“Electric cars are going to communicate together and ensure the flow of all transport users in traffic jams; they will change the way we see parking and the function of a car as we know it”, says Ing. Stanislav Kurek, PhD, the CEO of eSupport Company s.r.o. who is also the technical director of Tesla Club Slovakia and an expert on TESLA Liptovský Hrádok electromobility.
What exactly should we imagine electromobility to be and how does it tie with the Smart City concept?
To be blunt, electromobility is a concept that gives the first impression of focusing primarily on electric cars. However, upon closer inspection we find out that it‘s a complex issue that covers just about any electricity-powered vehicles and their back-up power supplies besides electric cars. It also begins to see cars as potential green energy sources and as a commodity that has the capacity to become a part of the shared economy. Throughout the topic, the bottom line is the environment.
So electromobility within Smart City concepts aims to solve mostly environmental issues?
It depends on how you see it. The environment is undoubt-edly one of the more important issues that electromobility is here to solve. But it can simultaneously answer many other topics ranging from traffic flow to parking. Let’s begin with the environment. Experts have by now agreed that driving fossil fu-el-powered cars is a complete nonsense. In the chemical, food, and pharmaceutical industry, petroleum products are essential as we can’t replace them. But we definitely don’t need them to fuel our cars. Especially when we realise two things. Firstly, fossil fuel-powered cars are the largest polluters in the city, and they release harmful or even carcinogenic substances into the air. And secondly, they are also very inefficient.
Due to the current share of cars per one family, it seems that people don’t really care about air pollution in cities…
People usually start caring about the environment once they are affected by an environmental catastrophe or they become ill. Only then do they begin wondering about possible causes and become willing to change their lives a bit. Unfortunately, the negative influence of combustion engines on our health is a fact confirmed by several studies.
On the other hand, we hear quite often that electromobility will be ‘green’ only insofar as green energy will be used in battery production. How are we doing in this matter?
Very well. I see a bigger problem in all the misinformation that the media has been providing to the public, either on purpose or because of a lack of knowledge. I’m driving at misinformation such as “electric car or battery production isn’t eco-friendly and neither is the energy they are powered by”. The opposite is true. Electric car manufacturers strictly follow all regulations and even go beyond them. I admit that for example in Slovakia, electricity powering electric cars comes from a combination of conventional and renewable sources; this essentially reflects our drawbacks in the creation of renewable energy sources. Tesla Motors with over 11,583 superchargers and thousands of standard chargers world-wide – all powered by green energy – has a clear vision in this aspect and this is only the beginning.
Let’s get back to your statement that combustion engine-pow-ered cars are, as opposed to electric cars, not only harmful to health but also inefficient. A layman might take that as a pretty heretical view…
On the contrary, this fact has been proved historically and by physics. Electromobility, in its essence, is no news. Electric-ity-powered cars have been around since times preceding combustion engines. They were more favoured, too. Firstly, combustion cars were noisy, ugly and could go only a short distance. Electric ones, on the other hand, were quiet, reliable and could cover up to 100 km. Eventually our needs began to change. World War II came and went and was followed by very strong lobbying by manufacturers of cars with combustion engines, which overshadowed electromobility. In recent years it has made a return, thanks namely to Elon Musk, and Tesla Motors has come back.
In comparing efficiency, the numbers speak for themselves.
A combustion engine can reach a maximum efficiency up to 35 %, an electric car up to 92 %. This means that a regular car can cover a distance of about 35 km per 1 litre of fossil fuels, whereas an electric car uses about 5 KW to cover 92 kilometres. Let’s add the volume of exhaust fumes released by the combustion engine car during those 35 km and carcinogenic substances released by braking. An electric car doesn‘t do any of the above. Moreover, its construction is incomparably simple (it has 70 % less parts than a combustion engine car) and requires almost no maintenance.
