Electric vs Hydrogen: Which will power our cars?

by John Brian Shannon

As the world begins to transition away from conventionally sourced petroleum to power our transportation network (cars, trucks, trains, ships, and even aircraft) two main contenders have won favour from investors and the public — Electric powered Vehicles (EV’s) and Hydrogen powered Vehicles (HEV).

Both show great promise, but at this point in time they report different results. There is no doubt that the EV has charged well ahead of its nemesis the HEV, but Toyota and Hyundai are making rapid progress on their Hydrogen powered vehicle programmes.

Electric Vehicles are called EV, while Hydrogen powered vehicles are called HEV (Hydrogen Electric Vehicle) — as both use electricity to power the vehicle, but source the onboard electricity via different methods.

Both EV’s and HEV’s produce electrical power to power an electric motor, which is what drives the car. EV’s get their electricity from the batteries in the car, while Hydrogen powered vehicles get their electricity from passing Hydrogen and Oxygen through a fuel cell (while also utilizing a much smaller battery pack) to power the vehicle.

The battle between the two is going to ‘sharpen’ over the next few years, making for a fascinating story for technology buffs and for those interested in a cleaner environment.

This Electric vs Hydrogen infographic is a ‘snapshot in time’ detailing the (today) differences between Electric Vehicles and Hydrogen powered vehicles.

Electric vs Hydrogen
Electric vs Hydrogen by carleasingmadesimple.com

European Electric Vehicle Sales up 79% from 2013

by John Brian Shannon John Brian Shannon

What a difference a year makes. Electric Vehicles, once a novelty in Europe, seem to have hit the mainstream. No doubt there is still plenty of room to grow as even with the latest sales increase, EV’s only make up only a tiny fraction of the annual 7 million car sales in the European Union.

Overall, EV sales in Europe are up 79% from the same time period last year, although within individual nations there are wide disparities in EV adoption.

NORWAY — Although Norway is not an EU-member-country, it is part of Europe. And the earliest adopter of electric vehicles in Europe is Norway, registering only 2373 EV sales in the first half of 2013.

Now compare that to the 9950 EV sales Norway logged in the first half of 2014. That’s a 302% increase H1 2013 to H1 2014. In a country of only 5 million people that’s a pretty significant sign that EV’s are gaining wider acceptance.

TESLA has just completed the installation of dozens of free-to-use SuperCharger stations in Norway and you can find them in almost every Norwegian city, town and hamlet. A big draw with the SuperCharger system is that a Tesla Model S can fully charge in about 30 minutes from dead flat. Of course, if you’re just ’topping-up’ your Tesla battery you may not have time to finish your latte before you’re on the road again.

Prior to the latest SuperCharger installations, it took some careful driving to drive the length of Norway and not run the battery down, but one can now drive across the entire country of Norway with hardly a thought about charging locations, all of which are easily located on the huge Tesla LED dashboard display.

The most popular EV’s in Norway are the Tesla Model S and the Nissan LEAF.

GERMANY – Posting respectable numbers but nowhere near the example set by Norway, EU-member-nation Germany has almost doubled their first half EV sales compared to the same time period in 2013. German’s bought 2382 EV’s in H1 of last year, ramping up to 4230 in H1 of this year.

United Kingdom — Another European country that is still not part of the EU, the UK registered 1168 EV’s in H1 of 2013, and in H1 of 2014 some 2570 EV’s were registered.

Both the German and UK drivers prefer the Tesla Model S, the BMWi3 and the Nissan LEAF, although the new Renault Zoe is gaining acceptance as a very affordable electric vehicle.

FRANCE – French citizens buy a lot of EV’s, but numbers were slightly down compared to last year. Still, Renault continues to add affordable new EV models to its lineup. In 2013, there must have been a lot of ‘pent-up’ EV demand, as France registered 7293 EV’s in H1 of 2013, but in H1 of this year France added only 6405 Electric Vehicles to the country’s roads.

