Electric Avenue: sustainable vehicles

Vision explores the initiatives leading the way in promoting efficient, sustainable transport 

Electric cars have come in and out of fashion several times since they were first invented in the late 19th century, with Edison calling them “the family carriage of the future” in 1914, but they’ve never been as popular as they have in the last six years. The Nissan Leaf, launched in 2010, is the best-seller, with 100,000 currently on streets around the world, but there’s still a way to go before they start competing with their petrol-powered counterparts: as a comparison, Ford’s F-Series pick-up truck sold more than a third of a million cars solely in the US last year.

Nissan Leaf popular electric car
The Nissan Leaf is the world-leading electric car

But if a strangely quiet car passes by on the Dubai streets in the coming months, don’t be alarmed. It’s just one of the 100 battery-powered vehicles being piloted by DEWA, the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority.

In Mid-April, Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA) CEO Saeed Al Tayer, who is also vice chairman of Dubai’s Supreme Council of Energy, announced the fleet of electric cars would be rolled out between now and 2016. In the meantime, work will begin this summer on a network of charging stations, where car batteries can be topped up at locations including hotels and shopping malls. It’s all part of the Smart Dubai initiative, which aims to use technology to make the city cleaner, greener, more efficient place, full of free life-improving technology, like Wi-Fi in public parks.

The latest international trend for electric cars is generally dated back to the 2008 global financial crisis, which spurred interest in smaller, more fuel-efficient transport, but concern among governments about climate change and air pollution are also major drivers of the boom. Among the bodies funding R&D is the European Union, which has committed 5 billion euros to its Green Cars Initiative, as well as passing a regulation forcing car manufacturers to lower the average CO2 emissions of their fleets.

Work will begin this summer on a network of charging stations, where car batteries can be topped up at locations including hotels and shopping malls

All this research has helped slash the price of the expensive rechargeable batteries used in electric cars – and once the car is bought, running costs are minimal – but they still cost more than the average ride. Then there’s the long charging times, and “range anxiety”: the Leaf, for example, can only travel about 120 miles before needing to be plugged in. All these are soluble problems, however, and initiatives like DEWA’s can only help. By the time Expo 2020 rolls around, Dubai could be leading the world in popularising cheap, green, sustainable cars.