TEST COUNTRY FOR ELECTRIC CARS
The tale of the ugly electric car
From being a ridiculed and graceless means of transport, the electric car has in record time developed into a beautiful swan in the global car pond. Denmark is the leading test country for electric cars and electric infrastructure
By Poul Kjar
One of the early Danish electric cars, the Hope Whisper, got the worst imaginable start to its life when it was involved in a crash during the launch presentation in Copenhagen in 1985. Apparently the driver had been so exhausted from getting the car ready that he fell a sleep at the wheel.
Denmark has never been famed for its car marques.
One of the few Danish-manufactured cars was a battery driven vehicle called the Ellert.
On a global basis 5,000 Ellerts were sold, but it never became a success. Not only because of its ill-starred introduction and its funny look - half car, half moped - but also because its battery technology was far from advanced. Another factor weighing against it was the fact that the Ellert and other early electric hopefuls came into being before the climate issue hit the global headlines.
Today, almost a quarter of a century later, every major car manufacturer is racing to develop electric cars, while Denmark is profiling itself as the world’s leading test country for electric cars and visionary electric car projects – not least as the result of the political vision of successive Danish governments to make Denmark independent of fossil fuels.
Denmark has focused primarily on wind power, which today covers 22 per cent of electricity consumption, and by 2025 half of the country’s electricity needs will be generated from wind as well as other forms of renewable energy.
This aligns perfectly with electric cars, which at one and the same time can use green electricity from wind power, reduce the transport sector’s CO2 emissions and balance the entire electricity grid.
Designed by the Dane Henrik Fisker, the Fisker Karma hybrid car accelerates from 0 to 100 km in less than 6 seconds and has a top speed of 200 kph (125 mph).
Photo: Fisker Karma.
A small, green country
The multinational electric car scheme ”Project Better Place” aims to establish an electric infrastructure and replace a quarter of Denmark’s 2 million cars with electric cars by 2020.
”Our biggest task is to reduce CO2 emissions and improve the environment, and Denmark is a country with a government and population who are very occupied with the environment,” says Jens Moberg, director of Project Better Place in Denmark, about the choice of Denmark as the first European country for rolling out the ambitious electric car project.
Since the oil crisis in the early 1970s, successive Danish governments have been aware of the risk posed by dependency on oil. As a result, heavy taxation on combustion engine cars has been introduced, but electric cars are tax-exempted until 2012.
”There seems to be political agreement on extending the tax exemption until 2015, when the entire tax system is probably going to be changed, so that in the future CO2 emissions will be taxed, thereby also favouring electric cars that run on green electricity,” says Jens Moberg.
The Project Better Place director states that Denmark’s geodemographic profile, a very small country with a high population density, also makes it obvious as a test country for an electric infrastructure with charging points and battery switch stations.
The opportunity to make battery switches in petrol stations makes the concept quite unique, and circumvents the problem
of range-limiting battery capacity. On longer trips, the electric car owner can drive into special garages in petrol stations, where a robot takes out the battery, which is owned by Better Place, and replaces it with a fresh one. And then on you go…
Wind and electric cars: the perfect combination
Project Better Place has partnered with DONG Energy, Denmark’s largest energy company, whose energy supply today is based
on 85 per cent fossil fuels and 15 per cent renewable energy, primarily wind, but which by 2050 aims to reverse the energy mix percentages.
DONG Energy thus has a clear commercial interest in getting electric car owners as customers, since electric cars can both take electricity from the grid and supply electricity to it.
As the situation stands today, DONG Energy and other producers of wind energy have difficulty selling the electricity that Denmark’s huge wind farms produce at night when energy consumption is low. But a large number of cars can charge up throughout the night, and release electricity to households in peak situations during the day, thereby balancing the entire electricity network. That constitutes good energy economics, without CO2 emissions and its associated effects on climate.
