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One Tonne Life

Tag: Electric car

Just how good are electric cars from the climate viewpoint?

Use of the electric car, allied to the fact that the family are avoiding air travel, has helped cut transport-related emissions by a total of 93 % compared with before project start. The reason for this big decrease is that the car runs on renewable electricity, so emissions are very low. However, if everyone was to buy an electric car, would it be reasonable to claim that all the electric cars were running on hydropower?

Some people say that if we increase electricity consumption a little in Sweden, that will require us to buy in a little more coal-powered electricity from Denmark. Even if Sweden exports electricity, the effect will be the same. If we use more electricity and export less, this would mean that the Danes would have to rely more on coal-fired power stations instead of hydropower that they could otherwise have purchased from Sweden. This means that coal is a marginal power source. And if you recharge your electric car with coal power, from the climate viewpoint it is pretty much the same as running a petrol car.

There are several things that are rather tricky in this perspective. One is that the EU has a trading system for emissions rights whereby the permitted level of emissions from the electricity and industrial sectors in the EU is a political decision. Therefore, if we use a little more electricity in Sweden, this does not mean that emissions increase but that someone else in the EU will either have to reduce their electricity consumption or invest in coal-less power production. This means that net emissions from the electric car will in practice be zero, although the emissions rights will be somewhat more expensive in the EU. However, one might counter that we can also let petrol-powered cars be part of the EU’s trading system, in which case the contribution from yet another petrol car would in practice also be zero.

A trading system is a control mechanism for ensuring that emissions reductions take place where they are cheapest to implement. However, it is nonetheless important to be able to evaluate technologies in advance. So the question returns to whether or not electric cars are better than petrol cars bearing in mind today’s electricity production. It is true that if we increase electricity consumption in Sweden by a little, then a little more coal power will be used this year. But an electric car has a life-span of around ten to fifteen years. Will coal remain a marginal power source throughout that time? What is more, if we were to go for electric cars in Sweden, new power stations would have to be built. What will be decisive is which new energy sources will be driven by the introduction of electric cars. Additional coal power, or renewable energy sources? This issue will be decided not so much by electric car customers but more by political decisions about which control mechanisms there are for the electricity generating sector.

The climate impact of electric cars therefore cannot be evaluated solely on the basis of the car, but must instead be viewed in a larger context. If a political decision is taken not to redirect electricity production, the electric car will not be a good climate alternative. But if resources are invested in redirecting power production, electric cars may well become a good solution for the future transport system.

Another two points to make about electric cars. One is that we would actually only need about 6 % more electricity production in Sweden to replace all passenger cars with electric cars. The second is production of the cars themselves. We estimate that the Lindell family’s car generates 100 kg CO2/person per year, which in itself is not a whole lot. But that figure can be a lot less if the electricity generating system were changed. In other words in a future in which power for electric cars is only a minor climate-related problem, actual manufacture of the cars will also only be a minor climate-related problem.

Fredrik Hedenus, Chalmers

Volvo C30 Electric and safety

One issue linked to this business of electric cars that I feel is very interesting is that of safety. Driving around with 24 kWh in the luggage compartment may feel rather special for many people. 1 kWh is the energy needed to lift 1200 kg 300 metres straight into the air. With 24 kWh you could thus lift more than 1000 Volvos to the top of the Eiffel Tower. Here at Volvo we’ve worked a lot on the subject of safety, examining what happens if a car with this many kilowatts on board is involved in a collision. It’s an immensely interesting assignment. Early on in our development of the C30 Electric we decided to accept the challenge – we wouldn’t be delivering any electric car to the market if it wasn’t as safe as any other model in the entire Volvo range. What are your thoughts? Is safety for electric cars something you’ve thought about?

See some clips from collision tests we conducted with the electric car:

All the tests went really well. We’re absolutely certain that the battery pack’s location in the middle of the car is the perfect solution.

Malin Person, Volvo

Hi Jonathan, what’s it like to live the One Tonne Life?

The Lindell family have now spent just over two months living their carbon-lean life. They have experienced some trials along the way and learned a lot. We catch up with Alicja, Nils, Hannah and Jonathan to find out what they think thus far. For Jonathan Lindell there are no difficulties – apart from having to abstain from meat.

The family’s emissions have fluctuated quite a lot in these first months. How do you feel about that?
“Well, in the beginning our emissions dropped and then they climbed and I thought ‘Oops! What went wrong there?’”

Were you disappointed?
”No, I just felt we had to work to make this right once again.”

During your trip to Åre your emissions rose to 9 tonnes. Were you prepared for that?
“No, when I found out I was really shocked, didn’t think that was possible.”

What’s your strategy for the spring?
“We have to think about all the small things we do. Every little bit counts – not letting the water run when washing your hands, turning off the shower when you’re soaping up, using the eco-flush in the toilet as often as possible, scraping off the dinner plates with a scraper instead of rinsing them under running water…”

What’s been most fun so far in the project?
“Meeting all the people whom I’d never get the chance to meet otherwise. Everyone’s really nice. And getting to learn things I’d never have a chance of learning otherwise. You start thinking that if you hadn’t been in this project, then you wouldn’t have met these people, or those people, or those other people, or learned this thing or that that or the other thing.”

