on the first search result of google? I think any writer has to assume some minimal amount of brains and industry from their readers.

The data I mention in passing are easily verifiable; of course the conclusions about courses of action made using those data will be different from person to person.

"What we want" - It's not an issue of pronouns, but colloquial syntax. In British and Australian English, "want" offers refer not always to desire, but sometimes to need. "You'll be wanting to fill that fuel tank", for example. I'm using "want" in that sense. Absent fossil fuels, we'll want (need) some other form of energy use.

If you don't want to replace fossil fuels with electricity, that leaves us with nothing. The poll on my blog has just 15 of 218 current votes for "none" for source of electricity generation (which makes me wonder how they're voting in an electronic medium, but anyway). Even nuclear is more popular (I stacked the results a bit by inviting the nukers on TOD to vote for it, but most of my readership is very anti-nuclear, so I think it balances out pretty much), though oil and coal lag behind - gas is about the same.

Anyway, it seems fair to say that most people will want some form of energy to use, and absent fossil fuels that's electricity. If you can show me an article talking about a significant number of people who when fossil fuels are absent would rather have no energy source at all, I'll be interested to read it. I find lifestyles like those of the Amish pretty interesting, though not appealing.

References mainly benefit you, the writer, by fortifying credibility. They specify methodologies and errors, clarifying (or not) the assumptions inherent of your argument. A reader can spot check them as s/he sees fit. If the reader has to dig and guess at your sources, this undermines the value of your argument because the reader can not be sure of where you are coming from.

By that reasoning, I could include fictitious or irrelevant references to advance a ridiculous argument and I would become more credible than if I included no references but said something reasonable.

Which is perhaps true, but still funny :)

The choice between coal power, and all it's pollution and land use problems, compared to hydro power, and it's land use and possible GHG emissions problems, depends on the situation. In terms of pumped hydro, it can provide a storage buffer for a largely renewable grid, and depending on the location does not incur a significant GHG penalty. I don't think we should run around constructing dams willy nilly, but our current pump hydro capacity combined with thermal generation from biomass is likely sufficient for a smart renewable grid, so I don't think we should go around getting rid off all those locations either.

As long as you are dreaming about a "smart renewable grid," why not throw in an environmentally friendly means of energy storage? The challenges for either are about the same. Renewable energy without the complete environmental benefits trades one set of damages for another, simply amounting to more expensive energy; it is a fool's bargain. By eliminating dams, you restore the fishing.

The challenges are the same? A uni in Germany has already demonstrated a fully renewable grid, and we already have plenty of pumped hydro available, so the only challenge would be implementing it. Enough storage to supplement the fluctuations in demand compared to production otoh isn't something that's anywhere near even a demonstration AFAIK. Granted, we can't have some perfect source renewable energy w/o impact, but that's not the point since everything we do will have some impact. The point is to minimize that impact as best we can. Going with 70% renewables, 20% fission, 5% pumped hydro and 5% thermal biomass is a lot better than what we have now, even though it isn't perfect in that it restores fishing completely at the pumped hydro locations. There's no point in throwing the baby out with the bath water.

What do you mean by "renewable smart grid"? I take it to mean wind and solar energy feeding the electricity grid, with an overcapacity and storage to provide power when the wind isn't blowing and the sun isn't shining. The technology is there, but presently it is too expensive. Given that wind and solar power is not concentrated, and so required land is huge, the environmental impact of this system is immense, and is part of the reason why it is too expensive. Also dams are very bad for river ecosystem, compromising all the advantages of the "renewable" energy. Compared to pumped water, a high-density energy storage would reduce costs because less land is needed.

So you say, what? Batteries (they don't need to be light, as car batteries do), hydrogen, I don't know what. Use your imagination, there many available technologies. The current generation of power plants are designed to last 30-60 years (coal and nuclear, respectively), and usually their life is extended. The "renewable smart grid" is a dream of life ca. 30 years on, and in that time most any technology can be matured.

