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Martin Kirby: What's the point of electric cars?

By The Citizen  |  Posted: October 05, 2012

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READERS of a certain age may remember The Great Panjandrum, one of many strange weapons invented during World War Two.

In a nutshell, it was a giant Catherine wheel, propelled by rockets and packed with explosives.

The contraption was supposed to roll off a landing craft, up the beach to the German defences and explode.

But, like many experimental projects by the Admiralty's Directorate of Miscellaneous Weapons Development, it was a good idea that simply didn't work.

My reason for delving into this bit of history is, for me, electric cars are the 21st Century's Great Panjandrum.

There's no doubt that, for local estate agent Nick Ponting, booting the UK's first electric super car to 151mph is a great achievement, as it is for man behind the project, founder of Ecotricity Dale Vince.

But what's the point?

Dale said: "The reason is to kick-start the electric car revolution. People think that electric cars are slow and boring – we wanted to smash that stereotype."

True, his car is capable of 0-100mph in 8.5 seconds, but given the maximum legal speed is 70mph, flooring it on a public road would get your licence ripped up.

I have nothing against electric cars. I've road tested one and for pottering around town or between Gloucester and Cheltenham, I couldn't fault it.

But with a typical charging time of around eight hours and travelling 90 miles (if you're lucky) on a full charge, using one to visit my brother-in-law in Norfolk would take almost three days.

The biggest selling point for electric cars is how cheap they are to run, but the cost of B&B while you wait for the thing to charge would have to be factored in.

Furthermore, has anyone considered what would happen to the price of electricity if we all had electric cars by next January?

Instead of installing a chain of charging points the length and breadth of the UK, as the government intends to do, it would be better to invest in developing batteries that can hold enough charge for long-distance travel.

But that won't happen – you can't tax a battery on the basis of how long it holds its charge, but you can tax the use of electricity.

IT seems pretty likely that a search for the remains of Richard III under a car park in Leicester has been successful.

With that in mind, Citizen reader Michael Skillern has made an interesting point.

If the remains are proved to be those of Richard III, shouldn't they be interred at Gloucester Cathedral?

The Bishop of Leicester says his city's Cathedral would be the obvious place for Richard III to be buried if bones found by archaeologists prove to be Richard's.

But, as Mike said to me, Richard had no official connection with Leicester.

However, the monarch had a great deal to do with our city, visiting Gloucester twice and giving the (then) town its city status in 1483.

Earlier, in 1461, Richard was named Duke of Gloucester and the old city arms bore his symbol, which depicted a white boar.

Leicester South MP Jon Ashworth has shamelessly tried to make political gain from the latest discovery and called for a state funeral to be held in Leicester if tests confirm the remains are those of the former king.

Michael Skillern doesn't agree and neither do I.

What do you think?

I'M all for people making a protest and I'm pleased to see those who opposed the building of an incinerator at Javelin Park made theirs in a lawful way.

Some even wore mock-protective clothing and gas masks to show their disapproval.

But how many of them are quite happy with their neighbours lighting up stinking garden bonfires every time we have something resembling summer?

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  • Bonkim2003  |  October 06 2012, 11:26PM

    pingu61 - Your analysis and conclusions most Penguin-like, cleverer than that of the experts that managed the West Coast Rail contract. Do you really need all that energy to keep cold? In time when all resources will be depleted and not much for mankind to fight for, your race will live on and conquer the earth. Take care don't fall through thin ice though in the mean time.

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  • rayw1604  |  October 06 2012, 10:06PM

    We've all heard of fossil fuels but, Martin, you are a fuel fossil.

