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Make A Difference: Get down to Electric Avenue

In Make A Difference, given cars will remain in our lives for some time yet, Bridget Ginnity explores the options

ELECTRIC cars are hailed as the new kid on the block but in fact they aren’t that new.

Back when the environmental challenge was getting rid of horse dung from the streets, the main contenders to replace horse-drawn carriages were electric and internal combustion (petrol) cars.

Henry Ford of Model T car fame and the inventor Nikola Tesla put a lot of effort into developing electric cars with a longer range but to no avail and the internal combustion car took over.

It wasn’t until Elon Musk took over the mantle that batteries really improved. His Tesla range includes the Model 3, named in honour of the Model T.

Musk shared his battery technology with the major car manufacturers to get them moving and all the major automotive companies now offer electric cars.

As part of the climate action plan, the government wants to have almost 1 million electric cars on our roads by 2030 – about one third of all cars. This would reduce private transport emissions from 11% to 4% of total carbon emissions.

Numbers are low but increasing. By the end of August this year 132 electric cars were sold in Clare compared to 47 in the same period last year. This accounts for over 7% of new car sales.

There has also been a strong move towards other low emission options like plug-in electric hybrids, again 7% of the total. Plug-in electric hybrids have a battery range of about 50km, sufficient for local driving, and draw on an internal combustion engine for longer journeys.

Petrol hybrids like the Prius are relatively low emitters and are popular, at 16% of total Clare registrations so far this year. Petrol hybrids don’t require charging, although they have higher emissions than electric or plug-in hybrids.

And while we are talking statistics, grey was the favourite colour.

The pros and cons of buying electric

Electric cars are nippy, with low noise, and low operating and maintenance costs. The range is sufficient for most of our driving. So what might stop us changing before we are forced to in 2030?

Cost is an issue, with starting prices at around €30k and there aren’t many second hand electrics on the market.

Running costs, however, are substantially lower, with savings in both petrol and servicing. It’s estimated that the payback time is in the order of five years for an entry level electric car with average annual mileage.

You get 50% off tolls when you have a toll tag! So if you have the cash or access to a low interest loan, then it makes both financial and climate sense.

Range anxiety is an issue but as any therapist would ask, is this anxiety based in reality?

Consider your normal driving pattern. It is probably mainly within Clare, Galway and Limerick and such journeys are well within the range of electric cars.

This gives you the freedom to charge at home or at work, without any hassle of finding a charge spot – and you possibly don’t need a fast home charger. Charging when it’s windy can give 100% renewable energy.

Home charging is a problem if you don’t have off street parking, but that is a minority of households in Clare and perhaps your workplace can facilitate you. Or you can use fast chargers in places like Lees Road and get your exercise at the same time.

When you are going on longer journeys, say to Dublin, Cork or Donegal, the range becomes a factor. The charging infrastructure is still patchy and introduces uncertainty into your trip.

If that’s an issue, a plug-in hybrid might suit you better or if your household also has a fossil fuel car, that can be used for those longer journeys.

If you are mulling about buying an electric car, other questions often come to mind. Prices will go down as manufacturing volume increases, so should you wait?

Subsidies will go down too and the price of petrol and diesel will go up substantially. What about the resale value? Certainly better than for a fuel guzzler in five years’ time.

You’ve possibly heard questions raised about the climate impact of mining for metals needed for the batteries and that electric cars are more carbon intensive to manufacture.

Metals in current batteries can be recovered for future batteries and electric cars have much fewer parts than conventional one.

For families, car safety is rightly a big consideration. The safest car for your children is one that doesn’t contribute to rising global temperatures.

We are regularly advised to avoid buying new items in order to reduce our environmental impact. And the energy that goes into building a car is considerable. But in the case of cars, this aspect has to be balanced against the much poorer emission performance of older cars, so the better option depends on how much you travel and how efficient your current car is.

Cutting down or out

Recently we saw the panic caused by the shortage of fuel in the UK. It was reminiscent of the petrol crisis in the seventies when people went to great lengths to minimise their driving.

The climate crisis is a much bigger problem, so how can we reduce our fuel consumption if we don’t go electric?

Emissions are lowest at about 80km/hour but a more important factor is how you drive.

Zooming between traffic lights and braking hard might add a bit of excitement but also adds 15-20% to your emissions.

The most effective way to reduce emissions is to do without a car. You may already be car-free, and can bask in the glow of zero emissions.

But you are in a minority as car ownership has increased dramatically, trebling since 1990 to over 2 million cars now.

