Electric Vehicles: Discussion with Irish EV Owners Association

The next item is a discussion with representatives of the Irish EV Owners' Association on the subject of electric cars. We are all more conscious of the benefits of electric vehicles, having recently engaged with the Volkswagen Group on incorrect emissions readings.

On behalf of the joint committee, I welcome Mr. Frank Barr, Mr. Paddy Carroll, Mr. Joe McCarthy and Mr. Guillaume Séguin of the Irish EV Owners Association. I draw their attention to the fact that by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. If witnesses are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and continue to do so they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. Witnesses are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons, or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. I wish to advise also that any submission or opening statements witnesses have made to the committee may be published on the committee website after the meeting. I remind members of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person or persons outside the Houses or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. I now invite Mr. Paddy Carroll to make the association's opening statement.

Mr. Paddy Carroll

The Irish EV Owners Association was formed in March 2015 and is the first and only association of this kind in Ireland. At present, there are 1,100 pure electric cars in Ireland, that is, 1,100 have been introduced in the five-year period since 2011. In the same five-year period, Norway and the Netherlands have introduced 66,000 and 60,000, respectively. To us, the reason this is the case is very simple, that is, the Governments of these countries have given huge incentives to the electric car buyer. There are incentives in Ireland, which include a €5,000 Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI, grant. Moreover, the cars are exempt from VRT, there is a free ESB ecar home charger and there is free use of the ESB charging network. Ireland's target, under the renewable energy supply directive, is to ensure that 10% of its transport energy comes from renewable sources by 2020. This would mean 200,000 electric vehicles and to reach the target, we believe more incentives from the Government are needed.

The Irish EV Owners Association proposes to the joint committee a plan of incentives to have in place for five years only, starting in 2016. First, a national blanket policy should be introduced in cities and towns to allow electric vehicles free access to bus lanes, to have no charges on toll roads and free parking while charging at the chargers in each county, as well as at the Luas and Iarnród Éireann stations. To implement this, we recommend a statutory instrument. Second, all county councils should be instructed to have painted the parking spaces at the chargers. A statutory instrument already is in place, No. 330 of 2014, and while some local authorities have done this, for example, Wexford, Limerick, Wicklow and Tipperary, some are quite resistant. ESB ecars has installed an impressive infrastructure of chargers in towns and cities but to be effective, the parking spaces at the chargers must be painted. Third, all county councils should be instructed to implement SI 325 of 2014 to the effect that the charging space is for electric vehicles only. An inability to charge one's vehicle because a non-electric car is blocking the charger makes driving an electric vehicle unviable and totally frustrating. It can be a huge problem in rural towns where there is only one charger in the town.

Fourth, an SEAI grant of €1,000 should be introduced for points of interest, which have been listed in the submission, towards the purchase and installation of an electric vehicle charger on their premises. Fifth, an SEAI grant of €1,000 should be introduced for employers to install a charger for motorists to charge their vehicles at work. Sixth, a charger provider should be given €2 million each year for five years to expand the fast charge point infrastructure. The network in Ireland already is very good thanks to ESB ecars and a European Union grant under the TEN-T programme. We believe some routes and areas still are poorly catered for and for example, the Wild Atlantic Way needs a fast charge point every 120 km along the route. Seventh, the A0 tax band should be reduced to being free. Our neighbours in Northern Ireland automatically have free road tax when they purchase an electric car and zero emissions should lead to zero tax. Eighth, an SEAI grant of €1,200 should be introduced towards the purchase and installation of a solar photovoltaic, pv system in one's house, which then would encourage those people to buy an electric car. Ninth, there should be a zero rate for benefit-in-kind tax applicable to companies and employees who drive electric vehicles. Tenth, the building regulations should be amended for new homes to facilitate the installation of a 7 kW charge point in the initial build. Eleventh, there should be an obligation for any new factories or commercial buildings with internal or external car parks to include dedicated charging spaces proportionately, say, two per 100 spaces. Twelfth, as ESB ecars will start charging for the use of infrastructure and electricity in January 2016, can members, in partnership with the ESB, not subsidise this cost for a period of five years? Thirteenth, the €5,000 SEAI grant should be continued for the next five years and fourteenth, public education and promotion and Government advertising are needed in this area.

