London's electric car ante

Mayor ups the stakes with a citywide charging scheme including cheap power and other inducements. Nissan also throws in a perk - if you buy one of their cars, that is.
Written by Mark Halper, Contributor

It seems as though there’s a game of leapfrog on between the world’s cities to become the planet’s electric car capital. London yesterday took an impressive sideways jump in the competition, as Mayor Boris Johnson announced that motorists who pay £100 ($164) can charge up as much as they want at no extra cost at 150 stations around the city.

“I want to rapidly accelerate the uptake of electric vehicles and make London the epicenter of electric driving in Europe,” Johnson said in a press release.

It wasn’t quite the free charging scheme that San Francisco implemented earlier this month.Nor did Johnson offer the golden nugget of a free on-street parking spot -with charging station - as Amsterdam is doing.

But like the West Coast and Dutch plans, the London initiative should encourage electric car uptake. Johnson said that London has installed 150 charging posts across the city in a network called Source London, originally announced in November and which went live yesterday. Membership to the network costs £100, which gives motorists access via a swipe card to any of the 150 posts in ASDA supermarkets (a Wal-Mart chain) and other locations.

That’s an improvement over a quirky scheme already in place in which different London boroughs have implemented separate charging operations that prevent motorists registered in one borough from tapping a post in another. The city is now trying to add those 250 disparate posts to the 150 citywide Source London network. It is also providing an extra 6 months to members of a borough plan who join the citywide program.

Source London, originally announced last November, calls for 1300 publicly accessible charging stations by 2013. Mayor Johnson also wants workplaces to implement 22,500 charging points by 2015. Source London is also working with other regions of the UK toward developing a nationwide charging network. It hopes to soon join up with regional network called East of England, for instance.

As an added perk, Source London members do not have to pay London’s congestion charge – a fee that ranges from £9 to £12 ($15 to $20)- for driving into central London. The UK government also exempts electric cars from “road tax”, for which many car owners pay around £200 ($330) annually.

One deterrent to uptake: electric cars remain pricey compared to their gasoline counterparts. A Nissan Leaf (pictured, with Mayor Johnson behind the wheel) costs about £28,000 ($46,000). In January, the UK government started providing up to £5,000 ($8,200) to individuals who buy an electric car.But according to the website Hypermiler, only 534 individuals have taken those grants.

Nissan yesterday offered an extra inducement, announcing that it would cover the £100 Source London membership to anyone who buys a Leaf.

Other electric brands available in the UK include Citroen, Mitsubishi, Peugeot, Smith Vans and Tesla, according to the Source London press release.

The Source London network is underpinned by an IT infrastructure provided free by Siemens  - the sort of private/public partnership that helps release other funds that subsidize things like £100 per year electricity. Of course, public taxes also contribute.

Photos: Above, Greater London Authority   Cover, firstrung

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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