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There once was a little media company called the BBC that wanted to take a little electric vehicle (EV) across Europe, a continent full of little countries. The resulting four 30-minute radio shows for BBC Radio 4 about the trip – which covered around 4,500 miles in a month – showed that electric cars are good for some things, but not everything. In general, the show was positive about EVs, but was also realistic about their potential in the real world.
We spoke with a technical and scientific editor for the BBC, Richard Scrase, who was part of the BBC Electric Ride team, to get a little more information about what it was like to drive a Think City that far and to try and dispel some of the worries people have about EVs.

There's a reason we kept using "little" in our lede, and it's to highlight the different expectations that some Europeans and some Americans have for their cars. Scrase said that the average car journey in Europe is around 15 miles, which the City can handle with ease:
That's the sort of journey most people here do, going to work and back or school and back. For most users within the European context, the range is fine. if you're someone who needs to go hundreds of miles, then it wouldn't be feasible.
For the TV crew on the long journey, the City's 100-mile range worked out all right most of the time. Once, they managed to go around 125 miles on a charge by only driving 45 miles per hour and making as much use as possible of the regenerative brakes. The longest drive in one day was over 180 miles. Most days, though, the team charged the car up overnight, then stopped and recharged once during the day to go an average of about 160 miles a day, using the time sitting still to give and get interviews. "Some days [the charging] was convenient, other days it was a bit tedious," Scrase said. Another size thing: Scrase said that, while the City isn't the biggest vehicle around, headroom was plenty spacious for a 6'6" driver along on the trip.

(updated to show that radio, not TV segments, were produced)


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  • 25 Comments
      • 4 Years Ago
      http://www.youtube.com/user/BBCR4electricride#p/a/u/2/wHo9nSP1rLI

      As Richard Scrase notes (1:37 ff), "Our main problem is that we are trying to make the car do more than it's designed to do." The fact that a city car was able to hold up to the extra demand is good news.

      Since the BBC team also had an opportunity to test drive the only Nissan Leaf in Europe at the time, it would be interesting to hear their comparison. The Th!nk clearly has adequate headroom for those who are 6'6".
      • 4 Years Ago
      While the average daily commute for Americans is further than that given for Europeans, it is still well within the range of the Th!nk City. The Zebra batteries have a proven track record of 100 mile range in the real world, with conservative driving techniques adding another 15-20 miles. The peculiar charging regimen used for this long trip was only required by the need to cover 150 miles per day. Even then, the battery seems to have survived frequent top-offs which would not be routinely needed by most drivers.
      • 4 Years Ago
      I'm really not sure what the point of this was.

      Are they going to follow up by getting a full size RV with sleeping for 6 and use it to run errands in London each day for a couple weeks?

      Or maybe see how it is to move from one apartment to another using a 50cc scooter....
        • 4 Years Ago
        Many British people commute 20 miles to work in one city, then visit friends and relatives 50-100 miles away. Maybe once or twice a month. They would want to use the same car for both purposes.

        Go drive on a British motorway. Loads of "little" cars scooting along at 70mph.
      • 4 Years Ago
      So the Think "City" is good for driving around a city.

      Wow. Imagine that. Who could have guessed that?
      • 4 Years Ago
      Re peak phosphorous - strong case for anaerobic digestion, making biogas

      http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/jul/14/oil-food

      Once you have biogas the least efficient use it to make electricity, 35% efficient, the best is to use as a vehicle fuel (Carbon Trust Report on 1 April)
      • 4 Years Ago
      My wife has a petrol Smart, she does 2,500 miles a year, so 50 gallons. Over 5 years the car will produce around 2.9 tonnes of CO2. So if she went to an electric Smart she would save around 1 tonnes of CO2 (because marginal electricity in UK comes from gas). To save this tonne, the UK Govt will pay her £5,000 + give her duty free fuel and let her off car tax as well, so subsidy of around £6,000

      So, £6,000 to save 1 tonne of CO2

      A dual fuel diesel-CNG truck saves 20% CO2 compared to diesel . Truck doing 100,000 miles saves a lot of CO2....assume 8.5 mpg then uses 12000 gallons per year = 60,000 gallons over 5 years. CO2 saving equal to 20% of this = 12,000 gallons or 54,000 litres worth of CO2 = 138 tonnes. So UK Govt can afford to pay 138 x 6 = around £800,000 = $1.2 million per truck!