Is there anything that’s happened that you remember particularly?
“Well, that’s really got to be when I got to drive … I mean ride in the electric car. That’s real cool!”

What has been most difficult?
“Don’t really know, I haven’t felt there are any major problems yet. One thing’s for certain – the easiest part was moving into the new house. That made a huge difference in our carbon dioxide emissions. Changing our habits isn’t all that difficult either. One thing that really is difficult, however, is having to do without meat …”

What would happen if you didn’t get to eat any meat throughout the whole spring?
“Well, I don’t exactly think I’d go crazy or anything but I guess I’ll suffer … no, not really, I suppose I’d get used to that too!”

If you were to hazard a guess, what will your emissions be by the end of the project?
“I think we’ll end up on … 1.7 tonnes.”

Hi there, Johan Konnberg!

Johan Konnberg is the family’s coach and he will help them get under way with their electric car, a Volvo C30 Electric. He is responsible for the development of hybrid and electric cars at Volvo and he believes there will be a noticeable difference in the cars we see on the roads within the next five years, with a lot of electric cars in regular traffic.

Does it feel like the family got off to a good start with the car?
“Definitely. They’ve had a great kick-off, they’re really keen. After I showed them the car it only took a couple of hours before Alicja was out driving and later blogging about it!”

Have you always been interested in electric cars?
“I’ve worked with everything from strategy and product planning to engineering at Volvo, for almost 30 years now. For the past three years I’ve been responsible for the development of hybrids and electric cars. I applied for that department and I work primarily with business models. Purely emotively, hybrids and electric cars are definitely going to see a major upswing and I think that’s just great.”

When did development of the C30 Electric get under way?
“It began in 2009 – and we started from the ground up. There have been a variety of concept cars that Volvo has developed in previous years, running to a greater or lesser extent on electricity. We chose to tailor an already existing platform to an electric driveline and decided on the C30 since it is a typical commuter’s car. It is also our smallest and lightest model.”

What sort of performance does it offer?
“We have an electric motor that produces 110 horsepower mated to a reduction gear that reduces the 15,000-20,000 revs of the electric motor by a factor of ten so that the road wheels spin at a more suitable speed. There is also a large battery pack totalling 24 kWh installed in a “T”-shaped unit low down in the car, in the propshaft tunnel and where the fuel tank would normally be fitted. This gives a low centre of gravity, which is good for driveability and means that the batteries are well within the safety zone, protected from damage in the event of a collision. During our development work, it was important for us not to compromise on other important aspects such as safety, space, driveability and comfort. For the sake of comfort the car has a heater powered by ethanol, because it is otherwise difficult to produce heat in an electric car’s passenger compartment – an electric motor has a 90 percent efficiency rating so it does not produce much surplus heat for the passengers. If we took heat via the batteries, that would compromise the car’s operating range.”

How fast is the car?
“Top speed has been limited to 130 km/h. Acceleration from 0 to 100 km/h has been fixed at 10.5 seconds. When the batteries are fully charged, the electrons are fast, when the batteries are almost drained they are slow. If we didn’t fix the car’s acceleration at a specific rate, the result would be that the car would accelerate differently depending on battery charge status, and this would make progress unpredictable.”

How far can the car drive?
“The C30 has a theoretical range of 150 kilometres. But that’s in the laboratory. In practical on-road driving a more realistic figure is 100 to 120 km. The ultimate range depends on how you drive and a whole lot of other parameters, for instance whether the audio system and seat heaters are on, since they compete with the drive motor for battery power. Outside temperature also has an impact.”

How is the Volvo C30 Electric in competition with other electric cars?
“We believe it shapes up very well in competition with other electric cars. Everyone who has driven it exclaims “But this is a real car!” And that’s exactly what it is – you should feel at home with it, it shouldn’t feel different in any way, not as regards the way you drive and the feedback it gives you while driving. You shouldn’t have to compromise on anything. Add all this together and you’ve got a winner.”

When will we see this model in the showrooms?
“We’ll start to deliver cars for leasing after the 2011 summer vacation period. By the start of 2012, 250 cars will be on the roads in a number of locations in Sweden, and here we will be able to offer unique workshop servicing expertise to look after these cars. We’re talking about Stockholm, Göteborg, Malmö, Helsingborg, Östersund, Umeå and Skellefteå. We are focusing primarily on companies, institutions and politicians who are interested in leasing a car for 3 years. After that we want the cars back here for evaluation. Among other things, we want to find out what happens with the batteries after three years. The cars will also become available on certain markets in Europe, and they will be demonstrated in the USA and Asia.”

What does the future look like for electric cars?
“I believe they’re here to stay. Battery technology is now so far advanced that it is possible to cover 120 to 150 kilometres in an electric car.”

When will electric cars become a common sight on Swedish roads?
“That depends a whole lot on the government, if they feel this is a good idea and provide subsidies for the electric car just like they did with the state green-car subsidy. On some European markets, buyers get a grant of 40,000 to 60,000 kronor for electric cars, and this makes them viable since they have such low operating costs. Within a 5-year period, you’re going to notice the presence of electric cars on the roads.”