The benefits of electric cars are twofold for Ireland, both economic and environmental. If Ireland is to reach its mandated emissions targets for CO2 electric cars must play a significant part. Let us reach our targets as it can be done by incentives; is féidir linn. Finally, EV car sales in Cork have increased by 205% in 2015 to date over the 2014 rate because of incentives given. The Drive4Zero programme, spearheaded by the Minister, Deputy Coveney, gave incentives that included free parking while charging, free tolls at Fermoy, incentives to companies, 0% finance at dealers, chargers installed in multi-storey car parks etc. Consequently, incentives work.

I thank Mr. Carroll. Obviously, the association has presented a comprehensive wish list and it is good it is clearly outlined. Before handing over to Deputy Dooley, can I ask whether there is any particular priority? Are there key items in that wish list that could make for rapid change? Second, the joint committee has just interviewed the chair-designate of the ESB on her appointment as chair of the board. The witnesses may be aware the electric car issue came up in the course of that meeting with regard to the charges that are being introduced in January for new applicants and in April for those who already had electric cars. Can Mr. Carroll comment on that point and on the charges? Does the association perceive this to be a setback? Mr. Carroll mentioned the incentives and my impression, as I read down through them, was that many of them are the responsibility of local authorities. Mr. Carroll mentioned free toll charges in Cork and was that done with the local authority? Mr. Carroll might explain how that was done. I invite him to respond to these points at the outset, after which I will hand over to members.

Mr. Paddy Carroll

To start with the issue of the ESB charging for the infrastructure and the electricity, it has set out one charge package with which EV owners and drivers are unhappy because they must pay 30 cent per minute at the fast charger, which makes a full charge cost approximately €9. We met the ESB last Monday and it has stated its intention to bring out other packages. We have been urging our points of view as to what type of packages there should be on the ESB.

It is going to look at that issue and meet us again. Therefore, it is in the pipeline, but it is a setback at this stage when we are trying to promote EV. However, it is a company that must make money and the infrastructure must be paid for. We do not mind paying for it, but it must be reasonable and help to promote EV, not take six steps backwards.

On Nos. 2 and 3, it involves the county councils, some of which are very pro-EV. I have a list of county councils that will allow us free parking while we are charging our vehicles, while others have stated we have to pay for parking. Therefore, there is no joined-up thinking. It does not cost anybody any money, not even county councils. The ESB will paint the charging bays for ecars free of charge. Dublin City Council is one of the worst in this regard. It is only in the past month or so that it has given permission for some spaces to be painted. Dublin is an EV-unfriendly city. I was here two weeks ago and had to drive around to find a charger. The committee could instruct it to implement the statutory instruments in place which are not being implemented.

Mr. Frank Barr

That picture has been taken in Castlebar where there are only two chargers. If people have a journey they want to make and what we prefer to call the charger is blocked, that is the end of the journey until somebody decides to move his or her car, which could take a day or two. The incentives mentioned look like a huge wish list, but they have worked in Norway which is not a country in which it is very conducive to use electric cars because the temperatures are so low and the distance one can travel in an electric car is seriously reduced.

I attended a presentation some time ago by the chairman of the transport committee in the Norwegian Parliament. It was very impressive, but somebody said to me afterwards that the price of an ordinary car in Norway was huge compared to that in Ireland. I did not have that information at the time. Is VRT taken off? Somebody mentioned a price of €50,000 or €60,000 for a car.

Mr. Frank Barr

There is no tax applied to electric cars which I think accounts for perhaps 50% of the price of a car.

Yes, but the initial cost is very high. Is that true?

Mr. Paddy Carroll

There are no purchase taxes on electric cars and the purchase tax is extremely high in Norway. There is also a VAT exemption of 25%. There are no road toll charges, while there is free parking while a person is charging his or her vehicle and free access to bus lanes.

These incentives were outlined, but not all of the information was given on the day. I only received it afterwards.

I thank Mr. Carroll for his presentation. While I do not have an electric vehicle, I certainly think its use is something we should be supporting through policy. Electric vehicles will not suit everybody, but they will suit many. If we are to make a meaningful impact in addressing climate change, they will be a very significant component of the shift.

