Can car pools kick-start the take up of EVs?

In Malcolm Gladwell's book "The tipping point" he illustrates the apparent law of nature that social phenomena need to reach a critical mass to then experience exponential growth and become a dominant feature within society.EV

It is interesting to look at two such phenomena which today at the nascent stage of development but which could potentially reach a tipping point and become a normal feature of our lives. These two phenomena are:

• Car share pools

• Electric vehicles

What do I mean by “Car share pools”?

These are the companies who have recently started offering you use of a car “by the hour” rather than owning your own vehicle. There are a number of variants. Some offer a car parked on the roadside at a specific location which is offered for rent on a first come first served basis – or rather first booked over the web. Others offer car owners to possibility of sharing their car with neighbours and other members of their community.

In both cases the idea is that the total cost of car ownership is substantially reduced either by avoiding the costs of purchase, depreciation, tax, insurance, and maintenance or by generating an income from rentals. The logic is that the cost of using this form of car access is also lower than hiring taxis or mini-cabs.

The problem faced by both models is that unless there is a critical mass of available cars individuals who want to access a car will suffer the experience of not having one available. This in turn puts them off the model which stops it growing.

From society’s perspective this is clearly a shame since increasing utilisation of existing vehicles is both economically and to a smaller extent environmentally efficient. (in the latter case whilst the carbon footprint of car production is saved fuel emissions clearly are not)

And what about “Electric Vehicles”?

Here we have two emerging technologies backed by major international car producers. On the one hand we have the pure electric vehicle – on the other the plug-in hybrid which uses both petrol and electricity.

Both technologies require an extensive infrastructure of charging locations if they are to take off and become the technology of choice in the nation’s car park – indeed in the global car park. In the short term the lack of charging infrastructure will mitigate against mass take up of the vehicles….and the lack of vehicle take-up will mitigate against the investments needed to put in the appropriate infrastructure.

But what if these two business models were to converge?

What might happen if Car share pools based on electric vehicles were to be made available in major cities in significant scale?

Oil fuelled car users looking to replace their vehicles would then get the opportunity to “try before you buy”. Not only to try the electric vehicle option (of whichever flavour) but also to try the car share rather than the car owner ship model.

The result could well be that a significant initiative by a municipal authority would put in place enough vehicles and charging points to make the consumer experience so positive that the “tipping point” is reached much earlier than otherwise would have been the case.

For motorists and society the benefits could be great. Lower costs of travel and dramatically lower emissions if the electricity is produced from renewable (the wind blowing at night) or nuclear sources.

If this does not happen we may have to wait too long for the car park to switch over to low carbon electricity as its prime source of energy and fail to meet our carbon targets as well as suffering the high import costs of the fuel needed to fuel traditional vehicles (as North Sea oil continues its inexorable decline).

The trick is in the timing. Today we do not have enough low carbon generation sources to accommodate a mass switch to low carbon electricity. By 2020 we may well have. I would suggest we ought to be well on the way to having mass adoption of electrified vehicles by then.

Given it would take 10 years to shift the car park to electricity if every new vehicle was electric and given that the percentage of new cars sold which will be electric will be small at first and will not grow fast we may well be looking at a 20,30 or even 40 year horizon for the electrification of car transport.

To kick-start the system it probably needs someone to converge the two business models to stimulate the uptake of Electric vehicles to ensure we do have mass market adoption in 2020 when we will have both significant source of wind and nuclear in the electricity system.

Published by: Enstra Consulting

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The Internet of Energy

Read the recent article by Ian Campbell of Enstra on the coming of age of the Internet of Energy based on his insights from being chair of the Smarter Homes and Buildings group at the EUA.  You can read the article by clicking here.

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