Thinking green, by Caitlin

Thoughts and ideas on environmental topics from Caitlin Howlett, editor of Green Lifestyle.

Electric cars on the rise

Electric not niche

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By Caitlin Howlett, G writer

Bam! I wasn’t expecting the back of my head to hit the headrest, but the zippy, gear-less acceleration takes me by total surprise. I’m in an all-electric sports car, the Tesla, which can go from zero to 100 km/h in less than four seconds. Part of the reason for it's instant speed is because there’s no clutch, so there’s instant ‘torque’, which means that the wheels can spin without losing energy through the mechanics. It goes against the common myth of unpowerful electric vehicles (EVs).

Electric vehicles are, in my opinion, unquestioningly better than combustion engines. They’re emissions-free (when charged by renewable energy), quiet, require few mechanical parts, and I’ve certainly seen that they have instant acceleration and can outperform the petrol-guzzlers! Advances in technology mean that batteries are getting better – modern Lithium-ion batteries store twice as much as earlier models, meaning less charge time and longer ranges. In 2010 over $80 billion was invested in the electric car industry worldwide, showing the overwhelming support for the growing EV industry.

Take the Tesla, for example, for which you can get up to 394 kilometres from a single charge. Due next year from the same makers is the Model S Tesla, the world’s first premium family sedan EV - meaning it's not all about speed or thrills, but this technology is being applied to the practicality of a family car.

At first, like I imagine most people are, I was a little worried about suddenly running out of charge. But there's a detailed display letting you know exactly what's going on. I can't imagine it would be stressful to drive your EV about town, or even on longer journeys; simply plug it into the powerpoint when you got home. If you have solar panels, or use 100 per cent GreenPower, imagine knowing that you’re drive is totally guilt-free!

Upon asking around, one of the key concerns I've found preventing people from considering EVs is having easy access to public charge points. However things are changing with charging stations popping up everywhere. ChargePoint have over 30 plug-in points installed across Australia while another rival company, Better Place, have charging stations in Melbourne, Sydney, Canberra, Adelaide and Albury, with an aim to having the world's largest electric car charge network by the end of 2013. Also, NRMA’s Roadside assistance now offers help to drivers of electric vehicles with a mobile electric car battery charging station – coming direct to you in electric NRMA vehicles.

It’s true that the Tesla is a little (or a lot!) out of price range for most people at $206,188, but there are more affordable options out or due out on the market. Mitsubishi has just launched a five-door hatchback for $48,000, the i-Miev, which has a range of up to 160 km and can charge from empty to 80 per cent capacity within 30 minutes. Nissan is also due to release its all-electric hatchback Leaf in Australia in mid-2012.

With cars responsible for 70 per cent of urban air pollution, rising oil prices, and a looming carbon tax for Australia, there’s an increasing need for a switch. Some experts predict that 25 per cent of new car sales in 2020 will be electric.

As more options become available for everyday people, would you ever consider buying an electric car? Leave a comment below to let us know!