In terms of a renewable smart grid, what we would have would be a balanced system with ~10% of energy being dispatchable and ~25-30% dispatchable overcapacity in terms of power, similar to our current power generation in terms of natural gas, but instead we would have the same amount of pumped hydro with dispatchable bio-gas. In terms of cost, wind power is at or below the cost of other sources like coal, and the NREL pegged the additional cost of transmission for 20% of U.S. wind power at .5c/kWh, not exactly a deal breaker. The CEC placed a 33% renewable portfolio at a net savings to the consumer over twenty years. Having a ~75% renewable grid would probably cost more initially, but in the long run it would probably be the same cost or less than current electricity generation, and in comparison it would only need about a fifth of the land that's currently paved by roads, since for wind the swept area is relatively small compared to the base and the energy available in high wind areas at hundreds of feet up is substantial. Course, this isn't including the externalized costs of FF electricity given pollution, greater land use (Even solar thermal is the less than coal in terms of area due to the impact of coal mining), GHG emissions, more jobs, and greater domestic energy production, and if we include all those renewables are probably a slam dunk.

In terms of energy storage, we're looking at a doubling of energy/cost at least if using hydrogen, although on a weighted average we would only be looking at a ~5-10% increase if using hydrogen generated from wind for load leveling. Batteries are also twice as expensive at ~5c/kWh stored, so in order to minimize use of pumped hydro there would have to be some policy over-riding the relatively low up front cost, even compared to renewables/coal. Even solar PV is only at ~$3.55/Watt with the newer thin film SI panels, and depending on install (DIY versus paid) and location, will pay itself off w/o any incentives in ~15-45 years depending on location (DIY in Arizona to a commercial install in North Dakota), with the average likely being a levelized cost that's a couple cents per kWh cheaper than the U.S. average. Toss in rebates/incentives and we're probably below the U.S. average electricity cost within the 25 year warranty period, and it's a slam dunk in some states, for instance CA, where a system can pay itself off in as little as three to seven years depending on size and the tier the consumer is in.

Given that most of our electricity comes from coal, which spiked along with oil, even though a distributed renewable grid would probably cost more initially, it'll also likely cost less in the long run and insulate the country from a price run up in electricity due to another price run up in oil. Given the low overall impact of using alternatives to pumped hydro, I really can't disagree in terms of overall cost, but storage is about four times more expensive than pumped hydro, even though we're only looking at a ~5-10% increase in overall cost, so we would need policy changes to move the market away from hydro.

Rolfwaffle, that was a nice piece of work. Thanks.

In certain situations, the heat-trapping power from methane and carbon dioxide for a damn is actually greater than that from a conventional oil-powered plant.

It's really quite variable, some hydropower causes very little emissions, some quite a lot. Low head hydro or run of river type stuff should be quite low. In any case, once the dam has been filled the emissions are already commited to. Emission wise, it is wise to fully utilize existing hydro -but to be cautious about future projects.

After watching "Who killed the electric car?" and seeing what happened
to GM yesterday, I can definitely say it's time to let GM die. We need new leaders and corporations that will take America into the 21st century. Hopefully, Obama is the first brick of this new foundation. We will see...

Electric cars have a long story that starts in 19th century. However, the demise of electric propulsion for road vehicles seemed to be complete after the second world war, when a flood of cheap oil made internal combustion engines the only reasonable choice.

There were lots of milestones along the way, but I think the electric starter was a huge part of it. Even the Ford Model T had one by 1920.


The battery is the biggest problem for electric vehicles. Li-ion expensive but high energy density. Lead acid, cheap but heavy and low energy density.

We need something cheap but high power and lead acid isn't it. With the cost of lithium I suspect not either. Perhaps a sodium ion battery chemistry.

LFPs from China are incredibly cheap, within ~$50/kWh (~$350/kWh versus ~$300/kWh) of deep cycle lead acid from companies like Trojan, probably because they require a sixth of the Lithium other chemistries like LiCoO2 and LiMnO2 require. They have about three times more energy per unit mass/volume, over ten times more power per unit mass, and last at least four times longer, possibly more if the driver can live with the relatively linear capacity loss down to ~40-50% capacity. The only question is whether or not patent issues will get in the way of distribution in specific regions like they got in the way of large format NiMH batteries. A 10kWh pack in a Prius would run ~$2000-3500 extra and allow for ~30-50 miles of all electric range, at least for the newer version, since the older version doesn't have a large enough motor IIRC.

