Electric cars shrink carbon footprint – and bank balance

Posted on 07 December 2011 by admin

By Joseph Bushby – Winelands Echo*

Zero-emission cars on show at the U.N. climate conference are drawing the attention of passersby. Improved batteries and range make these electric cars more attractive ways to reduce emissions – but their high cost remains an obstacle for potential South African consumers.

TerraViva took an emission-free two-seater Renault Twizy car for a test drive at the Moses Mabhida Stadium. The car was effortless to drive – with its automatic gear box featuring simply forward, reverse and park. The car is fast and nippy and would be suitable for a daily city commute – after work, you can plug it into an electric socket at home in the morning the battery would be charged and ready to go. This car would be suitable if you are driving between 20 and 50 kilometres per day.

Renault Twizy

A Twizy electric car. Credit: Joseph Bushby/TerraViva

“The Twizy’s range is about 100 kilometres when fully charged,” Caroline De Gezelle, the head of media relations for Renault, told TerraViva. “The price car costs about 6,900 euro (around 9,000 dollars) and we will introduce it to the South African market. We are in negotiations with big supermarket chain stores and parking space owners to install the charging infrustruture.”

Another car on display, the Nissan Leaf, has all the features of a similar compact internal combustion engine car, including air conditioning and power steering – and thrilling acceleration, as TerraViva discovered on a trip between the stadium and Durban’s International Convention Centre. The Leaf has two options for charging: an eight-hour full charge, or a quick charge which can boost the battery from 0 to 80 percent full in just 25 minutes.

Improvements in technology, particularly new lithium ion batteries, have been key to building practical, 100 percent electric cars that are lighter and offer drivers greater range.

Nissan Leaf

The Leaf: zero emissions, but at twice the price. Credit: Joseph Bushby/TerraViva

However, the price of a Leaf is set at 40,000 dollars while a comparable conventional sedan in South Africa would cost just less than half that amount.

But the electric car has no exhaust pipe, so your carbon emissions are greatly reduced – your overall footprint would depend on the source of the electricity used to recharge. South Africa’s plans for future energy production call for an increasing role for renewable sources like solar and wind, with the country aiming to reduce its overall emissions by 34 percent – compared to business as usual – by 2020.

Both the cars are already available in Europe, but not yet on sale in South Africa. Talks with the government are under way and a joint Renault-Nissan programme intends to introduce both cars to the local market.

The exhibition at the Moses Mabidha Stadium has attracted lots of attention. One visitor, Gary Colby said, “When I saw a 100 percent electric vehicle, I stopped to have a look. This would be really great for your kid who is in university or college. This looks safer than the motorbikes that are on the market nowadays. But the price freaks me out: it is just too expensive. But if government can subsidise this for us, it would be great. I for certain would buy one.”

Nissan South Africa events manager for COP 17, Joey McCall-Peat said, “The future of mobility is electric vehicles. Siemens builds the power electronics and the drive system for e-cars. Our intention is to introduce the zero-emission car to the South African market in the near future. This is a totally new form of mobility and it needs the infrastructure, such as rechargeable stations and service stations.”

* Community media coverage of COP 17 is being supported by the Media Development & Diversity Agency of South Africa, which is promoting the participation of local journalists through a programme of training and reporting on climate change.

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