Collaboration and partnerships with car manufacturers that will produce electric cars to the project’s battery standards is a crucial point for the future of Project Better Place.
Jens Moberg says:
”Renault will deliver the first models that meet our standard in 2011, and we are talking to a lot of European, American, Chinese and Korean car manufacturers. My guess is that we will have entered several partnership agreements within 12 months.”
The alternative to the concept of switching batteries is fast charging. But the prospect of battery technology overtaking and rendering superfluous battery switching in the future does not worry Jens Moberg.
“There are some physical laws that need to be overcome before the charging time comes down under 10 minutes. But at that time we will naturally introduce fast charging at our existing battery switch stations, which are obvious for charging. But right now we see no way around the battery switch.”
Green tax policy
One of the world’s largest car rental companies, Germany’s Sixt, has also picked Denmark as a test country for electric cars, and this autumn is rolling out hundreds of Citroën C1 electric cars onto the streets of Denmark. According to the director of Sixt in Denmark, Kasper Gjedsted, the choice of Denmark as a test country is linked to the tax policy that favours electric cars.
The Danish tax system makes the price difference between a combustion engine car and an electric car relatively small. Electric cars are significantly more expensive to produce than combustion engine cars, but when electric cars on the Danish market are exempted from a tax of 180 per cent, the price difference between electric and combustion engine cars is evened out.
The electric cars from Sixt can be hired or leased at the same price as an average family car. If one wants to buy an electric Citroën C1 through Sixt, the price is DKK 187,750 (EUR 25,219), which is ”only” DKK 75,000 (EUR 10,074) more than a petrol-powered Citroën C1 costs on the Danish market.
The car’s range is 120 kilometres per charge, which is supplied from ordinary household mains. But this limited distance is not a problem, according to Kasper Gjedsted:
”Surveys show that 86 per cent of all Danes drive under 60 kilometres per day. And for those buying or hiring from Sixt, who occasionally need to drive further, we give discounts on the hire of combustion engine cars. So if you need a Cabriolet for a longer trip at the weekend, we make one available.”
Denmark’s position as a test and pioneer country for electric cars and electric car projects is also associated with the presence of a strong research and development environment. From this originates Edison, which is a Danish electric car infrastructure project.
The Edison project is developing the intelligent electrical power infrastructure which will make it possible to integrate increasing amounts of wind power into the grid and use the energy for charging electric cars. At the same time the system must be able to draw electricity from car batteries when wind turbines stop rotating and there is insufficient electricity for buildings and private homes.
The Edison project is also working on a system for calculating electricity consumption so that car owners pay for the electricity when they charge, and earn from the electricity when they release it to the grid.
In this context, it is an advantage that Denmark does not manufacture electric cars, and thus can play a part in developing generic solutions which are unallied to specific industry interests. Kim Behnke, head of research at Energinet.dk, an independent public sector company which owns the Danish supply network and finances major parts of the Edison project, says:
”We are taking an active part in the standardisation of electric cars, so that it will be possible to implement pan-European power solutions. The good news is that a European standard for the plug at the charging point and the cable to the car has been agreed in record time. Electric car owners thus avoid needing a stack of cables and adapters with them on trips around Europe.”
According to Kim Behnke, major efforts are now being put into finding common standards for communication with the grid.
”The electric car will first be a major success when it becomes as easy to cross borders and charge electric cars as it is today to drive through Europe and tank up with petrol without needing to look at octane numbers.”
With the Ellert, Denmark helped pioneer the production and marketing of electric vehicles. At the time, there was much laughter at the car pond’s ugly duckling. Today the electric car is greeted with great respect and is the object of everyone’s interest.
Who says electric cars can’t be sporty? The Tesla Roadster accelerates from 0 to 100 km in 3.9 seconds and has a top speed of 200 kph (125 mph).
This page forms part of the publication 'FOCUS DENMARK 03/2009' as chapter 2 of 10
Version 1.0. 27-10-2009
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