Whether cutting down or cutting out, we need convenient, reasonably-priced alternatives like car sharing and public transport.

We also need to reduce the need to drive, such as through remote working and locating facilities and housing within closer distances. One size doesn’t fit all, so we need a range of options, and very often they need support from local authorities, government and business.

Shared cars

You may have noticed some cars on the road with logos like GoCar emblazoned on them. This is a car rental scheme where you rent by the hour from the nearest street parking location to you, at rates from about €10 per hour – clearly ideal for short trips. The only problem is there is no base in Clare – yet. Perhaps if there was public demand.

Giving lifts and car pooling reduce emissions, save money, and are sociable. Employers could do a lot to revive car pooling or other ways of getting to work without a car .

Prime parking spaces, free lunch, shuttle buses, recognition of the carbon emissions saved are some possibilities.

Another car sharing option is where a group of households have a common car, typically the second car – it could be owned by one or in shared ownership.

If you are a cautious type, you’ve already imagined all that could go wrong – dirty car, empty tank or uncharged, a dent in the door, double bookings, dog hairs.

Discussion and written agreement beforehand can pre-empt problems. And the financial savings are considerable; thousands per year for each car taken off the road.

Shared car use takes courage, but surely the time is right for courage, for you and your household. The strategy for Rural Transport/local link says they will take steps to support car sharing.

Taxis and public transport

The problem with using taxis is that it is obvious how much it costs each time you use it. Taxis within Ennis cost €6-8 for a trip. If your car costs €4,000 a year to keep on the road, that’s the same as 11 taxi trips a week within Ennis.

If your regular journey is from Tulla to Ennis, frequent taxi use is expensive but a shared taxi service would reduce the cost a lot.

This calls for initiative on the part of the taxi companies and perhaps support in setting up by the local authorities or local link.

Public transport is regularly put forward as an alternative but needs to be frequent and convenient. As Clare has relatively low housing density over a wide area, there’s a limit to how effective public transport can be except between major centres.

Local link is an approach that aims to provide public transport for people in rural areas with a combination of scheduled and on-demand services.

Time for change

The scientific and government warnings are clear. According to the recent report of the IPCC (International Panel on Climate Change), the world is headed for a 3 degree temperature rise by the time babies born now reach 80.

This increase does not mean a nicer summer. It will change the world beyond recognition.

But we have a chance of avoiding it if we halve carbon emissions by 2030, governments, businesses and individuals alike.

If you are buying a new car, buying electric is a relatively easy thing you can do to reduce your transport emissions and is a comfortable, low-cost way to drive.

If that’s not an option, there are plenty of other ways you can reduce transport emissions. Individual acts seem tiny on the global scale, yet add up to significant change.

The change is both direct by reducing emissions and indirect by influencing policy-makers. Now is the time to act.


Volkswagen has a wide range of electric and plug-in hybrid cars and sales are taking off rapidly. Customers are a lot more aware both of the climate and the advantages of an electric or hybrid car.

The newer electric cars have no problem with distance, you can comfortably get to Dublin without stopping to charge.

When you are going on a longer trip, you can tell the car where you are going and it gives plenty of warning if you need to charge along the way and shows where there are nearby charging stations.

Home chargers work very well and are used most of the time so the car is fully charged when you need it.

Some customers are concerned about battery life. That hasn’t been a big problem but any faulty cells can be easily replaced and are covered by an extensive warranty.

Customers are sometimes concerned that the quiet car might not be heard by pedestrians. The new generation cars switch on a low hum under 25km/hour and above that there is tyre noise.

For myself, I find there is a great comfort and ease with electric cars. They’re automatic, quiet and all models have cruise control and speed limiters.

I bought a three-year-old Renault Zoe electric car earlier this year and I absolutely love it. It has a Bose sound system and because there is no engine noise, when I play music it sounds like I am in a concert.

Between crystal clear sound and a really smooth driving experience, driving 80km return to work is such a pleasure.

The second thing I like about my car is the cost. I used to drive a diesel car and was spending €60 a week on diesel, and the tax and insurance were higher than now.

With my electric car, I often charge for free in the local park and my tax is only €10 a month. Even charging at home is cheap. I got a €600 grant towards a home charge point and I changed to a day/night EV meter.

The night-time charge rate is only 5c/unit and my new day rate is lower than it was, so my electricity bill has actually come down.

So I have this fantastic three-year-old car with a superb sound system that is paying for itself. What is not to like?

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