A 10kWh pack in a Prius would run ~$2000-3500 extra and allow for ~30-50 miles of all electric range, at least for the newer version, since the older version doesn't have a large enough motor IIRC.

Even half that would be a great plugin milage booster. I have a substantion 300M hill midway through my commute, so twice each day I get a fully charged standard Prius battery. You get a few miles of near electric vehicle (need the ICE for acceration mostly, but you can run in mostly electric mode). So even say a 5Kwhr battery, plus a charger should allow a significant boost to the fuel economy.

Offering a larger battery pack as an 'extra' would be really easy. Same way you can pay premiums for larger engine size or alternative trim. Larger battery pack would also increase the speed as well as the range of all electric mode.
Something along the lines of; (speculative)

15k Standard model
17k Motor lauch assist/ start stop ~0.5kWh battery
18k Same as above with 2kWh battery ~ 5 miles electric range at 30mph
22k 20 miles electric range up to 60mph

If your buying the car with a 5 year loan, the savings on running cost will pay for the extra capital.

IF EEStor actually ever comes to market, it will be a game changer. If their product weighs twice as much, takes up twice the volume, has half the capacity and costs twice as much as projected, it will still be a game changer. It is being touted like the Holy Grail of energy storage technology

It makes me sympathetic to those who say that this is so "hot" that it has to be developed under a veil of extreme secrecy and the inventors have to give themselves a head start in production before releasing any actual product. If it works even half as well "as advertised" there are going yo be lots of interested parties trying to find ways of taking advantage of the technology without licensing from EEStor, some scrupulous some unscrupulous. There are areas in the world where their core competency is reverse engineering high tech products with a vew to making improvements and manufacturing their own versions, regardless of what patents/copyrights exists and in some cases their manufacturing capacity can swamp the original product. EEStor is probably being haunted by this prospect assuming they actually have a real, practical product.

According to the ceantech.com article linked to above by lengould, we have less than 9 months left to find out if there is any substance to this.

A highway-speed vehicle with an ultracapacitor from stealthy EEStor is due to roll out in the fall of 2009.

Another potential game changer is Firefly Energy's Oasis batteries apparently already being deployed in military and commercial trucking applications.

There was one other I saw on autobloggreen where a small company was showing a Japanese domestic market station wagon equipped with a custom advanced battery pack that was shaped to fit under the floor. I haven't seen anything about it since nor can I find the original source. It might be just something out of a picture gallery, lost deep within autobloggreen.

If as much time, effort and money had been spent developing advanced battery technology as has been spent on ICE and fancy transmissions over the past few decades, we'd probably all be driving electric cars now.

Alan from the Islands

Other than the means of propulsion, there are two major problems with the entire automotive industry worldwide:

1. Size of vehicle.
2. They don't know what business they're in.

As to #1, Size: Why is it that everyone has to drive a "family-sized" vehicle that can carry up to six or even eight or more people, yet is most often used for only one person?

And #2, Business: What business are automotive industries in? Are they in the business of making family-sized autos--or something else?

In addition to talking about the means of propulsion and the transportation networks, we also need to talk about the business and the size. Does everyone in the world need or want a family-sized car? Do we not need an industry that develops personal transportation machines, PTMs, that could be of any size, any shape, and use any one of a number of different means of propulsion?

I think the idea of a machine that helps someone get from point A to point B is a great invention. But ever since the time of the first Ford vehicles, we all seem to have settled on the four-wheel, family-sized vehicle as the standard, when there is absolutely no logical reason for this.

We also seem to have never generalized the issue of what business are we in and just assumed blindly that the business is 4-wheels on a box, with two or more seats. (This is just like the personal computer business, where it was assumed that the computer would replace the typewriter, and all we've done in the 30 odd years since the invention is to add a few capabilities built around that basic idea).

This site raises questions about the means of propulsion, the resources needed, and related issues, but it also needs to raise fundamental conceptual questions about what sort or transportation system is needed for a generalized personal transportation machine, what size is needed, and alternatives to the double-harnessed horse on wheels.

