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Are we prepared for the Electric Car?

A recent report suggests that despite the continued drive towards cleaner technologies in the automotive industry, the predicted growth in sales of electric cars may push current infrastructures to the limits. The Green Alliance have pointed out that while sales of electric cars went up by 56% in 2016 compared with the previous year, excellent news for the motor trade, the increased pressure on charging points and the power grids can result in damaging side-effects.

Electric VehiclesFor example, as few as six cars charging simultaneously in a close vicinity can cause a drop in voltage around the area; this phenomenon is known as a “brownout” and can damage local networks and equipment. Moreover, many charging points rely on older technology which doesn’t stop charging the vehicle when the batteries reach maximum capacity, thus wasting valuable resource and leaving pressure on the grid. Newer smart charging points, which cut off when batteries are fully charged, are in place in some areas, but this is far from the current norm.

Charging a car once can use as much electricity as that required to power a home for several days; given the predicted lowering of costs for electric vehicles, and a continued drive towards solar power – and even homes powered by batteries – the fear is that charging hotspots which aren’t powered from the main grid could leave hundreds of thousands of homes without power in extreme cases.

Of course the benefits of such clean technologies, which lower emissions and reduce reliance on traditional fuels, are huge, but the current electricity infrastructure is struggling to keep up with the predicted demand for solar power and electric cars; by 2020, reduced costs mean that businesses and home consumers are far more likely to invest in solar panels, which will further increase pressure on the system.

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Companies such as Tesla are already producing electric cars, but many remain unaffordable to the masses: even smaller cars like the Nissan Leaf or the Toyota Prius can cost upwards of £20,000, with the reductions in fuel expense barely making up for the increased purchase costs and little benefit in insurance policy premiums. However, as vehicle prices fall, and petrol and diesel prices rise, more families will make the move to cleaner, electric new and used cars. For companies like Tesla, the aim is to mass-produce vehicles in such numbers that prices will be driven down and more people can afford these cars. The dearth of charging points is also an important factor, with many people worried that the current limited range of electric vehicles and lack of accessible charging stations on the roads, makes motoring quite risky (and time-consuming, with a need to stop every hundred miles in some cases).

The future of motoring would definitely appear to involve a much higher percentage of electric powered vehicles appearing on the roads and on trade plates around the showrooms. However, there are still some significant challenges ahead, in terms of cost, accessibility and the need to strengthen associated infrastructure. Should those all be met, we can be confident of a much cleaner and less petrol-dependent motoring future.