You also mentioned the positive effect of electromobility on traffic flow and parking. These are hornet’s nests in most Slovak cities…
They are. This issue has to be seen comprehensibly as well. Smart City initiatives and concepts include various traffic solution scenarios that present ‘forcing’ traffic from city centres – building park and ride parking lots in suburban areas that have transport alternatives ready e.g. e-bikes, electric buses and others. Electromobility is and will continue to be a part of such solutions. Currently there are ongoing autopilot technology tests and they will be able to communicate and coordinate their movement in a way that prevents traffic jams.
As far as parking is concerned, electromobility aims to change the whole concept. Today, parking is a paid service. Imagine a situation where you would actually get paid for parking. This changes things. We only need to look at cars as potential energy sources. How much do we use a car throughout the day? An hour or two, maybe for a business trip. We drive 30 to 50 kilometres and then the car just sits in front of our house. Then we could connect it to a simple cable and use the energy for heating, lights, or transfer it to another device right while the car is parked. Electromobility has recently been opening up new possibilities of using those boxes on wheels. This is no abstract and sci-fi future.
Is there a sufficiently developed infrastructure in Slovakia that would enable the growth of electromobility?
I say yes, there is. That does not mean this is its final form. On the contrary, Slovakia has companies that are systematically approaching its construction. I and my colleagues count among electromobility enthusiasts, optimists, or even sort of evan-gelists. Within Tesla Club Slovakia, in our leisure time we have been busy with activities that have to do with education and its popularisation and we are also giving people an opportunity to try out electric cars. So we see the Slovak infrastructure as fit, as you can charge an electric car at all places with a 230V/400V socket. However, charging a car like this takes about 4 hours. There aren’t many superchargers around that could manage it in an hour. People say this is the argument as to why an electric car isn’t their number one choice.
Isn’t the price of electric cars the real obstacle in the develop-ment of electromobility?
Undoubtedly it is. At least as far as private ownership goes. You see, currently the investment into an electric car is about EUR 40 to 180 thousand. But just think about how costly computers or the first mobile phones used to be and what their prices are now. It’s happening to electric cars as well. Their prices dropping to affordable levels is just a matter of time. I think that the Tesla Model 3 has the potential to be the electric car that will change the status quo.
How do conventional car producers respond to electromobility?
On one hand, they claim to be part of it, on the other they are still doing their thing. Just come to any motor show – for years we had been the only ones with electric cars there. These shows now look more like museum exhibits and have abso-lutely nothing in common with the future. Although the biggest players have announced launching new production programmes with electric cars in focus, they can’t really pull the plug on the production of conventional combustion engine-powered cars. There’s too much money tied up in them. I’m curious to see what will happen. There is a possibility of a failure such as with Nokia or Kodak, when they were so sure about their products that they forgot to innovate. Now we have Tesla Motors, a true leader in the field. More innovators may come from India or China and open up a brand new segment that will devour all that will not be able to adapt fast enough.
What about the government? Is the legislation ready? I feel like we’re not even in the stage of talks within the entire society…
I’ll be frank with you. In Slovakia it has been quite betwixt and between. Now we even have others to compare with. For exam-ple Germany, where the government has defined a timeline by which electric cars are set to have entirely replaced combustion cars. We have a presence in the National Council of the Slovak Republic, where we are members of the Innovation and devel-opment committee and we’re helping to create the legislation. Politics, however, shouldn’t only create knowledge, but also con-ditions. The government has the available tools to support this, it only doesn’t do so. And I’m not talking about direct subsidies to purchase electric cars – this can be for example finishing the infrastructure, because it will be very important in the future. As is the case with a government- or authority-wide discussion. I’m very happy that we are seeing new projects in Slovakia, ones that have great potential not only for private companies but also for the public and the government as regards eMobility, power engineering or public lighting. For example, our company is trying, together with the TESLA Liptovský Hrádok a.s. production programme, to offer the public and experts various solutions ranging from charging systems, back-up sources, photovol-taics to comprehensive energy solutions to enable us to have a Slovak company able to offer products that are competitive worldwide. But we all can start with ourselves.
Author: Marcela Heglasová, RECO