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Electric vehicles deliver double the environmental benefit

Drivers tend to be more thoughtful in the way they use their cars when they switch to an electric vehicle, a new study has found.

The research, being carried out by Newcastle University as part of the SwitchEV project, has shown that with an electric car, drivers will think twice about making unnecessary journeys and are generally more environmentally conscious of the journeys they make.

In addition, electric vehicles (EVs) produce less than half of the carbon dioxide emitted by conventional combustion engine cars and grid energy is increasingly being generated by ‘greener’ renewable sources.

The Newcastle research team say this added benefit further reduces the environmental impact of EVs. However, drivers tended to increase the number of journeys they made to city centre locations where public charging posts are sited.  This suggests strategic siting of posts may have an economic benefit to the area.

Phil Blythe, research lead and Professor of Intelligent Transport Systems explains: “In an electric vehicle, drivers reported being very aware of the battery charge and this made them think twice about hopping in the car for a journey which they could perhaps walk or maybe combine with another trip out.

"However, we also found that drivers tend not to worry about range anxiety once they are familiar with the electric vehicle, as they trust the information the vehicles tell them about available range and plan journeys accordingly."

Edmund King, AA president and visiting professor at Newcastle University added: "The recent fuel shortages have started to make many drivers think twice about the discretionary trips they make.

“This study shows that EV drivers are one step ahead and tend to cut out unnecessary journeys to preserve their battery charge. Once behind the wheel of an electric vehicle, range anxiety becomes a thing of the past and these EVs have a real chance of being part of our future."

Drivers particularly enjoyed the environmental benefits of driving EVs. One of the trialists stated:  “I think there’s four things for me which are best about the EV. The fact that it is zero emissions is great, the fact that it is very cheap to recharge it compared to refuelling an internal combustion engine (ICE) makes it really good, the EV is a really smooth drive, and I think along with everyone else, you get a really good feeling when you go downhill and see the battery is recharging up.”

But it wasn’t just battery life that prompted this change.  Drivers reported feeling calmer and more in control in an EV.  Many said they felt proud to be driving a ‘greener’ car and it made them think more carefully about their driving habits.

One of the drivers talked about his and his son’s experiences with driving electric vehicles: “My last car was an Audi TT, the one before that was a Jaguar XK8 so we are used to putting the foot down and hammering off, and it’s been lovely, I have to say, to suddenly discover a new way, a new peaceful less stressed way of driving and we both actually thoroughly enjoyed it.” Other drivers agree with them and say that “EVs are very, very comfortable, very easy to drive.” And most of the drivers adapted their driving style to maximise their range.

Professor Blythe, who leads Newcastle University's Transport Operations Research Group (TORG), said the switch to EV had also resulted in safer driving.  “Because drivers were trying to conserve battery power, they didn’t push their car and tended to stay well within the speed limit. The unintended benefit was one of improved safety, bringing down driving speeds.”

One driver said: “I’ve reduced the speed. I don’t race to places, keep it about 58mph and I’m not using the fuel I used to use.“

What the results showed:

The trial was launched six months ago with the roll-out of 44 electric vehicles across the region. Swapping drivers after six months, there have been 88 tests so far and this latest research reflects the initial findings.  These include:

• The electric vehicles have so far driven a total of over 161,000km and their carbon emissions are less than half those of an equivalent conventional combustion engine car would emit.

• Generally, more drivers in the trial charged their car at work compared to those who charged at home or at publically available re-charging posts.

• 24% said driving the EV had changed their perception of them.

The SwitchEV project, which began trials in November 2010 and involves 44 electric vehicles provided by Nissan, Cramlington based Avid Vehicles, Simon Bailes Peugeot in Stockton and Northallerton , Smith Electric Vehicles in Washington and Liberty Electric Cars, is one of eight UK projects supported by the Technology Strategy Board’s £25m Ultra Low Carbon Vehicles Demonstrator Programme aimed at accelerating the widespread adoption of electric vehicles in the UK.  It is unique in terms of UK trials due to the use both of production model EVs and a large public charging network including eight quick chargers in the North East region of England.

Project Manager John Austin from Future Transport Systems in Newcastle believes the findings from the trial represent a positive step for the roll out of Electric Vehicles.  “The SwitchEV trial drivers have been able to test life with an electric car in the environment of the North East where they have access to public, workplace , home and quick charging,” he said.

“The trialists have thoroughly enjoyed driving the cars and have found the charging provision convenient and easy to use. Some of the drivers have gone on to purchase their own EV following the trial which is a clear indication of their potential. The trial continues into 2013 and we’ll be considering how low carbon and low emission EVs will shape the personal transport of the future.”

published on: 4 April 2012