Car makers sell more than transportation. They also market status symbols, personal flexibility/freedom, a sense of security, and a part of the gestalt "American Dream".

When it comes to basic transportation, car companies compete against bicycles, mopeds, scooters, Segways, trams, trains, buses, taxis, boats, airplanes, kayaks, unicycles, hovercraft, airboats, and of course walking. Perhaps they compare favorably versus some and not so well versus others.

When it comes to status, lifestyle, and the American Dream, cars have the image and thus the market sewn up. We need to change the perceived lifestyle goal for young people before you can really hope to change the car paradigm.

I imagine it will go in stages. As the Big 3 falter, the Dream marketing machine will falter as well, and society goals will shift a bit. Given another few rounds of changes in expectations and reality, maybe we can change the overall operating paradigm. I think young people will almost have to lead the way -- they have less emotionally invested in the status quo.

My wife and I drive a electric car in Adelaide, Australia (a conversion of a small petrol car). Despite it's short range (40km) and 2-3 seats we do 90% of our driving in the EV. I have a family of 5 and live in a city of 1 million people; it's just that like most people, many trips are short with 1-2 people. Perfect for EVs.

For the rare longer trip, or when we all must travel together; we use the nasty petrol vehicle. I think we filled up the petrol car last month, but I can't remember when for sure, it's been too long!

Re charging - it costs less than a medium size new car to convert a petrol car to electric and install a solar PV array to charge it. Also I don't understand the common perception that charging infrastructure is required for EVs - we simply use regular power outlets. You just plug in when you get home and walk away - 10 seconds and easier than filling with petrol. Do you sweat about charging your cell phone? It's that easy. Much more convenient that a petrol station.

I am hooked on EVs - working on the second conversion now: about USD$5,000 for a 60-80km range EV.

Nice Work, David!

I hope you don't mind, but I'm tossing in a paragraph from the article you wrote on converting your car, it is the 'Brass ring', as far as I'm concerned..

Amazingly, it actually works! I drive along and use no petrol. Charging from my home PV array I emit no pollution. One very cool thing: I have recycled a 15 year old car, rather than chewing up a large amount of “embodied energy” and precious resources (plastic, steel, labor) that is used to build every new car.

I'm sure many will be replying or thinking 'Yeah, but how many people can afford to do this?' .. To me, that is not a dealkiller. This is a combination that works, with largely durable and uncomplicated parts, and so compared to most fuel-burning alternatives, it is a promising tool.

As with Human Population questions, the future number of vehicles the world will support is not in an individual's control. Each of us can try to make wise decisions and come up with solutions and methods that aren't moving us in the WRONG direction in the big picture, and a Solar-Juiced EV is right in most ways I can think of, particularly when you are reusing the mostly servicable body of an otherwise obsolete gas car.

I don't think that the goal is to simply replace all vehicles on the roads with their Stepford EV twins, as Kiashu suggested.. or for those who do think so, let them, they're wrong. EV's are flexible, durable and clean-running.. a very good stepping-stone out of the NASCAR Commuting world.


Alright, one more toot of your horn, David.

We Need More EVs

To convert a car to electric drive and install home solar panels costs less than a medium size new car. The solar panels would make enough electricity for 60 km travel every day. For free. Such a car would cover 90% of the km traveled by most people every day and last nearly forever. Why aren’t we all doing this?


Well put!

"The solar panels would make enough electricity for 60 km travel every day. For free. Such a car would cover 90% of the km traveled by most people every day and last nearly forever. Why aren’t we all doing this? "


Electric cars are struggling to find markets in the tough economic times.
Converting your existing car is one option, along with supporting some form of carbon regulation and pricing for transport. Here is a nonprofit directory of resources in the global electric vehicle industry including links for companies doing conversions and selling kits

China Vies to Be World’s Leader in Electric Cars


From here in Tianjin, it seems as though the Chinese are getting in on the act to a substantial degree.I suppose it helps that Wen Jiao Bao comes from here and is an engineer: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/02/business/global/02electric.html?hp