The most popular EV’s in France are the Renault Twizy, the new Renault Zoe and the Nissan LEAF.

Electric Vehicle sales soar in Europe as petrol prices move past E1,84 per litre.
Electric Vehicle sales soar in Europe as petrol prices move past € 1,89 per litre in some jurisdictions. Image courtesy of CleanTechnica.

While some countries in the EU could not match (non-EU-member) Norway’s total EV sales, some statistically significant numbers are showing for some EU nations.

The Netherlands for one, zipped up from 437 EV sales in the first half of 2013, to 1149 units in the first half of this year. While Austria went from 252 to 709 H1 to H1 and Belgium went from a lowish 195 first half EV sales up to 629 in H1 of 2014.

As far as the top electric cars, they were the Nissan Leaf (7,109), Tesla Model S (5,330), and Renault Zoe (3,669). Tesla Model S sales were largely in Norway (over 3,000 there), while Renault Zoe sales were largely in France (over 1,600 there). – CleanTechnica.com

All in all, some respectable increases with only France as the spoiler in the Year-on-Year H1 comparison.

Here are the total registrations for H1 2013 and H1 2014.

  • TOTAL EV sales all EU countries (first half of 2013) — 15591
  • TOTAL EV sales all EU countries (first half of 2014) — 27946
  • TOTAL EV sales increase all EU countries year-on-year (first half comparison) — 79%

Even with all that good news, it’s important to remember that while EV sales are showing dramatic improvements in some European nations, electric vehicles have not yet reached 1% of new car sales.

The one bright spot, now that more EV’s are hitting the roads is that public charging stations are being installed at at phenomenal rate. The Netherlands public charging system is geared to a maximum travel distance of 65 kilometres between chargers. That puts electric vehicles on an even footing with petrol stations in the country.

And, unlike a petrol car, you can always charge your car at home or at the office just by plugging it in to an ordinary wall socket, although this slow-charging mode may take a few hours.

Another positive is that affordable new EV models are hitting showrooms, giving drivers more choices and a wider range of electric vehicles to choose from. With names like Tesla, BMW, Toyota, Nissan, Renault, Volvo, Ford and Porsche solidly behind electrified vehicles, reliability issues are non-existent.

Here are some fun facts for European residents to ponder when considering the switch from a petrol engine car to an electric vehicle.

Here are the petrol prices per litre for some selected European nations, as of August 11, 2014:

  1. Austria — € 1,35
  2. Belgium — € 1,61
  3. Denmark — € 1,71
  4. Finland — € 1,63
  5. Germany — € 1,62
  6. Netherlands — € 1,79
  7. Norway — € 1,89
  8. Portugal — € 1,62
  9. Sweden — € 1,55
  10. United Kingdom — € 1,61

To convert these per litre prices, valued in euros – into their U.S. equivalents, we can use the very rough calculation of 4 litres per US gallon (which is how petrol/gasoline is sold in the United States) and 1.33 USD to 1 euro (current as of August 11, 2014).

For the Norwegian example, we can see that 4 litres of petrol (to roughly equal 1 US gallon) will cost you 7.57 euros – and converting that to US dollars gives you $10.14 per US gallon. Many US citizens use 10 gallons of petrol (or more) every day…

In Austria 1 US gallon of petrol (rough calculation) will set you back $7.18 in US dollars.

For those who elect to charge their EV at home for about 1-3 euros per day, you will have no need to stop at a petrol station and pay up to € 1,89 per litre of petrol, times how many litres you burn per day. And it’s doubtful that petrol prices will be dropping any time soon.

Not only are EV’s pollution-free, reliable and extremely low maintenance – spending 1-3 euros per day to recharge your EV battery at home (or nothing if you charge it at a free-to-use public charging station) vs. 5-10 euros per day for petrol depending on the size of the petrol engine – can really add up over the course of a year.