      Pity the UK Govt Treasury cupboard is bare.
        • 4 Years Ago
        If you cherry pick data from low-mileage users, of course the economics will look daft.
        To make a reasonable comparison you first have to pick sensible data points.
        • 4 Years Ago
        @John,
        Here are some of the issues in utilizing shale oil for fuel:
        http://newenergyandfuel.com/http:/newenergyandfuel/com/2010/07/15/getting-to-all-that-shale-oil/

        At the moment such as is used is done by mixing it with lighter oil to produce something usable.
        This sounds to me at least as challenging as engineering much more widespread use of BEVs and FCVs.

        As for the supposed almost infinite supplies of natural gas, the accounting standards for reserves have been trashed nearly as thoroughly as those for the financial system, so that estimates for total reserves are arrived at basically by adding together whatever all the prospecting companies, who have every incentive to big up the potential of their claims to get more investment and none to be conservative in their estimates, to arrive at some hypothetical total figure of 100 years supply or whatever:
        http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-investor/investment-ideas/features/taking-stock/a-contrarian-makes-another-call-this-time-natural-gas/article1538686/

        Note that this 'estimate' of 100 years supply is at present rates, not one which powers transport that way too.
        China and India alone would seem to have the potential to reduce that supposed huge supply to just a few years worth world wide.
        Fortunately it is in fact fairly cheap to produce as much electricity as wanted, as the South Koreans for instance can build nuclear for $2333kw.
        The fossil fuel industry, assisted by the greens, has delayed things, but the likes of China are not going to take any notice of their vapourings.
        Considerations of global warming aside, I can't imagine any future transport system which does not rely as much as possible on electricity.
        • 4 Years Ago
        I think the mainstream scepticism re shale gas is now behind us. It is an unfortunate factor in that it takes the presure away from resource issues which was building a few years ago. Now there is no shortage of gas at least in the next 30 years.

        There is a consensus in the world gas industry (Gazprom apart who are arguing against shale gas on environmental grounds) that there is a lot of it and so there is now a scramble to look at depths much below normal gas. But I agree that we should be more fuel efficient to make the gas last even longer, smaller engines, hybrids - we should also make more natural gas it.

        Biomethane is the first mainstream second generation biofuel - take all the crop and make it into biogas, clean that up, inject into gas grid. Its happening on an ever larger scale,. For an acre of land you can go 5 times further by using biomethane compared to bioethanol-biodiesel.....

        http://www.biogaspartner.de/index.php?id=11871&L=1

        We are in good shape with fossil natural gas and then biomethane to run vehicles that do not lend themselves easily with electric - like trucks. In dual fuel with diesel get the thermal efficiency of diesel but the lower CO2 cfrom burning methane not C16

        • 4 Years Ago
        As I say, EVs are good for driving into a city but they can be used as a distraction by politicians seeking the zero emission bandwagon. Often there is no mention of where the electricity comes from.....iIn US it seems that all the extra electricity for EVs wil be from coal and natural gas.......with shale gas there is 100 years worth of US gas so the oil supply issue is now not that important.

        UK Govt is broke - we have limited resources for the next 5 years and need to focus on the low hanging fruit of vehicles that use a lot of diesel. We should let the Chinese make the running on EVs as they have the scale to do that. Once costs are low and range higher we can enter than market very quickly.

        Worldwide, there is also still 150 BCM /year of natural gas flared off - thats 1.5 times UK gas consumption. We need to find markets for that and transportation is the obvious one given that oil will start to run out at some time.
        • 4 Years Ago
        My maths wrong, looks like the world has 140 years worth so it will run out in due course

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coal

        Having said, unfortunately, lot will be discovered as the price goes up. We should leave it in the ground.