I agree with nearly everything Mr. Carroll said. I am working on a policy document that will include many of recommendations sought by the delegates. There are some issues in the use of bus lanes. Bus lanes in Ireland generally are not of a standard that they can take additional vehicles; therefore, there are some constraints and concerns. I recognise that this happens in some countries, that they have high occupancy vehicle lanes, to which cars carrying more than two or three passengers have privileged access. In that context, we could look at electric vehicles being allowed to use them. The delegates are pushing an open door with me. I completely support what they are doing.

The long-term solution is adopting a whole-of-government approach incorporating the local authorities. It must be co-ordinated by the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport in consultation with the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government. We cannot adopt an approach that is not uniform. If somebody leaves Kildare to drive into the city, he or she must have the same expectations in terms of signage. Road signage is not provided on county by county basis. There is a uniform approach to the mapping system in terms of road signage. That is the only way we can address this issue adequately.

I suggest a section of the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport act as lead and pull all other Departments into line in order that somebody purchasing an electric vehicle would have a memorandum of understanding on what was available and what he or she was going to receive because it is a considerable step for somebody to take. As Mr. Barr said, if somebody is away from his or her normal place of residence or destination, he or she must be assured that he or she will have access to a charging point. Those of us who drive diesel or petrol cars would not dream of heading somewhere if we knew we would not be able to top up our fuel. That is the reality. We must provide the infrastructure first. Nobody is suggesting a person travel to a location where there are no roads and that if enough people buy cars, the roads will be provided. It does not work like that; one needs the investment first.

I do not for one minute accept that the ESB should change its charging regime. We are so far behind in reaching our target that anything that would act as a disincentive should not be considered. If it is already a disincentive for those who have already converted their vehicles, what must it be like for the people we are trying to attract? There is a huge job of work to be done that involves considerable investment in infrastructure, a uniform roll-out of services and a very strong marketing campaign. We also need a carrot approach. People need to know that for the next five or ten years, there would be a considerable saving to them. Sadly, they are not of a mind in large numbers to do things because it would be good for the environment. They will do it if it benefits them financially; therefore, we have to make the financial incentives adequate and appropriate.

Another issue was not addressed by Mr. Carroll; it concerns the public bus network. I know that the technology is at an early stage, but where the State invests in public infrastructure and public transport, including buses, through Transport Ireland, we must look at investing in the use of the appropriate technology. As the delegates know better than I do, it is only when there is critical mass that companies actually start to invest more in the technology available.

I do not really have questions. I thank the delegates for the presentation and wish them well in their continued efforts in this regard.

Deputy Dessie Ellis is giving way to Deputy Michael Fitzmaurice.

I thank the delegates for the presentation. Like the previous speaker, I agree that there is a need for charging points in all places. Mr. Carroll referred to Cork. Did the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine not have points made available in all parts of Cork and not get the toll operators to agree not to charge tolls to EV car users? Will Mr. Carroll elaborate on that point?

How much does a car that can carry two adults and three children cost when one does not have to pay VRT? How much does a car cost when one has claimed back all of the money?

Mr. Frank Barr

On average, the cost is between €20,000 and €28,000, depending on the model bought.

Therefore, the cost is pretty competitive when everything is drawn back. When a person charges such a car, how far will it bring him or her?

Mr. Frank Barr

That is a difficult question to answer; it depends on whether one is talking about the summer or the winter.

It is like winter here all year round.

Mr. Frank Barr

One will probably be able to drive about 120 or 130 km in winter.

Should there be an emphasis on people driving in cities? It is 190 km or 200 km for me to travel from A to B.

Mr. Frank Barr

The mistake is that people think these are city cars. The people getting the best benefit from these cars are those with long commutes. I am talking about those in the commuter belt outside Dublin.

Would the car not have to be charged half way through?

Mr. Frank Barr

I know a couple of examples. Some people are travelling from Kinnegad, so one can get from there to Dublin on one charge. They would charge it again to get back.

I am talking about people travelling 180 km, 190 km or 200 km. There are Deputies who travel 280 km, so they would be standing and waiting while charging halfway through.

