Electric Cars In Ireland: How To Get To The Tipping Point?

Nissan Leaf electric car recharging at ESB ecars charging point in Ireland

Nissan Leaf electric car recharging at ESB ecars charging point in Ireland

Ireland is--or should be--an ideal place for large-scale adoption of electric cars.

The island is compact; it has a vibrant IT sector, a favorable policy environment, and petrol and diesel fuel each cost roughly $8 per gallon--about eight times what it costs to charge an electric car on off-peak electricity.

By 2020, Ireland is expected to produce 40 percent of its electricity from renewable sources--largely wind. Electric vehicles are an ideal complement to wind energy, since they can help balance the grid by recharging at night, when demand--and charging costs--are lowest.

ESB ecars electric-car charging point in Ireland

ESB ecars electric-car charging point in Ireland

This all should, in theory, set the stage for a historic transition to electrically-powered vehicles in Ireland.

Robust incentives...

To spur sales of electric cars, the Irish government has put in place a robust series of incentives.

Plug-in electric car purchasers are eligible for a government credit worth up to 5000 euros (about $6,500). Vehicle Registration Tax (VRT)--up to 5000 euros--is also waived for electric cars.

And to top it off, electric-car owners pay the lowest rate of annual road tax, which is based on emissions.

But that's not all. The first 2,000 electric cars registered in Ireland are eligible for installation of a free home-charging points--worth about 1000 euros ($1,300).

…but few takers

Despite all this, electric car sales have lagged. According to Irish motor-industry statistics, just 32 new electric cars were sold in all of 2013, although that total climbed to 164 for the first six months of 2014.

Still, this amounts to merely 0.2% of Irish car sales. (The comparable U.S. figure for 2013 was 0.6 percent.)

ESB ecars electric-car charging point in Ireland

ESB ecars electric-car charging point in Ireland

The number of electric cars owned by individuals totaled about 500 by mid-2014. To put that in perspective: there are presently twice as many public charging points in Ireland as there are privately-owned electric cars.

Purchase price had been a factor that limited sales. However, the price of the leading electric car in Ireland, the Nissan Leaf, has dropped significantly. When incentives are factored in, the Leaf is now comparable in price to similar petrol or diesel vehicles.

One of these is the Nissan Qashqai (similar to the Nissan Rogue sold in North America), Ireland's second best-selling car model. The Qashqai sold 3,485 units in Ireland in the first six months of 2014--representing 4 percent of the market. By contrast, a mere 148 Leaf were sold during that same period.

Range anxiety

While Ireland is compact, range anxiety has still been a major constraint on electric car sales. The effective range of the Leaf is only about 80 to 90 miles per charge. While most travel occurs within that range, the limitation has given many potential purchasers pause--including environmentally conscious consumers who would otherwise be inclined.

Electric vehicle charging stations in Ireland; source: Google

Electric vehicle charging stations in Ireland; source: Google

To counter such concerns, the e-cars division of the Electricity Supply Board (ESB) has worked to set up a network of roughly 1,000 public charging points, distributed throughout Ireland. Of these, 63 offer DC fast charging, mostly at convenient intervals on major highways. Hundreds more public charging points are planned.

The high speed chargers offer an 80-percent charge within 25 minutes. With minimal planning, long-range electric car travel in Ireland should thus pose little difficulty.

The standard public charging points take about 8 hours for a full charge, but they offer a bonus: they are--at least for now--free. Several hundred additional charging points have also been installed for commercial use.

Dearth of marketing

At the moment, lack of public awareness about the performance of electric cars and their cost benefits is perhaps the major impediment to adoption.

Indeed, the marketing of electric cars in Ireland has been minimal to non-existent, helping ensure that sales volumes stay small. The limited choice of models available--until now it has been essentially only the Nissan Leaf--has been a serious barrier.

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