IBM’s Jon Bentley on powering our electric vehicles
t’s no wonder that interest in electric cars is growing fast in the UK. Cheaper and more compact designs and many new models are coming onto the market over the next 12 months; they also help to save on the congestion charge which is a good consumer incentive. Electric cars are gaining in popularity even more, as car owners are increasingly concerned with rising petroleum costs and transport-related CO2 emissions.
The benefits stretch beyond just consumer – electric vehicles (EVs) have enormous potential for creating a cleaner transport system to help the UK meet its 2050 carbon reduction targets, as well as reducing noise and pollution in urban areas.
But there are still a number of questions to be answered before EVs are able to win over traditional cars in popularity. The most pressing of these include: who gets the bill when you recharge at work or in a public place? How do utilities meet the need for all that additional electricity? How do we afford to build out the infrastructure when the cars aren’t widely available – and who will do so when the business model for selling electricity for consumers is unclear? And will people buy the cars, when the infrastructure to power them doesn’t yet exist?
As part of IBM’s UK Smarter Energy initiative, IBM is leading a project by the Energy Technologies Institute to analyse the impact electric vehicles might have on the UK power grid. We are responsible for the co-ordination of a consortium of companies including EDF Energy, E.ON and Imperial Consultants. As a result, a set of recommendations will be proposed on integrating plug-in vehicles, electricity networks, charging points, and payment systems and helping to ensure compatibility across the UK, together with the intelligent information infrastructures to underpin them.
But already at this early stage it is clear that EVs cannot and should not be viewed separately from the necessary upgrades to the UK energy infrastructure, such as smart grids and smart metering. At the moment, we have a chicken-and-egg situation. If there aren’t enough users and enough vehicles, then the infrastructure doesn’t get built. If there isn’t enough infrastructure, then the vehicles aren’t purchased. Lithium air batteries
To help the matter, IBM is also researching commercially viable lithium air batteries with the aim of enabling electric vehicles to travel up to 500 miles on one charge. At the moment, lithium-ion technology can’t compete with the energy density of old-fashioned gasoline. So batteries’ energy density will have to improve greatly over the next 10 years to enable a large-scale electric car industry.
Successful and timely implementation of EVs in the UK is no small challenge. But IBM is proud to be working on a smart and environmentally friendly transport solution that will provide an enhanced and environmentally friendly consumer experience to UK car owners.