Mr. Frank Barr

Yes, they would need a fast charger.

They are not really suitable for that type of driving. They are more suitable for people doing 50 km, 60 km, 80 km or 100 km.

Mr. Frank Barr

Yes.

Mr. Joe McCarthy

Those ranges are current.

Mr. Joe McCarthy

There are new cars on the way and they have extended ranges beyond 200 km.

We are where we are now. Does the witness agree?

Mr. Joe McCarthy

Yes, there are some cars out there that can do 300 miles with a single charge.

For €9, one can get 170 km.

Mr. Frank Barr

I disagree with that figure. If charging in winter, that charge could take an hour, which will cost €18.

It would be very much in line with the price of diesel. Is that fair enough?

Mr. Frank Barr

Pretty much. There are many stops on the way and the journey would be longer and more tedious, so the incentive is not there any more at that particular price.

I do not know if the witnesses have businesses. In fairness to the ESB, I do not know if the Government subsidises this process but the company cannot just give electricity to everyone willy-nilly. The company needs to get reimbursement from somewhere, whether that is an EU fund or one from the Government. I understand that the witnesses are trying to get more people to use these vehicles. It is a good idea for in and around cities but, as the previous speaker stated and being honest, the bus lanes throughout the country are not sufficiently well designed to cater for taxis and buses, let alone allowing a few cars to use them as well. That would not work.

I agree with some of the other points. The witnesses mentioned the Wild Atlantic Way and there is no problem with having a fast charger on it. The route is probably 350 km from here. I know there are chargers in Castlebar, Galway and other towns. I have even seen them in smaller towns like Castlerea. I agree that councils need to take a full approach. There was an argument that this committee should invoke a statutory instrument on councils; we can make a recommendation but we cannot just ring up a council and tell it to do something. Will the witnesses elaborate on what was done in Cork that can be rolled out in other counties?

Mr. Paddy Carroll

The Deputy stated that the committee should make a recommendation to the county councils. That would be a huge step.

It would be to a Minister.

Mr. Paddy Carroll

I would not zoom in mostly on bus lanes. Other ideas include an exemption on charges on toll roads and free parking while charging. The statutory instrument does not refer to it as a parking space but rather as a recharging bay. It is a bay that I would arrive at in order to recharge my car. We feel that should be free. The authorities in Limerick city have said that parking must be paid for but those in Waterford tell us that an electric vehicle can be parked free of charge at any one of the public designated charging bays. There is no joined-up thinking and instead there is total inconsistency. If I am going from one county to the next, I might take a chance but I could be ticketed. Maybe I will not be ticketed.

Mr. Joe McCarthy

In Bray one can get free parking while charging but in Dublin city that will not happen. A person's car will be clamped if it is parked without paying the fee.

The authorities in Dublin city are not being that helpful.

Mr. Joe McCarthy

It is about joined-up thinking. Some of us have been driving electric cars since 2010 and are familiar with the network and how to use the cars. There is a big increase in the number of people using these cars and they have no idea what are the regulations.

What speeds are they capable of doing?

Mr. Joe McCarthy

They are capable of doing 150 km/h.

Mr. Paddy Carroll

We would only do 120 km/h

Mr. Frank Barr

People are less likely to break the speed limit as the closer a driver keeps to 80 km/h, the more range that will be achieved. If a driver starts pushing it to 120 km/h, he or she will probably get no further than 60 km or 70 km on a full charge. If the speed is dropped to 80 km/h, the driver will get much further.

Deputy Fitzmaurice asked how far a car can travel on a single charge and the answer indicated that the range is lower in winter. Is that because of a reduction in temperature?

Mr. Frank Barr

It is partly to do with a reduction in temperatures but also because cold air is more dense than hot air and it takes more energy to get through it. It is mostly because batteries perform less efficiently in cold temperatures.

Do other elements affect this? For example, what happens in a storm or against wind?

Mr. Frank Barr

It is very much like flying an aeroplane going into a headwind. It is the same with diesel and petrol cars except one might not notice it because there is no concern about range. If driving into a strong headwind, the range is less than if there is no headwind. Coming from Cork this morning with a southerly wind, Mr. Séguin got here quite efficiently and fast.