I strongly suspect that 2015 EV sales numbers will greatly surpass these first impressive baby-steps taken by electric vehicle manufacturers and their customers. By 2020, it would be reasonable to expect a full 10% of new vehicle registrations to be of the electrified vehicle variety.

Vehicle to Grid connection saves money, stabilizes grid

by John Brian Shannon.

Nissan’s LEAF-to-Home programme is a tiny but great example of what a fleet of electric vehicles can do for an electrical grid, and it’s a programme that could theoretically be scaled-up to any size.

Such Vehicle to Grid systems are presently undergoing testing at various facilities around the world, and admirably, Nissan is the main driver of this technology so far.

In a Nissan office tower in Atsugi City, Japan, Nissan has six LEAF electric vehicles connected to the building’s electrical power system via Nissan’s PCS charging system. During the hours of peak electricity demand/peak pricing, the six LEAF batteries provide a substantial amount of power to the building, but are fully recharged and ready for driving by the end of each workday.

So far, Nissan reports no problems and they further report that these six LEAF’s have saved 25.6 KW of electricity (equivalent to $5000/year) at the Atsugi City office building.

Nissan LEAF testing in Atsugi, Japan powers office building during peak electricity demand, saving some 25.6 KW per year -- saving $5000. per year in peak electricity costs.
Nissan LEAF testing in Atsugi City, Japan powers office building during peak electricity demand, saving some $5000. per year in ‘peak electricity rate’ costs. Image courtesy of Nissan.

Time to Scale it Up?

Imagine a large corporation, government department, delivery service, or other fleet that operates (let’s say) 12,000 cars, and each group of six cars saves them $5000. per year on peak electricity charges, as per the Nissan results. We’re talking savings of $10 million dollars per year.

Part of employee remuneration packages

Many organizations provide a ‘company vehicle’ as part of the employee remuneration plan, but why shouldn’t that organization ALSO save $5000. per each six cars on peak electricity charges per year, AND allow their employees to take the cars home at night to help the employee save money on their electricity bill (by plugging the car in and feeding off of the almost fully charged vehicle battery at home) as a further remuneration perk.

Hint to employees; Remember to retain enough battery power in the car to get to work in the morning, and then leave at the end of the workday with a ‘full charge’ courtesy of the company you work for. Yes, every workday of the year.

Not only does this minor perk save the employee from ever paying for ‘fuel’ as all the recharging is done at the office via the employer’s connection, but the corporation receives a very significant benefit when the LEAF is plugged in at the office by lowering annual electricity costs.

Assuming an organization has a ‘company car’ programme, this is the one employee perk that doesn’t cost the company any additional money, it saves the company money. For example, while a gasmobile costs the company $32,000. to purchase, the LEAF with PCS likewise costs the company $32,000. to purchase — but significantly, the LEAF saves the company $833. every year (or more) for the life of the car in electricity costs, and features much lower maintenance costs than a gasmobile. 

Your corporate fleet change-up

If your corporation’s vehicle fleet is comprised of one-thousand cars, you should get a nice promotion for suggesting that your corporation could save $833,000. (per year, every year) on it’s electricity bill, and simultaneously help it to stabilize the office building electricity flows, by switching the fleet to the Nissan LEAF and the Nissan LEAF PCS charging system as it becomes available.

Electric Vehicle batteries store incredible amounts of energy

Not only that, even with most of the fleet on the road during the day, the remaining connected vehicles could easily power the entire complex should a grid power outage occur. Your fellow employees might not realize that a major power failure has occurred unless they hear about it on the news channel.

While your competitors are off looking for flashlights and candles and checking to see if the phones still work, your company will continue to take orders for goods and services, and get the orders that your competitors normally would get, were they not in the dark.

Your boss will love you. Say it with me; “Promotion… plus bonus.” It has such a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?

So, how much are those Nissan LEAF’s anyway?