How much progress have other countries made?
“Different countries have made different degrees of progress. President Obama wants to make the USA independent of imported oil so there is massive dollar investment in this technology in America. The USA has therefore come a good way in this respect. France relies totally on nuclear power for its electricity and wants to push its car industry in the direction of electric cars. Nothing is happening on other markets.

Webisode #3 “The Electric Car”

Transport’s eco-footprint

There are few products that arouse as much emotion as cars. There are very few people who do not have feelings on the subject of our cars – and some people have very strong feelings indeed on the subject. It’s an unavoidable fact that we need some form of transport in today’s society. Here at Volvo Cars, we know that the car will continue to play an important role in our lives in the future. The exciting challenge facing us is to reduce the environmental footprint of our cars.

So what exactly is the car situation in Sweden? There are 4.3 million cars on the roads here. According to national statistics agency SCB, Sweden’s cars cover an average of 14,540 km a year. In 2010, almost 290,000 new cars took to the roads. Of these, 51 % were diesels and 40 % were green cars. The average CO2 figure for the full year is not available at the time of writing but for the first half of 2010, the nation’s cars produced average CO2 emissions of 154 g CO2/km. This corresponds to about 5.9 litres of diesel per 100 km or 6.7 litres of petrol per 100 km. Over the past three years a lot has happened regarding the energy-efficiency of cars. For new models, emissions of carbon dioxide have been cut by 15 %.

How does the Lindell family measure up in this respect? They have been running two cars whose fuel consumption is pretty much average, and they cover virtually the average Swedish annual mileage. Of each family member’s CO2 emissions of just over 7.2 tonnes per person and year, the two cars account for 14 % of the total. That’s all. And that figure includes manufacture of the cars and their fuel consumption.

That is why things will become particularly interesting now that the Lindells have a Volvo C30 Electric that produces no carbon dioxide at all from the tailpipe – because there is no tailpipe. When they recharge the car with renewable electricity, the car’s environmental footprint per km will be very low. The Lindells will also have access to a Volvo Green Car Drive pool vehicle when they need more than one car or when the go on a journey that is longer than the electric car’s operating range. We are going to precisely monitor the family’s CO2 footprint for all their transport needs. And of course production of the car itself is included in our calculations. I will talk more about this later, as well as the way the various transport alternatives perform against each other. This spring, we here at Volvo, the Lindell family and hopefully you, the reader, will all gain plenty of fresh new insights.

David Weiner, Volvo

Hi there, Jonathan Lindell!

Jonathan Lindell, aged 13, is the youngest member of the family. He gobbles up everything he can lay his hands on when it comes to technology, and he’s really looking forward to riding in an electric car. He may not be quite as competitive as the rest of the family – if the CO2-lean lifestyle means he has to stop playing video games, he plans to go across to his friends and continue playing there…

What do you feel your new life will be like?
“It’ll be a really exciting experience, we’ll learn a lot. I’m probably not as competitive as the rest of the family but I see it as a challenge.”

What will be most fun with One Tonne Life?
“The electric car. It seems really cool.”

And the most difficult?
“To learn new habits. Getting used to all the many small things we may have to learn to do. Sort our trash, save electricity, switch off lamps when we leave a room.”

What is most important in a house?
“There shouldn’t be too many walls, I like it light, preferably white. If it’s dark it just feels dull and dismal, pretty much like in a horror movie.”

What do you do in your free time?
“I like playing the guitar, for example ‘Blackbird’ by the Beatles. I also play the drums, in fact I have drum lessons every Monday. And I really like video games, even better when it’s online, with friends. And twice a week I train goshindo.”

If our energy consumption measurements show you cannot continue playing video games as much as you do today, how will you feel?
“Not sure I play all that much, it goes in waves. These days I read a lot of books. But if I weren’t allowed to play at all at home, I guess I’ll just go over to my friends and play there…”

What is goshindo?
“It’s a Japanese multi-skill martial art that blends together kickboxing, judo, wrestling and boxing. I’m really interested in Japan. My dream is to visit Hokkaido, the northernmost island in Japan. My favourite food is sukiyaki, slow-cooked meat. The problem is it contains beef so I guess it’s not all that environmentally friendly.”

Are you interested in the environment?
“I’m interested in technology. I read an English magazine called ‘How It Works’, where I learn all sorts of cool stuff. The magazine has a section about the environment, it’s not really about living a ‘green’ lifestyle but more about the weather, what causes tsunamis and so on. I used to spend a lot of time watching Mythbusters on TV.”

What’s good about One Tonne Life?
“There’s a lot of focus on the environment right now, everyone’s talking about it. There are probably a whole lot of people who’ve thought about building a house like this one but no-one has taken the initiative – until now. I think One Tonne Life will help people appreciate it’s a good idea to live with lower emissions.”

What’s your opinion on the climate issue, what do you think about the future of our planet?
“Let’s hope the problem is solved before it’s too late. I don’t think CO2 is the only problem, we shouldn’t blame everything on carbon dioxide because there are other things to take into account as well. Other sources of environmental pollution.”

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