All Electric Vehicles

Electric cars in Ireland
An interview with the ESB ecars Managing Director Paul Mulvaney

I recently had an interview with Paul Mulvaney to talk about electric cars in Ireland. Paul Mulvaney is the Managing Director of ESB ecars.

ESB (Irelands leading electricity utility) has established ESB ecars to roll out the charging infrastructure and to support the introduction and demand for electric cars in Ireland.

AEV (All Electric vehicles): What type of people do you have in your team here?

electric cars ireland Paul Mulvaney: We have a good few engineers, we have some IT people, some marketing people, finance people and we have a big mix in terms of age and gender.

I wanted to get a very mixed team because everyone has different ideas and itís all so new that I was anxious not to end up with the typical middle aged engineers everywhere.

So we have a good mix now and itís very beneficial because you do genuinely get lots of different ideas coming out so itís a good vibe.

AEV: As there has been a change in the Government recently, have you found that the emphasis on the importance of the project for electric cars in Ireland has changed?

Paul: Itís a fair question. I suppose different political parties might have different emphasis on the different parts of the project but it still all hangs together. There are a lot of jobs around this initiative for electric cars in ireland - you can focus on the green side or the financial side or the enterprise side, thereís something in it for everybody. The other thing thatís really important is that the government has signed up to European emissions directive. We have to reduce our emissions so we have to actually put something in place to make that happen.

Because we have such a big agricultural emissions base, Irelands target for emissions reduction in transport is actually the highest in Europe. We have very tight targets and in order to have any chance of meeting those you really have to start powering your cars with something other than fossil fuels. Realistically, the way to do it is to decarbonise our electricity and then to use that electricity to drive our transport.

Ireland has a target for 42% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020, so we have very a high target to meet.

AEV: You say that you will install the first 2,000 home chargers for free by the end of 2011 Ė how is that plan progressing?

electric cars ireland Paul: It wonít be by the end of 2011, we will still commit to putting in the first 2000 for free.

There were various different delays, Nissan lost cars in the tsunami and the 5,000 euro grant for electric cars didnít come into play until April this year and that put the sales back a bit. We are aiming for the start of next year to see an improvement in electric car sales.

AEV: How many electric vehicles are out there in Ireland now?

Paul: Figures are available, I think there are about 50 or 60 Nissan Leafs sold in Ireland. We have purchased 15 Mitsubishi iMIEVs and adding up all the other smaller electric cars there are about 100 in total. There are also a number of commercial electric vehicles and electric motorcycles registered in Ireland.

AEV: Where in Ireland are people buying the electric cars?

Paul: There are a good few electric cars in ireland on the eastern seaboard from Dublin down to Wexford. There are one or two in Galway and one in Ennis and the very first Leaf was sold in Kerry so thereís a bit of spread but if youíre looking for a concentration itís mostly Dublin down to Wicklow and Wexford.

The one thing that we found interesting was that we thought people would buy them as a second car for the family but quite a few people are selling their only other car and buying an electric car.

You canít really forecast these things and thatís why weíre doing studies like one with Trinity College and with a telemetry company called Transpoco.

AEV: So what sort of electric cars do you have here at ESB ecars?

electric cars ireland Paul: We have Mitsubishi iMIEVs, a couple of Nissan Leafs and we have a Peugeot I-on. Peugeot and CitroŽn bought the technology from Mitsubishi and they adapted the cars slightly, but cleverly, because we found that the range and performance of the Peugeot i-on is a good bit better than the Mitsubishi iMIEV even though theyíre based on exactly the same platform. They just made little tweaks such as the aerodynamics and tiny little changes that you would hardly even notice.

AEV: How do you use these electric cars?

Paul: We have some on fleet for people going on business trips and we use a car sharing system which we have commissioned and is currently in its beta version to manage the cars.

AEV: Are they popular?

Paul: Oh yeah people always want to take them out, itís great.

Weíre developing car-sharing software because weíre trying to get companies to buy two or three electric cars in Ireland and have them branded with company logos. They then encourage their staff to come to work on the bus or the train and if they need a car to go to meetings to take the electric cars.

AEV: Have you got some companies signed up to that already?

electric cars ireland Paul: Yeah IKEA, Galway City Council are going to trial it and were trialling it ourselves for the moment. We have commissioned that piece of software but when we have the finished version ready to go we intend to let it out to people at very reasonable licence fees as weíre not trying to make money out of that, itís just to get people using the cars.

For a company itís great because you can buy a couple of cars, the branding is fantastic and youíre saving on taxi fares and all the rest. Companies with electric cars can get accelerated capital depreciation which is very useful.

AEV: Do you see the island of Ireland as a test bed for electric vehicles and industries that surround that testing and services?

Paul: Thatís something we are pushing very strongly.

We have looked across the industry to see where there might be jobs and enterprise opportunities for Ireland and we have presented proposals to the IDA, Enterprise Ireland and Dublin Chamber of Commerce. It breaks out into various different areas. A lot of the management systems for the batteries of electric cars are made in Ireland by Analog Devices down in Limerick.

Another area is the infrastructure, the charge posts. We have a small consortium now that is going to make home chargers and that product will be coming to market very soon. Thatís a company based out in North County Dublin and they do embedded electronics. For the charge posts you need something called a pulse width modulator (PWM) which is used to communicate between the post and the car. These guys are also working with a design company who have come up with a design for the housing. Weíre very pleased about that project.

