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Changing gears: Cars of tomorrow coming soon?

Written By: - Date published: 10:23 pm, May 16th, 2009 - 26 comments
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Whenever I spot one of the dual electric/petrol cars I always find myself a little fascinated and a little envious. But I have to admit the likelihood of my actually owning one seems remote. Maybe I need to be pushed along, as this article from the Herald Sun suggests:

A proposal to ban sales of new petrol-powered cars in Norway from 2015 could help spur struggling carmakers to shift to greener models, Finance Minister Kristin Halvorsen said.

“This is much more realistic than people think when they first hear about this proposal,” she said, defending a plan by her Socialist Left Party to outlaw sales of cars that run solely on fossil fuels in six years’ time.

“The financial crisis also means that a lot of those car producers that now have big problems … know that they have to develop their technology because we also have to solve the climate criss when this financial crisis is over,” she said.

I know there are many issues around the use of biofuels and that electric cars are still only a small proportion of the market, but change away from what we’re used to (and what’s most affordable) is always going to be difficult. For example if we do end up with electric cars as the dominant type where do we get that extra electricity from? There is no one answer to our future transport needs but we do need to encourage different options (which is why the Meridian/ Mitsubshi trial looks interesting). Any bets on what mode of transport will be moving our grandchildren around?

26 comments on “Changing gears: Cars of tomorrow coming soon? ”

  1. Con 1

    Any bets on what mode of transport will be moving our grandchildren around?

    After the collapse of modern civilisation? Walking.

  2. Pat 2

    Interesting to see that a Chinese company have produced a low cost electric car that can travel 100km on the battery, and can be recharged in the garage overnight. This is ready for mass production as I understand. They are also developing a solar sunroof to recharge the battery as you are driving.

    The company was originally formed 8 years ago to develop and manufacture mobile phone batteries, and it has taken them only 5 years to develop this electric car.

    Just as with the mobile phone and the internet, we will be surprised at the pace of change in the next 10 years.

    • Matha 2.1

      [quote]They are also developing a solar sunroof to recharge the battery as you are driving.[/quote]

      Nothing more than a gimmick. There’s about 1.5M(2) of roof, and with 1000 kW/M(2) at 15% efficiency (which is around average to good for a solar panel) you get 225 Watts, and with 6 hours of peak sun light thats 1.350 kWh. According to this [http://www.carbonrationing.org.uk/fora/threads/electric-cars] it’s about 150 Wh to the kilometre. That’s about 9 kilometres for a six hour charge. Never mind the efficiency loss when taking in weight of the panel, or being parked in shade etc.

      • Con 2.1.1

        9km/day is about 1/4 of the average for vehicles in NZ. For some vehicles, it would be considerably more than 1/4. So no, not a gimmick at all.

  3. If the cars are charged overnight then we may have enough power generation already. Smarter power management, so that the car can be plugged in as soon as you get home but doesn’t actually draw power until 11pm at night would also be good.

    Power demand drops fairly sharply after 6pm even.

  4. George.com 4

    For all the excitement of electirc cars, are we simply not shifting the point of pollution? Until we have 100% renewable power generation, we substitute the burning of fossil fuel in the manner of petrol to burning fossil fuel in the form of coal and gas. I remain a little sceptical until such time.

    • Con 4.1

      Solar panels on the roof of your garage or house. Yes it really is that easy. If you buy an electric car, why wouldn’t you lash out a few grand extra on some solar panels?

      • Lew 4.1.1

        If only it were that simple. It just so happens I’ve researched deploying solar energy recently, and here are a few of my findings.

        PV solar is still much too freaking expensive to be useful except as a last resort – the expense means a high initial cost to deployment, and means that panels must be deployed in optimal places – north-facing flat surfaces on an incline between 15° and 45°. There aren’t as many such places as you might think – most houses don’t have enough roof space meeting those specifications to meet all their energy needs from solar.

        Even in fairly well-suited deployments, the cost per kilowatt-hour amortised over the 25-year life of the panels is still about twice that of regular mains power, so it’s not just a matter of shelling out a couple of grand.

        On to the problem of cars: first, they suck a lot of energy; and second, they suck it when they’re not in the garage. If you have solar on your garage roof to power your car, you need a storage system, and storage systems are even more expensive and inefficient than the PV themselves. You could drip-feed your power back into the grid, but ultimately any time you’re generating power while it’s not being used, you have storage problems.