The wind was behind him.

Mr. Guillaume Séguin

It will take me 30 minutes extra on the way back. It is a major difference.

Does Mr. Séguin have to charge the car a few times on the way to Cork?

Mr. Guillaume Séguin

Yes, in Cashel and Portlaoise.

How long does that take?

Mr. Guillaume Séguin

It is 30 minutes each time.

One would need to lay out the journey well in advance.

Mr. Guillaume Séguin

It is okay. It takes a bit longer but that is why these vehicles need a competitive edge against diesel. If it cost the same to go across country, people would not be interested.

Mr. Frank Barr

We accept the argument that the ESB is a business and must make money. Our concern is the form which the charges take now. For example, for a fast charge, it is now proposing 30 cent per minute, so an hour's charging - from which somebody will not get much range - will not be competitive. In Dublin, if one is using a slow charger and paying €2.90 per hour as well as the electricity charge, why would one drive an electric car?

Putting on wipers and heaters would cut range as well.

Mr. Frank Barr

Yes. The heater will reduce range by approximately one third.

Is the witness serious?

Mr. Frank Barr

Yes. That is the first model of the car. The second model uses a heat pump, so it is a little more efficient. The cars are getting better all the time. The car coming next year will have a battery that is 25% bigger so one will be able to go further. It is improving. We are only talking about the short and medium term for incentives to kick-start the process. All the incentives we have mentioned have worked in other countries, and that is why we listed them.

We are learning much this morning, which is important.

Mr. Joe McCarthy

I would like to mention something about green tourism. There is a great opportunity for Ireland, although it is still in its infancy. In the association, we have seen drivers coming from different countries and asking for information about the infrastructure in Ireland. One of our members has driven from Cork to Holland and back in his electric car. The biggest attraction we have in Ireland is the Wild Atlantic Way. Some of us would like to do the Wild Atlantic Way in electric vehicles but the west coast has the weakest infrastructure. Hence the proposal that some sort of grant be given to hotels, guest houses and points of interest along that route. That is so drivers can have a meal or stay overnight while charging the vehicle before enjoying that fantastic coast.

Is there a cost identified with putting in a charger in a location?

Mr. Joe McCarthy

It varies a little but the ballpark is between €500 and €1,600, depending on what is available at the location. It depends on whether it is to be a space or attached to a wall. It also depends on the supply available at the location to feed the charger.

It is not excessive in any event.

I do not know if this is within our remit. Mayo County Council would be pretty open to putting a fast charger in place or to trying to accommodate one.

We will consider it. It is important that we know the issues to see whether there can be a resolution.

Mr. Frank Barr

The fast chargers that the ESB installed, like a rapid charger, tend to be a bit more pricey. Chargers in hotels were mentioned. Fast chargers cost about €40,000 to put in, I think. We mentioned in our presentation that we got a grant from the trans-European transport networks, TEN-T, project of the EU. That was to put chargers along all the major highways. For some reason, the M2 and the M3 were not identified as major highways, however. Certainly the N11, M9 and the N7 and N8-----

The simple reason is the west and the midlands were taken out of TEN-T. We have from Limerick to Dublin to Newry and from Cork to Dublin to Newry.

We will not be traipsing though that debate today but I know what the Deputy is talking about.

I thank Mr. Barr for the presentation. It is very disappointing to hear that there are only 1,100 electric cars in Ireland. I always believed electric cars would take off. I know many have said it was down to the oil companies holding them back. Whether that is true or false is another story. I am not convinced of it myself.

One of the things that might deter someone from getting an electric car is the time it takes to charge. The position and number of chargers with such a small number of electric cars in the country is an issue. It is not easy to get the chargers throughout the country in the way that drivers would require. It would mean going to the local authorities and making the argument. It probably will be difficult but not impossible. I know there is one at Glasnevin in a bay. People do not seem to park in it from what I can see.

I would have thought solar energy would have been used more in the cars themselves or even in buses where there would be more scope, or in the transport industry. I would have thought there would have been some kind of self-charging mechanism on the cars without having to go to a charger. Maybe technology has not reached that point. I am not too sure.