        • 4 Years Ago
        EVs will be good for short drives, even if she did 5,000 miles a year the cost per tonne of CO2 saved would still be £3,000

        It is clear that EVs are for short distances, they are great for that, its just they are not a material play when it comes to reducing CO2. For that, need to focus our efforts and resources on vehicles that use most diesel/petrol like commercial vehicles.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Everyday we have shale gas news, as today, there is no doubt there are loads of it:

        Goldman Lowers Gas Price Forecasts on U.S. Production (Update1)
        2010-07-16 10:24:36.141 GMT


        (Updates with comment from report from paragraph four.)

        By Ben Farey
        July 16 (Bloomberg) -- Goldman Sachs Group Inc. reduced its natural-gas price forecasts for the U.S. and the U.K., citing surging U.S. production and excess liquefied natural gas.
        The bank cut its forecast for U.S. gas prices in the second half of this year by 17 percent to $4.63 a million British thermal units, analysts including David Greely said in an e- mailed research report today. It reduced its estimate for 2011 prices to $5.25 a million Btus, from $6.
        Goldman said U.S. production so far this year has exceeded its expectations. The bank raised its daily output forecast for this year by 3 billion to 58.5 billion cubic feet. This will reduce the need for the U.S. to import LNG and cause an oversupply on other markets, the bank said.
        “U.S. natural gas production continues to surge this year, driven by the shale gas revolution,” Goldman said. “We are lowering our 2010 and 2011 forecasts as we expect lower prices will be required to restrain LNG production going forward.”
        Goldman reduced its U.K. gas price forecast to $5.13 a million Btus in the second half and $5.75 next year, from previous estimates of $5.40 and $5.80, respectively.
        Norwegian production halts and high exports to the rest of Europe that triggered gas price gains in the U.K. may prove “temporary,” Goldman said, leaving the price risk “skewed to the downside” and limiting hedging opportunities. Goldman didn’t recommend any trades.
        U.S. gas for August delivery yesterday rose 6.5 percent, the biggest one-day increase since Jan. 6, to settle at $4.586 per million Btus on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It traded at
        $4.604 at 11:20 a.m. London time.
        U.K. Gas for August delivery slipped 0.6 percent to 46.25 pence a therm. That’s equal to $7.11 a million Btus.

        Re phosphorous, this is important - ADs put it back in the form of digestate which is a key reason for having them. The only thing that leaves the plant/farm is CH4 into the gas grid. CO2 just citrculates. Its the way to go.
        • 4 Years Ago
        I don't mean oil shale, thats a nightmare, leave that in the ground

        I mean shale gas, very deep gas, huge volumes.....

        Presentation now available here:

        http://www.nationalgrid.com/NR/rdonlyres/4D9332EA-BCE2-4ED7-AF46-7A0151AAAA64/42215/NickGrealyNOHOTAIR.pdf
        • 4 Years Ago
        John,
        There is no coubt that supplies of gas, shale and otherwise, are substantial, although th estimates which are bandied about have no detailed substantiation.
        They pall compared to the increase in demand for energy we face.
        In 2000 the Chinese coal industry was around the same size as that of the US.
        It is now 3 times as big.
        So the notion that this growth can be maintained using fossil fuels, even less biogas, is fanciful.
        • 4 Years Ago
        @John,
        I am aware of what NG promoters say.
        Did you look at the links I provided which show why some skepticism is in order?
        Here are other links from more conservative energy professionals:
        http://seekingalpha.com/article/174577-the-oil-casino-sec-heading-for-monte-carlo-part-iii?source=commenter
        http://seekingalpha.com/article/174576-the-oil-casino-sec-heading-for-monte-carlo-part-ii
        http://seekingalpha.com/article/174575-the-oil-casino-sec-heading-for-monte-carlo-part-i

        Did you consider the argument that I presented that even if we take the optimistic claims, one can't really call them estimates, that NG is good for 100 years at present rates of production, if you used it for transport as well then that might come down to 50 years, and since no one imagines that gas supplies in the likes of China or India are proportionately as large as in the US, that running just about everything on gas for most of the world is wholly impractical?
        Natural gas can help, but it is not a magic bullet and we certainly need to electrify transport.

