Eamon Ryan: ‘Electric cars are about to go mainstream in a dramatic way’

The Electric Vehicle (EV) revolution is on its way.

This week the UK government announced that there will be no petrol or diesel cars on British roads by 2040. They are following the French, Germans and Dutch who’ve been saying something similar. In California the leading economists are predicting we are on the cusp of one of the “fastest, deepest, most consequential disruptions of transportation in history.” EVs are about to go mainstream in a really dramatic way.

Ireland had been leading the way

Over the last seven years the price of EV battery technology has come down some 70% and their range is starting to expand. New vehicles are coming which should be able to do most journeys on this island on a single charge. Charging infrastructure is also starting to ramp up. Last week Porsche entered the race with a new supercharger which is seven times more powerful than anything we’ve seen to date. Every car manufacturer is starting to go electric and companies like Volvo are trying to steal a march by committing to have no new fossil fuelled models from 2019 onwards.

Ireland was one of the first countries out of the blocks at the start of this transition. Back in 2009 the Irish government and the ESB signed a major deal with Renault/Nissan and we were one of the first countries to introduce a national network of charging points. Unfortunately, in the intervening years, a lack of political will saw us falling behind, while countries like Norway took off. Perhaps because they have a major motor industry, the UK has woken up to what is happening. For the last three years, they’ve been the European country with the highest growth in the sales of EVs.

We can’t miss out on the clean industrial revolution

Our proximity to the UK still gives us a chance to keep up with the leaders. In the first instance, it will allow us to get our hands on the latest models, which are going to be produced in a right-hand drive format for the British market. The ESB is also still a player in the UK, based on the expertise they gained from being an early technology leader here at home. They’ve been asked by Transport for London to tender for the switching of the London black taxi fleet over to electric power because they know how to provide end to end charging solutions. We don’t make cars or batteries or charging stations but we can write the software and smart grid codes that are going to be needed to run this entirely new system. Having missed out on the first industrial revolution why would we want to lose out on this new clean industrial revolution that is starting to take place.

To make it happen we need a major increase in the adoption of EVs in Ireland. The Green Party has conducted a survey in conjunction with the Irish EV Owners Association to find out what obstacles need to be overcome. The owners had a positive message to tell. They really liked the savings they were able to make, not just on the fuel bill but also from lower maintenance and repairs costs. These are better cars with fewer moving parts and less that can go wrong with them. On the other hand, their main frustration was with the limited charging infrastructure that is in place. Some parts of the country are better served than others but there is still an issue. 12% of our respondents had at some time run out of power while they were out on the road, with many saying a lack of charging points contributed.

It’s time to make the switch

This is a problem that can be overcome. The UK has decided to mandate existing petrol stations to provide new charging points in their forecourts. There is no reason why we cannot do the same. Some oil companies are starting to see the inevitable and are making the transition anyway. Supermarkets should then follow suit and electrify some of their parking places, so customers can power up their cars while they shop.