There are other areas like the IT side where weíll be developing some things like an iPhone app, and we have the car sharing software.

Itís a big programme and weíre anxious to emphasise the amount of players involved. We need the government from the grant point of view, car companies for the early supply of vehicles, obviously the customers, hardware and software enterprises and the universities. You need to have all of these together to make this work and then you can offer Ireland as a test bed once we have all these elements covered.

We hope that as car companies start to manufacture new cars that they will see us as a testing place. They need to be able to drive decent distances on different terrains so we would be looking for car companies to bring models here for testing so thatís part of the whole philosophy behind what we are doing.

AEV: Will ESB be the only electricity supplier for electric cars?

electric cars ireland Paul:The philosophy weíve taken for electric cars in Ireland is we want it to be fully open on the electricity supply side, so if you pull up at any charge post, you can buy your electricity from any electricity supply company. Thatís quite unique, itís not the way everybody else is doing it.

For example, some countries might put a charge point in a car park and whoever the car park owner has his account with by default you buy from them.

In Ireland you will have a swipe card, you will register for the charge point payment system and all the energy supply companies will supply their tariffs so you will be able to say ďIím going to put 30 euro on my account and I want my preferred supplier to be ESB or Airtricity or Bord Gais or whoever has the best pricesĒ. So, when you arrive at the charge point and swipe the card and plug in, they will know that itís you, the time and what tariff you have. Your account will be debited straight away and that money will go to the supply company.

So the electricity supply companies have no barriers into this market. All they do is supply their tariffs and collect their money which is very simple but thereís obviously competition as these guys will be vying for business.

ESB Electric Ireland wonít have any advantage over any other electricity supply company. Weíre putting in the infrastructure as part of the electricity distribution system. Itís the same as any other distribution wires that the electricity goes through outside, anybody can supply electricity across any of the wires even though ESB owns and operates the distribution system. This will be just an extension of the distribution system. So thatís the approach that weíre taking.

AEV: What do the ESB get from this arrangement then?

electric cars ireland Paul: All the reading from the charge points will be fed back and summated in the same way as for home metering where ESB generates the billing data for all of the supply companies. There is a distribution use of system (DUoS) charge, so the suppliers have to pay for the use of the system.

The electricity market settles in 94 quarter hourly intervals per day, whereas this is real time so you have to bundle the data. So weíre going to have to build the piece of the system which integrates your charging on the street with the electricity market.

We are also involved in a lot of research and development and the IT side of things, so there are lots of things going on.

AEV: How clean or renewable is the energy that we produce in Ireland? If we used Irish electricity to power our electric cars in Ireland how much CO2 are we actually saving the environment from?

Paul: In Ireland we have a mix of everything except nuclear. But obviously if youíre generating all your electricity from wind its 0g of CO2 per kWh, which is 0g/km travelled. If you generated all your electricity from gas it would equate to 50g/km, even if it was all from coal it would be 130g/km. The actual mix in Ireland now equates to 70g/km and by 2020 it will be down to 55g/km.

If you take petrol or diesel cars the limit in 2010 is 150g/km for a new car, by 2015 it will be 130g/km so weíre going to be way below the emissions from a petrol car and thatís taking all of the mix into account.

Thatís assuming that you charge your car with the average electricity but most people will charge at night time when thereís a much higher percentage of renewable on the system. So there is a real saving straight away in terms of the environment.

Part of one of the studies were working on will be to look at some real time calculations so people will have some kind of idea of their actual equivalent emissions if you know what I mean.

AEV: How do you think youíre doing in comparison to other similar countries or similar geographies?

electric cars ireland Paul: Iíd say looking across Europe, ourselves and Portugal are leading the rest and we will work closely with them. We have similar sized countries and weíve both taken the approach of doing national rollouts being led by a single group.

In England theyíre doing a thing called ďplugged-in placesĒ where they take a city here and a city there and even within the city they might have two different municipalities doing slightly different things and it doesnít necessarily all join up.

In Ireland we have a single distribution company, ESB Networks and up north weíve bought NIE, Northern Ireland Electricity, so we own and operate the distribution grid of the entire Island.

Weíre working with the project up north so we hope to be able to demonstrate the first cross currency charging system when we have all our IT systems in, so that you can pay in sterling if youíre up north or pay in Euros if youíre down here.

All of these offer a big advantage because once you decide a standard at least it will all be the same around the country which isnít necessarily the case elsewhere.

AEV: In your opinion what will have to happen to get people to start thinking of electric cars in Ireland as a real viable alternative?

electric cars ireland Paul: I think there will be a few things:

  1. I think it will be more visible infrastructure around the country, which is the piece we have to deliver.
  2. It will be a wider choice of cars which are coming, but itís really 2012 and 2013 when there will be a lot more cars available.
  3. The vehicle prices will drop with volume, many people just donít have the money to be buying cars at the moment so that will be a big incentive.
  4. Another big incentive will be advances in battery technology. The work thatís going on around the world on battery technology now is phenomenal allowing for cars with much longer ranges.
Iíve no doubt that battery technology will get to the point where you can charge the cars quicker, the range will be bigger and all that related anxiety will be gone. Prices will drop and choice will increase.

To be honest though there isnít a large enough range of vehicles available yet but give it a year or two and I think it will really take off.

AEV: Thank you Paul for taking the time to speak to us. I hope that your electric car plans progress well in the coming years.

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