        • 4 Years Ago
        The more urgent problem than CO2 would seem to be the lack of oil.
        Looking at that metric, although as it happens it would also apply to CO2, then the huge numbers of private vehicles make up for their lower CO2 emissions to be at least as great a problem as commercial vehicles.
        You are also by specifying 5,000 miles still chosing a data point which tends to the conclusion you wish to make.
        The adoption of any new technology follows a curve, and you don't aim it at the toughest possible case in the first instance.
        At the moment BEVs come at a premium, as you would expect at this stage of the technology, so your argument is essentially it seems to me against ever changing the technology, which might be all right if we had an infinite oil well.
        In practice the users who it will pay to be early adopters would be urban commuters, so that the cost is amortized over 8-10k a year.
        Light commercial urban vehicles are also good candidates for early adoption, with a typical pattern of regular limited daily runs.

        Further down the road the cost reductions from this approach and the inherent simplicity of BEV should reduce cost so that they are more practical for the lower mileage driver.
        Long distance freight could more appropriately save energy by using rail, with delivery to the final destination by lighter EV trucks.
        The power for this at least in Europe needs to come from nuclear, as whatever may be the case in the US with it's far better wind and solar resources I am persuaded that, as in France, this is the practical way to power an industrial society in a very low carbon way.

        So it seems to me at least that we have credible and practical means to slash emissions including those from transport by a very large factor, but obviously we have to walk before we run.
        • 4 Years Ago
        @John,
        It is entirely unclear to me on what grounds you are dismissing skepticism about gas supplies, save perhaps that you think it unfashionable, as you give no substantive grounds.
        When accounting standards are trashed, and folk are hyping a project to get investment funding, I tend to be skeptical.
        If you are not I have a navigation canal to sell you.

        As for biomethane, aside from water and land use issues, the supply of phosphates would seem to be critical;
        'Unfortunately, erosion and runoff waste half of that phosphorus, as the phosphates end up scattered deep underground or chemically changed. So even though the phosphorus atoms never disappear, they're not available as fertilizer. The world has between 4 billion and 8 billion tons of phosphate reserves, and we extract one-eighth of a billion tons per year. So simple arithmetic says we could "run out" of phosphorus in about 30 years. The end could come even sooner if we ramp up biofuel production, since switchgrass, corn, and other biofuel crops will require loads of phosphorus-rich fertilizer. And unlike nitrogen, there's no other ready source than mining.'

        http://www.slate.com/id/2258112/entry/2258053/

        Concerns such as this have led to the Germans greatly cutting back on biofuel investment, and the Swedes are considering following suit.

        I'd sooner walk to the shop to buy food, than drive there to find there was none as it could not be produced with essential nutrients having been diverted to fuel.

        None of this means that natural gas con't help, as can technologies such as underground coal gasification, but it seems ill-advised to fail to move to the anyway much more efficient electrification of transport to whatever degree is practical.
        • 4 Years Ago
        @John, I have no idea which bit of the link you were looking at to come up with China having 300 years of coal supply left.
        It says:
        'China holds an estimated 114.5 billion short tons of recoverable coal reserves, the third-largest in the world behind the United States and Russia and about 13 percent of the world’s total reserves.'

        And in the same passage gives Chinese coal production at around 3 billion ton/yr, in 2006.
        In my book that comes out to around 38 years worth of supply, not 300.
        Already production has risen so that a better figure is perhaps 30 years supply, with of course increasing costs as poorer supplies are worked, and before allowing for any future growth.
        So does that mean that China should switch to natural gas?
        If coal can't cope, there is no way at all that natural gas can cope, however fanciful the projections of shale gas.

        Fortunately although nuclear power starts from a low base, now that the obstacles put in the way of it's development in China such as technological transfer etc have been overcome there is no good reason at all why it can't be ramped up to fill the gap.
        Almost 50% of the Chinese economy goes to investment, and if plants are built at around the same rate as coal plants have been, since the construction times there are only around 4 years then it can do the job.

