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Publisher's Letter

EVs & nuclear power – don’t hold your breath

Before I sat down to write this editorial I reviewed all the Publishers’ Letters I have written in the past three years and I have had to conclude that as far as electric vehicles and nuclear power stations are concerned, we have made no progress at all in that time. Practical mass-market electric vehicles are still as far away as ever and nuclear power, at least in Australia, is somewhere in the far future, if ever.

Why do I link the two together? First, let’s look at electric vehicles. In the last three years, just one EV has come to market, the Tesla sports car, but the company’s future, like all auto manufacturing in the USA, is under a very dark financial cloud. Less than 100 Tesla EVs have been delivered at the time of writing (early December) and no other EVs are on the immediate horizon from other manufacturers. Sure, there is lot of internet comment about EVs from China but until we see some production examples, it will be just talk.

On the other hand, as I wrote last month, hybrid EVs are likely to become much more commonplace. If you have a look at the projected fuel economy figures, such as 2.5l/100km from the planned VW diesel hybrid, these also raise doubts about the future viability of pure EVs. And the latest diesel engine developments further cloud the future. Consider the astonishing new Mercedes OMC651 diesel in the new C-class 250 CDI sedan. At just over 2 litres, it manages to produce 150kW and 500Nm for an overall 5l/100km economy. This is in a 1650kg sedan, much the same weight as typical big Aussie six sedans but with more than twice the fuel economy. Just imagine what will happen to hybrid fuel economy when they incorporate this technology.

The point about future hybrid EV fuel economy is that it makes the whole economics of EVs powered from the national grid a doubtful proposition. First, the fuel efficiency of hybrids will challenge the overall efficiency of our existing power stations and distribution system. There will be less justification for having large centralised power stations to provide the energy for personal vehicles.

Second, if a majority of vehicles were to be changed over to EVs and be powered from the grid, Australia would need to at least double its present generating capacity. But Australia is already heading for severe power shortages and that is without even thinking about EVs. The only way to massively increase our power generating capacity in the near future is by adopting nuclear power quite soon. That just isn’t going to happen, unless there is a dramatic change by our politicians.

Finally, there is another reason why we are unlikely to see large numbers of EVs on our roads in the next 10-15 years. If it were to happen, both state and federal governments would have to find a substitute for all the fuel excises they load onto petrol and diesel. I think they are too happy with the status quo, in spite of all their posturing about climate change, carbon emissions and so on. They are not likely to encourage the sale of EVs in this country, for that reason alone. But in any case, there are not any viable EVs foreseeable at the moment.

The only factor to change this forecast is that petrol and diesel becomes a great deal more expensive than at the moment. What do you think?

Leo Simpson

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