Mr. Frank Barr

The number of solar panels that would be needed to power the car would be way more than the surface area of the car could hold.

That is what I mean.

Mr. Frank Barr

There is a tiny solar panel on the Nissan Leaf which helps recharge the 12 V battery for the lights, horn and all that type of stuff. The technology is not available to do more yet.

Mr. Joe McCarthy

What might be of more interest are the experiments going on in the UK at the moment where they have dedicated charging lanes. The charging is done by induction as the vehicle drives along the lane. It is in the UK and Holland.

If it takes half an hour to charge the car, for anyone going on a long journey that is nearly an hour gone one way and two hours both ways. That would be a bit of a deterrent.

If a car breaks down and needs a charge, does the driver have a hand unit for doing a quick charge? Is there no such thing?

Mr. Frank Barr

Basically the cars do not break down. They seem very reliable. It did happen occasionally, when the infrastructure was not as good as it is now, that a driver might arrive at a charging station and find it was just not working. Nissan was providing a free low-loading service to the next charging bay. It is like running out of petrol in the middle of nowhere. There is nothing the driver can do.

People can get petrol and walk back and put it into the car. Is there a quick method?

Mr. Frank Barr

The only solution, which is not provided in this country, is a thing called a granny cable, which is basically a three-pin plug that plugs into the car. In England they are provided as standard with the car but not in Ireland. We can buy them. Whoever has one of those can ask very nicely at the next house or premises to charge for an hour or two. That is the best anyone can do.

Mr. Paddy Carroll

It is also the case that when one buys an electric car, one's style of driving changes. If I am going from A to B, I have to plan my journey according to where all the chargers are. I have to give myself extra time to stop and charge. The style of driving people are used to with petrol, where they just get in the car and go, changes. That is the decision people make when they buy the cars. They know that is down the road for them.

I have driven a Nissan Leaf in 2015 and 2014 in all 32 counties in Ireland. I have done that using only the fast chargers. I was using it as a kind of holiday and doing a photographic competition as part of a rally we have for electric cars, to get our owners out and about looking at the countryside using their cars. I got around with no trouble at all. It was a perfect car to drive. Of course, I am retired and have time.

That is probably one of the things that would put a lot of people off at this stage. I know electric cars make sense for the environment and for people's health. Do the witnesses find it makes a difference to the quality of air and so on inside the car? Sometimes there is a kickback of fumes from the air conditioning in petrol cars. Is the electric car a much healthier environment?

Mr. Paddy Carroll

It is silent.

Mr. Joe McCarthy

It is a different style of driving.

Mr. Paddy Carroll

While we can all come up with 5,000 objections to having an electric car, we are here today to try to push it and get it out there. Let us achieve the Government's target of 200,000. That is not our target or mine; it is the Government's target. Governments also have to reach CO2 emissions targets. We have to get proactive and that is why we would say to give incentives. If incentives have worked in other countries, surely we should give them a try. Let us promote it and get it on the road.

Are all the main manufacturers now making electric cars or is it just a select group? I have heard different names. Are they being manufactured across the board?

Mr. Paddy Carroll

They are beginning to develop and manufacture them. There are very few manufacturers selling electric cars in Ireland. They are looking at Ireland and saying the uptake is not big, so why should they bring in their cars? England has about 25 different electric car models for people to choose from. In Ireland there are maybe four. The uptake is not there.

I gather there is a bigger uptake in 2015. It has increased relative to other areas, although it is starting from a low base.

Mr. Paddy Carroll

Yes. At the moment we have 457 new electric cars sold in Ireland, whereas in 2014 it was 221.

It is slow but it is progress.

Mr. Frank Barr

Next year's cars, certainly the Nissan Leaf, will have an extended range. It is becoming much easier. Every time we stop for a charge we get asked to talk about the car. We get the usual questions of how far it can go, how much it costs and how long it takes to charge. There is definitely an interest there, but there is also a huge big fear. It is like the fear the Deputy mentioned a minute ago. What does one do if one gets stuck down the country? It has happened to me a couple of times but I have been rescued. The Nissan service rescued me a couple of times. I never ran out of power because there were not enough chargers around the place. It was because the chargers were not working.

