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Full charge for the electric car

We will have to wait until 2020 before electric and hybrid vehicles represent 10% of sales in Spain, and there are still important challenges to overcome, such as their battery life and their price. However, the deployment of the initial charging networks confirms that the electric car is here to stay. Energy companies, public authorities and manufacturers are committed to the progressive electrification of transport as the most sustainable option.
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800 million cars are on the roads of our planet and it is expected that there will be 2,000 million in 2050. All forecasts point to a continued increase in transport-related energy consumption. In Spain, it already represents 36% of the national total and, according to the International Energy Agency (IAE), it will increase a further 9% by 2015. The electric car comes strongly onto the scene in an energy context marked by the need to reduce emissions and look for alternatives in a sector that is highly oil-dependent.

Commitment to sustainable mobility

At present, with the available technologies, a 100% electric car works better in urban and semi-urban areas. A benchmark in its deployment is London, with the EU’s most ambitious plan. The City Council’s objective is to have 100,000 electric vehicles on its streets by 2013 and there are plans to install at least 1300 charging points by this same date.
 
In Spain, the development of the electric car also has the support of different official bodies. The Ministry of Industry has passed a package of incentives as part of the Integral Plan to Promote Electric Vehicles in Spain 2010-2014. The Plan includes subsidies of up to 25% of the sales price to compensate for the difference with conventional vehicles. It will also subsidise the installation of charging points and will create a new night time tariff, called “supervalle” (super off-peak), to charge vehicles at lower prices.

Towards an electrification of transport

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“Electrical mobility is already a reality, even through several years will have to go by until this kind of vehicle makes up a relevant percentage of the total fleet”, indicated Íñigo Palacio, Deputy Manager of Repsol’s Energy Ventures. The most solid studies estimate that, within a decade, 100% electric vehicles will form between 2% and 5% of sales in Spain. If we add on the plug-in hybrid technology vehicles, these figures may approach 10%.
 
“The greatest advantage of this type of vehicle,” continued Íñigo Palacio “is the lack of noise and emission-reduction.” According to the Institute for Energy Diversification (IDAE), with the current electricity generation system in Spain (energy mix), the electric car is 50% more efficient than a conventional vehicle.
 
“The great challenge still to be overcome is to develop more energy-dense and lighter batteries, which allow greater autonomy and that are, above all, cheaper. Without this, purely electric vehicles can only develop within the urban niche, although that is in itself an important sector” expressed Iñigo Palacio.
 
The electric cars that are already available have autonomy ranging, depending on the model, between 120 and 160 km. This is sufficient for the daily routes of 70% of drivers but restricts longer trips. The latest technology is lithium ion batteries, of the same type as those used in mobile phones, and it is expected for their large-scale production to reduce prices, today standing between 7,000 and 15,000 Euros.
The great challenge still to be overcome is to develop more energy-dense and lighter batteries, which allow greater autonomy

The battery-charging challenge

Electric car development also requires the rollout of a specific supply network. Each electric vehicle needs at least one charging point in the garage and posts in streets, companies and service stations that guarantee the vehicles can be kept on the road. According to IDAE information, in Spain there are already 472 charging points in service. 421 are single-phase (slow charging) and 51 are three-phase (semi-fast charging).
 
There are currently three charging types: slow, in single-phase AC (domestic) which charges the batteries in 6-8 hours; semi-fast charging, in three-phase AC: between 1.5 and 3 hours; and fast charging, in DC, which now makes it possible to charge batteries in 15-30 minutes. “Most charging will be slow, at night, in the privacy of the vehicle garage, whilst public charging will be semi-fast or fast,” explained Palacio.
 
The EU is also working on another question that needs to be resolved: standardising the plug-in system so that drivers can refuel anywhere. There are several different manufacturer standards coexisting on the market and each make of cars is only compatible with one of them.

IBIL, REPSOL’s electric vehicle charging manager

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Repsol, in collaboration with the Ente Vasco de la Energía, has joined this effort by creating a company called IBIL. This company is developing a charging network for the whole of the Basque Country to guarantee electric vehicle mobility throughout the length and breadth of this territory.
 
“In the short-term, we want to end 2011 with 125 charging points in Euskadi, both public and private, of which we now have more than 80 either operating or under construction,” indicated Íñigo Palacio. “In the medium-term, the network will quickly grow within Euskadi until reaching between 7,000 and 13,000 points by 2020.” IBIL is a real-scale business that will continue to increase its scope of action “with the aim of being a national benchmark”.
 
“Furthermore,” added Palacio “we certify that 100% of the electricity the vehicles are charged with is renewable. This is vital if we want electric mobility to play a part in reducing our carbon footprint”.
Repsol and the Ente Vasco de la Energía, are developing a charging network for the whole of the Basque Country.

Change of mentality

The main argument in favour of electric cars is environmental. And the most graphic image is that they do not have an exhaust pipe. But these vehicles will only be cleaner if the source of that electricity is also clean. Electric cars may contribute to the development of renewable sources, as they will mainly be charged at night when these energies are most abundant. In the future, efficiency will also come from the so-called ‘smart networks’, which will allow parked vehicles to sell electricity when required by the system.

The main argument in favour of electric cars is environmental. And the most graphic image is that they do not have an exhaust pipe. But these vehicles will only be cleaner if the source of that electricity is also clean. Electric cars may contribute to the development of renewable sources, as they will mainly be charged at night when these energies are most abundant. In the future, efficiency will also come from the so-called ‘smart networks’, which will allow parked vehicles to sell electricity when required by the system.
Last updated: October 2011

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