With incentives and rebates included, the LEAF costs about the same as any comparable car (at least in the U.S. and Canada) especially once you factor in the (Nissan figure of $833. per year/per LEAF) peak demand electricity savings and much lower maintenance costsThe decision to choose the LEAF over a comparable gasmobile is a no-brainer, once the LEAF PCS charging station hits the market. 

*Depending what your local utility company charges during periods of peak demand, your corporation’s annual electricity savings could be less, or significantly more as peak rates rise over the coming years.*

The Microgrid Scenario

Where Vehicle to Grid battery storage might really shine is in the microgrid scenario. For this, we need to think about a remote island or town, located far from major electrical grids. So distant, that it would cost multi-millions, or even billions of dollars to run ‘pylons and powerlines’ to that remote location.

A surprising number of towns and small cities in Australia, China, Russia, and many African countries face this very dilemma. Towns or small cities are often remotely located for good reasons such as local resource extraction projects or agricultural production and would require multi-millions of grid connection dollars and lengthy timeframes for such infrastructure to be built.

Alternatively, on-site diesel generators could be employed (and often are) but come complete with a constant supply of diesel fuel tankers to feed the always-thirsty generators.

Both have been employed over recent decades to meet remote energy demand. In both scenarios the electricity is supplied to the remote location — but the economics don’t work and in both cases, the rest of the customer base ends up subsidizing the whole operation whether they realize it or not.

Where a (solar) microgrid is not connected to a larger grid but some of the cars remain plugged in during the day, much more of the electricity collected all day by the solar panels can be stored — thereby becoming available for later use.

It is typical of most solar panel arrays that they collect vastly more energy than most locations can utilize during the day, which then becomes wasted energy if it can’t be stored. Adding a fleet of usually plugged in electric vehicles to the equation changes that factor significantly. In that case, almost all of the power collected by the solar panels is stored for later use.

Scalability of Vehicle to Grid

Getting back to the ‘scalability’ of the Vehicle to Grid equation; Imagine if half of the cars in a large metropolitan area like Beijing, Tokyo, or Sao Paulo, were EV’s connected to the larger grid when they weren’t being driven. Say goodbye to fossil fuel power generation! Solar arrays and wind farms combined with V-to-G technology could power our cities and add plenty of capacity to our grids.

Oh, and parking meters, remember those? Well, those could be the new charge-up/charge-down stations, so that all cars can connect and contribute to the grid whenever they’re not being driven, yet retain ample charge for driving when their owners return.

Talk about transformative change!

If half of Beijing’s cars were electric vehicles instead of gasmobiles, many thousands of tons of airborne pollutants would no longer block the sunlight all day and be filtered through the lungs of Beijing residents 365 days of the year. And this could be done in many of the world’s major cities, not just Beijing. Clearly though, the air quality in some of China’s cities has significant room for improvement as the Chinese economy continues to thrive.

Just the health care savings alone would become monuments to visionary politicians who enact and promote such positive and ultimately, historic change.

Vehicle to Grid is such a transformative idea, it would be unthinkable to not pursue it. I fully expect the wonderful and accomplished C40 Cities Initiative to adopt V-to-G as a solution to the air pollution problem in many of the world’s cities and I have every hope for V-to-G to become one of the C40’s prime directives.

It might just prove to be what the doctor ordered for the health of residents in cities and towns everywhere.

The Promise of Vehicle to Grid technology

  1. Saving corporations thousands, or millions of dollars per year in peak demand electricity costs 
  2. Adding value to employee remuneration packages 
  3. Adding to grid stability and capacity
  4. Precluding the entry of thousands, or millions of tons of airborne pollution, thereby significantly helping to clear the skies in the world’s largest and most polluted cities 
  5. Lowering national health care costs and improved citizen health

That is the promise of Vehicle to Grid technology.

If you want cleaner air, lower electricity costs, a more stable grid with more capacity and lower health care costs for your region, email your politicians and tell them you want those benefits for your city, courtesy of Vehicle to Grid technology.

Follow John Brian Shannon on Twitter: @EVcentral