There have been other occasions when my car has been slowed down because I cannot get a charge due to being blocked from the charger.

Mr. Carroll mentioned the winter period, where, I gather from what he said, the capacity cover in terms of distance is shorter because of the winter environment. That is a big issue in terms of selling this concept to people. Would snow conditions present a problem for electric vehicles?

Mr. Frank Barr

I think an electric car would perform better than a petrol car in snowy conditions. One would not have a problem starting the car, which one may have with a petrol car. The issue of the car sliding on the road in such conditions would be pretty much the same as for petrol cars. The range in an electric car would drop in colder conditions but I do not think one would have a problem with the car's performance in trying to start the car. Norway has proved that. There are 66,000 electric cars in use there and they do not seem to have a problem in those conditions.

The main message is that the technology is improving all the time and there will be a benefit down the line. I have two final questions but I note that Deputy Colreavy wants to contribute.

I welcome the representatives of the association and I thank them for their presentation. When I saw this agenda item, not having at that time received a copy the presentation, I was intrigued because I do not believe we have ever had representatives of a petrol or diesel car owner's association appear before the committee. I take it the association's members are electric car enthusiasts. How many of the 1,100 electric car owners has the association as signed-up members?

Mr. Paddy Carroll

We would have about 66.

I would have thought that most of the car owners would be enthusiasts for the concept of electric cars.

Mr. Paddy Carroll

Yes. We set up the association in March 2015 because we wanted to be able to reach people, such as the members of this committee and the stakeholders. We meet with ESB ecars when we request a meeting. Our association is a small acorn that has been planted and, hopefully, our membership will grow and I believe it will. We have a constitution, we hold an annual general meeting and we have a website, irishevowners.ie, and a Facebook page. We hold events for our members. We went on a tour to Turlough Hill and we visited the eco-village in Cloughjordan and we had 15 electric cars down there. We had a photographic rally that ran from March up to the end of October where members submitted photographs they had taken of monuments, having travelled to different counties. Those travelling in 18 electric vehicles participated in it. We have a logo and membership cards. We are like a car club.

I love the enthusiasm. I have no doubt that the association's membership will grow because I imagine most electric vehicle owners would share that enthusiasm. I have two specific questions. The first one is whether a satnav system or an iPhone app will show the nearest charging points, whether they be fast-charging or slow-charging.

Mr. Paddy Carroll

Yes.

Battery technology is improving all the time. A great deal of work is being done internationally on improving batteries. If battery technology takes a step change for the better, would the owners have to pay the full cost of the new battery set that needs to go into a vehicle? In other words, if I have a petrol or diesel engine car, the technology is changing but they are gradual changes and I will not have to change the car engine.

Mr. Frank Barr

I can only speak for the nice people in Nissan and not for the other manufacturers but if a car owner's battery capacity drops and all battery capacity drops over a period, Nissan will replace the battery with a brand new battery for a cost of €6,000 but unfortunately, the new battery technology in its car model that will come out next year is not compatible with the old one. Therefore, it will not be possible to do that.

That is a huge issue.

Mr. Frank Barr

One could maintain the efficiency and the range of one's car by changing its battery every now and again. My car has 122,000 km on the clock and I have lost perhaps 10% capacity, which I do not think is bad for a car with that mileage. If I were to lose another 10% capacity, I have the option of paying €6,000 for a new battery and that would be like getting a brand new car. There is practically no servicing required on an electric car. I had my national car test two weeks ago and the brakes have never been adjusted or changed; they are still operating at 96% efficiency because the car has regenerative brakes. The technology of the cars is very good. The body and motor of the car will probably last, it is only the battery that one might need to change. I could maintain the current range by changing the battery. I do not know if that answers the Deputy's question.

Mr. Joe McCarthy

It is like normal cars where people have to pay extra to buy more powerful cars but in this case, we are talking about kilowatts instead of horsepower.

I have a petrol car that has 270,000 km on the clock. The engine in the newer model has improved but I have not had to replace the engine with the newer model engine. It would not be financially beneficial for me to do so. Some €6,000 is a good deal of money to pay for an engine or a battery. If battery technology is taking a major leap forward, and I anticipate it will, because there is a huge investment in it currently, many electric vehicle owners will face that dilemma.

