Future CarDiff | Where Are Electric Cars Driving To?

Future CarDiff | Where Are Electric Cars Driving To?

We are looking forward to our ‘Future CAR:DIFF’ event on the 11th July when industry experts and the City Council Leader, Cllr. Huw Thomas, will consider the challenges and opportunities associated with electric car use in Cardiff.

The reality we all have to face is that for many people, life without a car is unthinkable. Environmentalists can dream about cities free of cars but I personally cannot see the people of the Cardiff Capital Region giving up their cars overnight. It is more realistic in my view to aim for an evolution with step changes towards a less car-dependent society. Even with this scenario, a great deal of persuasion is required and this will keep marketing specialists and social psychologists busy for some time.

The city faces a major challenge. The Council’s own Liveable City report states:

“Levels of car use are amongst the highest of the core cities and use of public transport in the city is comparatively low, although levels of walking and cycling compare well and are growing. Over 60% of residents now think that transport in the city is a serious or very serious problem. The city’s reliance on cars also contributes to Cardiff’s carbon emissions being high compared to many other British cities, with some city centre wards particularly vulnerable to high levels of air pollution.”

Source: The Liveable City report

Air quality is an immediate concern for Cardiff. The issue’s profile has increased recently at a UK national level. The Liveable City report explains:

“Carbon emissions per person in Cardiff have fallen in the last decade and are lower than both the UK and Wales averages. However, there is work to do if Cardiff is to meet the performance of similar local authorities; our emissions per capita are amongst the highest. Road transport continues to be a major source and its percentage share of emissions has increased since 2005. Nitrogen dioxide (N0²) in the air is mostly caused by road traffic and to an extent by energy production. Too much NO² in the air can increase the numbers of respiratory illnesses, especially among children. Levels of N02 found in the city centre are the highest in Welsh local authorities and exceed EU pollution limits.”

Our partners, Jacobs UK, are working with the city council to examine the feasibility of alternative sources of power for road transport that result in less emissions of nitrous oxides and carbon dioxide. At a recent event for industry specialists and City Council officers, Gareth Harcombe, Energy and Sustainability Manager for the council explained that 16% of Cardiff’s per capita electricity consumption is met by local renewable sources and that a 35% decrease in per capita carbon emissions had been achieved between 2005-2014. Other speakers presented examples of how electric and hydrogen engines were powering public transport in other cities, offering a viable alternative for Cardiff’s busses, taxis and trains.

The challenge remains however: people love their cars.

What we are aiming to do with this event, is provide a platform for companies like Chargemaster, Tesla and Drive Electric to demonstrate to public sector organisations, private companies with large numbers of staff, and event destinations that they can provide the infrastructure for electric car use. A key component in people’s reluctance to switch from fossil fuels is a lack of confidence in range, charge speed and abundance of charging points.

Dr. Paul Nieuwenhuis of Cardiff University’s electric vehicle centre of excellence will explore this topic. He has researched the challenges of electric vehicle use in an urban and rural context.

Another aim for the event is to look beyond the step change to electric private car use and consider what Cardiff may be like in the medium to long-term future.

Dr. John McCarthy of Arup will present the latest advances in Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CAVs). John has been the technical director on two CAV trials in the UK that explored the feasibility of driverless cars. He argues that we should prioritise the user and achieve a deep understanding of human behaviour in relation to this new technology.

Dr. Katie Beverley of the PDR eco-design centre also shares this interest. She will close the conference with her reflections on what she has heard before leading a discussion group on the topic of behaviour change and the role of design in persuading people to adopt new technologies.

While this event will look primarily at the car, however, the need to use less cars and certainly own less cars remains. As 57% of Cardiff residents travel less than 5km, there is a realistic opportunity for more journeys to be undertaken by active modes. There is also an increasingly positive picture from more recent data collected by the City of Cardiff Council. In 2016, 11.5% of people reported using the train to get to work on 5 days a week, 12% use a bus five times a week and nearly one in five walk to work every day. While an increase on previous years, these are still tiny percentages. One factor that might persuade people to cycle, walk or use public transport to get to their place of work, is the availability of low emission pool cars or car club vehicles. The Cardiff Car Club, managed by Enterprise, has so far proved less popular than its Bristol equivalent. Understanding why is yet another component in the jigsaw of research required to help Cardiff Council achieve its aims.

In the meantime, the event location host – St Davids Shopping Centre – provides two types of charge points and are ready to make more electric vehicle spaces available if the demand increases.

I get to work every day by either bike or train. I still own a car. It’s a diesel. I am looking at the financial implications of installing a PV array and owning or leasing an electric car. It’s complicated and you need to set time aside to fully explore the finances. I have the type of house that allows me to contemplate this type of set up. Most other people do not. So these three massive questions remain: can you persuade people to give up their car? And if not, can you at least persuade them to give up a car powered by oil derivatives? And even if they do, where is the power coming from to charge up the battery?

Howard Odum, the father of systems ecology, tried to persuade the world to think in terms of embedded energy. Electric cars have a great deal of embedded energy. Odum envisioned the twenty first century as a “prosperous way down.” Electric vehicles are perhaps a step down from the energy high we are on but they are not a solution. They have to be part of an integrated, intelligent system that like the ecosystems that Odum spent his life studying, are adaptable, self-monitoring, auto-catalytic and solar-powered. The irrational parts of the human mind also have to be part of this system and that is where the greatest challenge lies.