        Solar technology and electric storage technology is coming a long way, though – and researchers at the CSIRO in Australia are leading the way. Addressing the three problems here, they have developed cheap, light, flexible, printable solar panels suitable for use as curtains, on the surfaces of rounded or moulded objects, etc; an extremely efficient engine for solar-powered cars (which have the added bonus of looking like Jetsonmobiles); and the – a cheap, high-capacity, high-power-density, long-lasting battery.


        • Lew

          For some reason if logged in I can’t edit my comments. Fail. THe last link should read `ultrabattery’.


    • Lanthanide 4.2

      Provided the electrical engine of the car, and all the costs incurred in getting the electricity from the plant to the car still ends up with the same, or higher energy efficiency of using petrol, then electricity is by far the way to go.

      Sure, it might be moving from 1 form of fossil fuel, petrol, to another, coal or gas, but the difference lies in the density of operation. It’s not feasible or cost effective to put pollution mitigating technologies in every single car, due to cost and weight added, but it is very feasible to install pollution mitigating technologies at a dozen power plants, thereby gaining economies of scale.

      So no, even going from petrol-in-cars to coal-in-plants is still a better deal, provided that the electricity has the same efficiency rating as the petrol itself.

  5. That is true George.com.

    However, most of NZ’s power is generated by renewables that do not pollute. We have gone the wrong way in recent years and are increasingly reliant upon Huntly Power Station in winter, but generally most power is hydro generated. That certainly pollutes less than cars do.

    My worry about electric cars is them being used as an excuse to avoid proper investment in public transport. Electric cars may mitigate the effects of peak oil – to some extent – but they don’t solve congestion issues. They are also likely to be very expensive for 10-20 years to come.

    • Phil 5.1

      most of NZ’s power is generated by renewables that do not pollute

      Great! What about the rest of the planet?

    • George.com 5.2

      Most of our existing power is renewable, and a portion of our NEW generation is renewables. However, if we rapidly ramped up our vehicle fleet to run on electricity, we would require a huge expansion in our electricity generation. To replace petrol/diesel with electricity would require a significant increase in power generation. It could feasibly be done yet I see no impetus (political or social) to quickly put in place significant extra power generation. Even then, what type of power generation, renewable or fossil? Petrol to electric is not a zero sum equation using existing resources. It requires a big infrastructure of NEW electricity generation. I might go out and buy an electric car tomorrow yet I have no guarantees that this would render a lower carbon footprint for myself or the nation. A renewable power generation infrastructure will need to be put in place for this to occur. It may appear in the future, I don’t yet see it however.

  6. infused 6

    I’d be for something like this. This is one plan where I think the govt should come in and subsidize the take up of the cars, solar panels, etc. Maybe this is one way NZ could lead as well.

  7. Luxated 7

    I find it interesting and slightly hypocritical that this initiative comes from Norway, seems like they want everyone else to buy more of their oil so as to facilitate them going green.

    Also it is somewhat dubious as to whether the ban will work or not as I would imagine a significant number of Norwegians could just hop into Sweden to buy a petrol powered car. Having said that I wish them all the best with their efforts.

    You are partly correct, you must however remember that power stations are more efficient than internal combustion engines, an exceptional ICE might get 30% while a good combined cycle gas plant can go north of 50%.

    It is also much easier to monitor and control the output of a handful of smokestacks than it is to do so for several million of them.

  8. tsmithfield 8

    There are some really promising developments with compressed-air powered cars. These have the advantage that they do not require batteries, thus the problem with battery development is overcome. Although the motors are not as powerful as conventional cars, the cars are much more lightweight, thus the power-to-weight ratio is quite good. The other major advantage is that they are very cheap to produce, making them much more of a commercial option right now.

    There are now actually commercial versions of these, and I understand are being sold in NZ.

    Here is an article and a couple of youtube videos for anyone who is interested. The first video is of about the commercially available versions. The second video is about an even more promising motor being developed in Australia:


  9. burt 9

    I think one of the key factors for a successful paradigm shift in personal transport is that we need to give up the ‘status’ attachment of our vehicles. I jump on a bike to ride to work, it’s a bike – nothing flash. My personal car is noting to write home about. Sure in my younger days I had my share of trophy vehicles.