Mr. Guillaume Séguin

There are solutions for that. In Ireland, we generally have a very good climate; it is never too hot or too cold and realistically the battery will last for the life of the car. I would not worry too much about that. While my colleague said he had lost a small amount of capacity, realistically, the battery will last for the life of the car. For people who are anxious about the battery capacity, some manufacturers, such as Nissan in the UK or Renault in Ireland, lease batteries and in such cases, the car owner does not own the battery. One pays €50, €60 or €70 per month for the facility and one has a lease on only the battery but one owns the car. It lowers the price of the car when one goes to a dealership and it can provide reassurance for a person who has such an anxiety.

Mr. Paddy Carroll

The Deputy asked how a car owner will know where the chargers are. There is a built-in satnav in an electric car and it shows all the chargers along the route. If I arrive in a town and I do not know whether there is a charger in it, I can press a button and it will search for chargers near the current location and they will all come up on the system.

Is that updated automatically?

Mr. Paddy Carroll

That is updated. ESB ecars send it to Nissan and other car manufacturers every so often. I do not know how often. I have an app on my phone and on pressing a button, it will bring up a map of Ireland with the location of all the chargers. The ESB is working behind the scenes such that the technology in the charger is talking to a back office and that will happen every 15 minutes. Therefore, the systems will communicate in terms of whether the charger is working and the map will be updated. ESB is working on that technology to have the information available in real time. Currently, if I arrive at a charger and the charger is not working, I ring the ESB ecars telephone number and it starts the ball rolling to get it fixed, but it is going to be able to detect that a charger is working. That would be much better for me in that I would know that charger is not working and I would travel to the charger in the next town.

I thank the representatives.

Mr. Joe McCarthy

If any members of the committee want to experience a journey in an electric car, we would be happy to drive around town with one of the members at some stage.

Mr. Joe McCarthy

Another aspect is that large employers are encouraging their staff to take up electric vehicles and they provide charging facilities on their premises. Those employers include Microsoft, IBM and Trinity College. Amazingly, there is no charging facility on the grounds of Dáil Éireann.

Some public service offices have charging points.

Sligo Institute of Technology and the Health Service Executive properties in Manorhamilton provide electric charging points for students and employees.

Mr. Joe McCarthy

The HSE in Cork has quite a few of them.

On the other hand, as Mr. McCarthy pointed out, Leinster House does not have one.

Mr. Joe McCarthy

That is correct.

I will ask one final question, because the other issue I had intended to raise - namely, the way in which performance could be affected over a number of years - has been addressed. In recent days, I heard about the potential of electric motorbikes. Are electric vehicles other than cars available?

Mr. Joe McCarthy

I have an electric motorbike, which I started to drive in 2010. It is a Vectrix maxi scooter, which is currently in the hospital, as it were, being fitted with Nissan cells to give it greater range and power.

What range do electric motorbikes have?

Mr. Joe McCarthy

It was 85 km and I expect it to increase to the low 100s.

Electric motorbikes have many possible uses.

Mr. Joe McCarthy

Yes. Farms are one example.

Mr. Frank Barr

I understand some public services use an electric version of the Renault Kangoo. Nissan also has an electric van, which is slightly larger than the Kangoo. The range of electric vans is similar to the range of electric cars.

Mr. Joe McCarthy

The city councils maintain very good parks which are patrolled by vehicles with diesel engines. I find that a little strange. It is not healthy to jog or run behind a diesel vehicle in an urban park. These vehicles should be changed to electric vans.

I thank the representatives of the Irish EV Owners Association for appearing before the joint committee. The meeting has been very enlightening for members. The association laid out its wish list, which the joint committee will consider, and we will ascertain whether we can play a role in this area. Given that the proceedings will be published in the Official Report, the mere presence of the witnesses will, I hope, lead to a spike in membership of the Irish EV Owners Association. As has been noted, the enthusiasm shown by the witnesses in pioneering and promoting electric vehicles is to be welcomed.

The joint committee adjourned at 12.15 p.m. until 12.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 24 November 2015.