Cars to drive growth in electricity

29 May 2008

Electric cars will be mass-marketed globally from 2012, according to Nissan's mid-term business plan. The car firm's projections suggest a future of dramatically increased off-peak electricity demand and use of nuclear power.


The Japanese car giant said in its mid-term business plan that it has committed to introduce a pure electric vehicle in the USA and Japan in 2010, and then to mass-market electric vehicles to consumers globally in 2012. 


It has also partnered with France's Renault to market all-electric vehicles in Israel and Denmark from 2011 and arranged with Japan's Kanagawa Prefecture for a 3000-vehicle sustainability project starting in 2010.


In Denmark, a nationwide grid of recharge points is to be constructed, while in Kanagawa the objective is to develop by 2014 a sustainable transport model for 3000 vehicles that can be scaled up nationally and globally.


The mass market units are to have advanced lithium ion batteries in the floorplan with an effective life of five years. With a 100 volt supply, the cars will recharge in six hours to cover a range of 160 km, while a higher voltage rapid charge could take 30 minutes. The initial concept car has two 50 kW motors, front and rear, but later developments have a motor in each wheel. 


Fuel switching


Nissan projects that around one third of all the cars it sells by 2050 could be hybrids or plug-in hybrids, over one quarter would be all-electric or powered by fuel cells, and the remainder powered by internal combustion. If this mix is representative of the global transport fleet at that time, electricity generation would have to expand by around 45% to accommodate the fuel-switch. This itself comes in the context of the global doubling of energy demand by 2030 as predicted by the International Energy Agency.


Furthermore, the majority of electric and plug-in vehicles would draw power from the grid during off-peak hours, causing demand at those times to increase most dramatically.


Commenting today on the UK's expanded ambitions for nuclear power, the UK government's former science advisor Sir David King noted the increase in demand from future electric vehicles. He told the BBC that he saw the off-peak demand level as the practical limit for nuclear power deployment. At present this comes during the summer months and represents 35% of peak demand.


As an industrialised country the UK would not experience a doubling in energy demand, and it is difficult to estimate future changes to the size of off-peak demand. Nevertheless, a switch to electric vehicles as expected by Nissan and King's nuclear power level of 35% would boost UK nuclear generation to at least 200 TWh per year, compared to about 80 TWh now.


"The former science adviser is being far too cautious," said World Nuclear Association director general John Ritch. With a shift to clean transportation and the increasing use of nuclear power to charge batteries and make hydrogen, price-optimization by users will flatten out power-consumption curves on both a daily and seasonal basis, he said.


Ritch concluded: "This levelling of energy demand will make it possible not only for nuclear power to supply virtually all of a modern society's energy needs but also to do so with maximum cost-efficiency. An extremely expansive vision of the nuclear future is both idealistic and realistic."