    The increasing prevalence of scooters suggest a changing mindset. Back to basics of getting from A to B rather than show pony in the latest flash harry device.

    The article about compressed air vehicles is interesting. Combine that thought with this idea: Wind plus compressed air equals efficient energy storage in Iowa proposal.

    Compressed air storage from excess capacity during windy low use times (overnight every night in Wellington 🙂 ) seems like such a simple solution to shift wind power more toward base load generation. I wonder if it’s been investigated for NZ?

    • RedLogix 9.1

      I think one of the key factors for a successful paradigm shift in personal transport is that we need to give up the ‘status’ attachment of our vehicles.

      It’s a real pleasure to say for once that I totally agree with you on this Burt. To my mind this is the big unspoken hurdle behind much of the resistance to many progressive changes that we need to make as a society.

      Personal cars have been in many ways the ultimate enabler and emotional token of the way our modern world has been shaped in so many ways, from the schools we go to, to how we date and mate in our youth, to the shape of our suburbs and cities. They create an immediate sense of movement and freedom that no other tool does, a sense of achieving something, when much of the time it amounts to spinning around in pointless loops.

      Yet what is a private benefit, is at the same time a public detriment. Cars cut us off from each other; a friend once called them ’emotional Faraday cages’, we cruise along in social and emotional isolation from people just meters aways from us, with no need of any human contact at all. It is a mode of being that fosters individualism, the atomisation of the person, deluded into believing in the perfection of their own self.

      And of course they are the perfect status/sex symbol. Ever noticed the correlation between the price of the car, and the trophy wife driving it? There are some pretty potent and basic human emotions tied up in these 2 tonne blocks of metal and plastic we get so attached to, and unravelling them is not going to come so easily to many.

      It’s been years since I owned a bicycle Burt, but if you can do it so can I. I’m taking that on as a personal commitment to you.

      • Phil 9.1.1

        Cars cut us off from each other … we cruise along in social and emotional isolation from people just meters aways from us, with no need of any human contact at all.

        Oh, come on!
        How about all those journeys we make specifically to enable social and human interaction?

        I sure hope you don’t have freinds and relatives in another city – they’d be waiting an awful long time for you to come and visit.

        • RedLogix

          That’s a pretty weak argument. For a start it assumes a car-centric culture in which friends and family necessarily live in other cities, or distant suburbs… and that cars are the only means to reach them.

          For a second I suspect you have not lived in a culture where strangers and/or acquaintances ordinarily interact with each other when using public transport of one form or another. Private cars have their place, but when we become exclusively dependent on them, with no other choices… our lives often become very insular, shuttling between home, workplace and a narrow circle of friends.

          In my experience I enjoy trains and buses, not just because of the occasional unexpected conversation with others, but sense of being unconditionally together with my fellows for the purpose of this small journey, however daily and mundane it’s purpose might be.

  10. infused 10

    Well I’ve just read a whole bunch of stuff on the air car. From what I can see it really is a load of crap. Anyone good articles about these things actually being used?

  11. Rich 11

    This is one reason why we need to aim for quite a bit more than 100% of our current electricity usage being generated from renewables. Apart from an increasing population, we need to look at replacing direct use of fossil fuels.

    But, sensibly, the first area to reduce fossil fuel usage is in current electricity, then fixed direct users (furnaces and the like), then cars and buses.

    There needs to be a plan. Labour almost had one, and National are tearing it up.

  12. Walter 12

    There are viable EV alternatives available in NZ today – electric scooters and Green Machines are a couple of obvious ones:

    The trouble is they are not conventional ‘cars’. Even though they fulfil our transport needs, we’re not using them (like public transport!).

    Goes to show there’s more to our fossil fuelled cars than just transport – we need to determine exactly what the driver is (excuse the pun) and work toward changing that.

  13. jagilby 13

    “A proposal to ban sales of new petrol-powered cars in Norway from 2015 could help spur struggling carmakers to shift to greener models, Finance Minister Kristin Halvorsen said.”

    Absolutely typical socialist hypocrisy.

    Norway has around half of western europe’s oil reserves – Does this mean Norway will stop exporting oil?

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