        It is inconceivable that natural gas can, however optimistic the estimates for shale gas.
      • 4 Years Ago
      I think each of the 3 big world markets for cars has a different spectrum of what will work for drivers. Europe has shorter commutes and shorter distances between larger cities, while the US has longer commutes and longer distances between larger cities with China falling somewhere in between. The Nissan Leaf's 80 mile AER will work well in Europe with probably 70% of drivers very rarely needing 100+ mile range. In the US the Leaf would work for probably 30-40% of drivers, either because they don't drive long distance very frequently or they have a second ICE car in the household.
      In the short term i.e. the next 10 years, there will probably be a rapid ramp up in the percentage of American vehicles being EREV's as the price of gasoline increases, along with a gradual but growing ramp up in the amount of BEV's as the batteries get cheaper and lighter, and a gradual, albeit accelerating decrease in the percentage of American ICE vehicles on the road in the US.
      Europe will probably see the change at a slower pace due to the smaller amount of miles travelled and the fact that they already have high gasoline prices. China may see it happen faster due to the state run nature of their market and the Communist Parties desire to limit their vulnerability to foreign oil price increases or limited supply, despite their long term contracts with oil producing nations.
      This will definitely be an interesting decade!
        • 4 Years Ago
        Ziv,
        The average mileage in Europe is certainly not 500 miles/mo.
        I don't have average European figures, but in the UK it is around 10-12k a year, and the European Union figure would not be greatly less.
        In Japan it is around 8k, so even there it is well over 500/mo.
        Of course, as in the US the figures include a fair number of road warriors doing 30k a year, and pensioners doing 3k, but as the recent iMiEV tests found, urban drivers who commute were doing around 23 miles/day, or perhaps 8.5k a year.
        Electricity at least in many places in Europe is also not charged at a flat rate, so a higher general price masks very low rates available for off-peak charging.
        The only BEV cars on sale have really been NEVs, but the plans in Europe in many places for adoption as soon as reasonable vehicles become available are far more extensive than in the US.
        For instance, in France alone the public and semi-public utilities are ordering 50,000 EV's:
        http://www.futurecars.com/news/electric-cars/french-government-to-buy-50000-electric-vehicles

        Adjusted for population, that is around the equivalent of the US Government and postal service ordering 250,000.

        They are installing 4 million charging points in France:
        http://www.carsuk.net/france-invests-in-an-electric-car-future/

        Again, that is equivalent to around 20 million or so in the US.

        It is not really surprising that France is going ahead very fast - they can run millions of EV cars on the spare off-peak power of their nuclear stations, utilizing them more effciently.

        There are numerous other efforts in Europe, such as Denark along with Israel pioneering Better Place battery swapping stations.
        • 4 Years Ago
        David, I figure Americans drive 1000 miles a month vs. Europeans 500 miles and Americans are more likely to opt for 10 cents a kWh electricity in the US vs. 15 to 20 cents electricity in Europe. The cost of gasoline is already high in Europe and it hasn't encouraged a switch to BEV's yet, despite the fact that Europe has 2 or 3 cars for sale and the US effectively has none. Europeans simply don't drive enough for slightly cheaper prices per mile driven to kick in. Here in the US we drive more and our electricity is cheaper, which may be more important to drivers in the next few years as gas prices here approach the level gas is at in Europe now. Gas at $2.75 a gallon is on its way out in the States soon.
        Also with battery prices where they are and only dropping slowly the VAT in Europe will penalize European drivers more than state sales taxes will bite here in the US.
        You are right about my reasoning sounding odd, but there are so many factors in the adoption on BEV/EREV's vs. ICE vehicles that I am not sure how fast it will happen and where it will happen sooner, but it will be cool to watch the advent of non-ICE vehicles.
        • 4 Years Ago
        'Europe will probably see the change at a slower pace due to the smaller amount of miles travelled and the fact that they already have high gasoline prices.'

        ?? How on earth does that follow? Until the extra excise duty on petrol is loaded on to electic cars they will have a huge advantage in Europe.
        The incentive to change is far less in the US, and bigger distances make it tougher.
        Renault hope to do the Zoe for £13k, with the battery at £90pm.
        I reckon here in the UK if you do more than 540 miles/mo you are in pocket.
        In purely financial terms it is much more difficult to break even in the US.
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