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  • pingu61  |  October 06 2012, 8:20PM

    What surprises me is that nobody asks "how much electricity is used to process one gallon of petrol?". The answer is around 6 kWh. That same amount of electricity can power an electric car for around 20 to 25 miles. So... an electric car used the same amount of electricity as a petrol car at 25 mpg... but hang on.. in addition to that, the petrol car usage needs fuel to extract oil from the well, to transport the oil and the refined product, and then it generates even more CO2 as it burns the petrol itself. In addition to that, the electric car can, if managed properly, use renewable sources of energy (wind, solar, hydo, etc). In addition to that - they can be used to help manage power network loading (that's a whole new subject - but a big one that most people give no thought to). In addition to that - Overnight charging uses practically zero carbon. In fact because of the issues of power station "spin reserve", they can actually reduce overall carbon use. Although that is a very complex subject for a forum such as this. But basically switching power stations on and off costs massive amounts of energy - keeping them going usefully, can actually result in a net gain by reducing the need for energy storage, especially if the energy comes from sources such as overnight wind or nuclear. So - yes if you compare an electric car using only coal generated electricity with a petrol car that uses no electricity to produce it's fuel.. then yes they are very close in terms of pollution. But that's a ridiculous comparison. Petrol production uses massive amounts of electricity anyway, often even more electricity per mile then an electric car.

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  • GlosYap2  |  October 06 2012, 7:17PM

    Martin, whilst electricity may currently be a poor way of powering a car it has got to be better in the long term than powering civilisation using a processed finite hydrocarbon source that tends to be found in, how shall i put it, the more unstable parts of the world? Unless people here really want our nation to be performing the diplomatic equivalent of a BJ for OPEC or BRIC countries every 5 minutes or throwing our soldiers into the grinder every so often to secure future petroleum supply then an alternative has to be found? I realise that this type of discourse is probably hoping too much from an article in "the local rag" but surely people need to be informed and educated at the grass roots level that, poor as the alternatives might currently be, a change from finite energy sources is urgently needed to prevent massive issues for the next few generations of our nation.

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  • Lecorche  |  October 06 2012, 10:10AM

    Go to a car hire company on Bristol Road,Martin. Hire an Infiniti Hybrid (as I did),just to try it out) and then report back to us.

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  • Bonkim2003  |  October 06 2012, 12:33AM

    Grand Panjandrum, a character in a nonsense farrago written by Samuel Foote (1720-1777). designation for a pompous official. pompous, pretentious or self-important person in authority.

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  • Bonkim2003  |  October 06 2012, 12:24AM

    geraint2010 - we are on parallel tracks leading to the same station - the renewable potential - wind, solar, biomass, tidal, etc, will only meet fraction of demand, also intermittent and variable generation. Nuclear - yes for a few decades/centuries more but will need support from quick acting fossil stations to meet fluctuating demand. The key point you say is the destination for mankind - exploding populations, depleting water, energy, and mineral resources - and expanding consumption/expectations - all leading to the terminal. No answer - easy or difficult.

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  • Coingrass  |  October 05 2012, 8:33PM

    During the war, my father invented an anti-tank machine gun. When asked to explain how it worked, he said 'Well, it fires three wooden bullets then a real one. You fire it at the tank turret and the wooden bullets go 'knock, knock, knock'; the tank commander opens the hatch and sticks his head out and says 'who is it?' and the fourth bullet kills him.' Like the great panjandrum, it wasn't a success either.

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  • daveofglos  |  October 05 2012, 4:05PM

    The article states "True, his car is capable of 0-100mph in 8.5 seconds, but given the maximum legal speed is 70mph, flooring it on a public road would get your licence ripped up." Incorrect. He can "floor it" - which I interpret as pushing the accelerator all the way down - totally legally as long as he doesn't break the speed limit on that particular road. Let's have some accuracy please! Does the person who wrote this article think that ANY car these days doesn't exceed 70mph?

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  • geraint2010  |  October 05 2012, 3:48PM

    Bonkim, Inefficient as electricity may be its advantage is that, while currently derived mainly from natural gas and coal, it can also be produced using nuclear power and a whole range of sustainable sources whether online now or in the future. As for "wasting of electricity for racing cars" this is a facile side issue with no more validity than to complain about the petrol wasted by Formula One. Cutting down on consumption saves us money and makes us feel better. However, this does not square with the increasing energy demands of an out of control world population explosion which nobody seems willing to confront - not least because any reduction in the flow of new consumers and cheap labour would mean the collapse of our entire capitalist system.

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