E-Vehicles: A Green Revolution for Urban or Rural Areas?

Rural Electric Vehicles

The ENEVATE programme has duly sought to explore the potential of e-mobility in rural areas through conducting social research to explore the reality of using e-vehicles outside of the city. In the first phase, 234 users were surveyed in a series of 18 e-vehicle pilots spread across North-West Europe followed by a series of stakeholder workshops. ENEVATE2.0 has seen this approach furthered and deepened by working with local partners in the UK to understand their first-hand experience of rural e-mobility. The results show both positive and negatives to this application but it is important to remember that an emerging technology such as e-mobility will always be perceived to have some drawbacks when compared with the established of the internal combustion engine. Crucially it must be accepted that e-vehicles are also flawed in urban areas so the question is where do the costs best outweigh the benefits? We believe that this balance might be best achieved in rural areas so, overall, it appears that investigating the place of e-vehicles in the countryside is a fruitful one, which could provide strong sustainability gains in offering a viable market for e-mobility.

The ENEVATE project, then, has set out to demonstrate that whatever limitations e-vehicles have in rural areas, these limitations should not be allowed to cloud their potential. This has been achieved through developing several case studies from across the UK demonstrating rural e-mobility in action. These examples show that the e-vehicles can be a genuine solution for rural mobility. ENEVATE2.0 will deliver a working paper, launched at the ENEVATE2.0 closing conference at Spa Francorchamps, which uses practical experience to outline best practice in delivering rural e-mobility. This article provides a taster of the content to be found in that paper or ‘white-book’ focused on two rural e-mobility pilots located within Wales. Each case study offers a different approach to using e-mobility to meet local demands and achieve sustainable mobility in alternative ways. These examples show that e-vehicles can and, indeed are, working in rural areas.

Carmarthenshire County Council

Carmarthenshire is a county in West Wales. The county is one of 22 Welsh administrative divisions; the third largest geographically and the fourth highest by population. Carmarthenshire is officially categorised as a rural area by the Office for National Statistics, with 183.800 residents at a density of 75/km2 – ranked 18th for population density (the Welsh average is 147/km2). Carmarthenshire has two larger classified urban by the OECD urban typology, demonstrating a minimum population density of 300 inhabitants per km2 aligned to a minimum population of 5.000. These towns are Carmarthen and Llanelli, located 16-24 miles apart depending upon the route taken. There are also 11 smaller towns located across the county. As a westerly county, there is only a very small section of the M4 motorway, with most settlements reached by A Class roads and country lanes in a total road network of 3.474 kilometres. As a public body, the local authority have recently been exploring solutions to the economic, environmental and social challenges faced in the twenty-first century UK, a key component of which they have identified as mobility.

In 2010, Carmarthenshire County Council introduced a car pool pilot with the intention of rationalising car use through centralising a number of shared vehicles. It was hoped that this move could help reducing Council expenditure on travel and cut back on the local authority’s CO2 emissions. Cars were to be used for professionals such as social workers to carry out their duties around the region – moving between Council sites and to residents’ homes and workplaces. It also included other skilled workers, for example maintenance, travelling round the region attending to faults on highways and to streetlighting. This car pool initially consisted of six diesels located at the Council’s base in Carmarthen at Parc Myrddin. In 2011, the Council took this scheme a stage further by introducing two Mitsubishi iMiEVs battery e-vehicles to their car pool at Parc Myrddin. This made Carmarthenshire the first local authority in Wales to introduce e-vehicles into
its fleet. In 2013, the e-mobility element was expanded further with the purchase of two Peugeot iOn battery electrics at Parc Myrddin (with another two intended to be deployed in other locations subject to the installation of charging points. This scheme was financed by Welsh Government funding. Moneys were obtained to render the county a ‘sustainable travel centre’ under the Welsh Transport Strategy. The sustainable travel centres deliver a range of measures that encourage people to consider using alternatives to conventional cars. Four centres were funded, with Carmarthenshire joining Cardiff, Mon a Menai and Aberystwyth. Each area received a pot of money was targeted at reducing CO2, improving local air quality; encouraging model shift, providing higher quality public transport, granting improved access to key services and promoting healthier lifestyles. The aim was to build on the lessons learned in each centre to identify
the most effective measures for potential adoption elsewhere.

For Carmarthenshire County Council, this provided three years of funding: £500k in 2010/11; £500k in 2011/12, and; a further £300k in 2012/13. The local authority used this money for a range of schemes, including improving Carmarthen Bus station, developing the town’s Park and Ride facilities, providing new walking and cycling routes, and establishing the Bwcabus on-demand model of local bus services for West Wales. The car pool came under the implementation
of a new Staff Travel Plan that explicitly targeted achieving reductions in staff mileage as travel is necessary for most of the 9,000+ employees.

As Council staff needs to commute across this large, open county, the car pool and, in particular, the e-vehicles that form half of the fleet are essential in allowing the local authority to reduce the large carbon footprint that has previously been accrued. Though the cars are based in Carmarthen, their role is largely as an outreach for towns, villages and isolated settlements across the county. This role means that the cars are frequently used in longer, irregular journeys, beyond the average urban commute that e-vehicles are often assumed to facilitate. They are used within the town of Carmarthen itself as they are to reach other towns and villages around the county in addition to more remote sites, structures and installations that the Council have responsibility for. In short, the vehicles traverse the entirety of this rural county. The scheme originally involved around 140 members of staff based at Parc Myrddin of which 134 undertook the required training to use the e-vehicles.

Staff utilisation rates have been competitive when compared with the diesel car pool vehicles, in some part due to the expectation that an e-vehicle should be selected unless unavailable or impractical. The five diesel cars have utilization rates between 89% and 93% when available (with the sixth diesel, a van, at 83% – this lower level befitting it being a more heavy duty vehicle not being suitable for many trips). The two Mitsubishi e-vehicles are both at 77% utilisation, while the electric Peugeots sit at 80% and 85%. As such, the e-mobility component of the car pool only lag behind the diesels by a small amount, some of which will be accounted for by the time-lag for some staff to have been trained to use them. As such, the average utilisation has risen markedly over time up from an initial figure of 63%.

The four e- vehicles have, between them, been used for a total of 35.800 miles and are the most used cars in the 1-20 miles distance. The Council suggest that every mile driven in an e-vehicle saves more than half the price in fuel costs and produces almost half as many CO2 emissions as the diesel alternatives. This means the Council are happy that the scheme is meeting its initial aims. Staff are using e-vehicles in a largely non-urban location thus highlighting that e- mobility can work beyond the big city.

Brecon Beacons National Park

The Brecon Beacons National Park in Mid Wales was established in 1957 as one of the three Welsh parks. It covers 519miles2 of largely bare, grassy moorland with mountains, valleys and forests spread across its area. In 2013, the park achieved the status of International Dark Sky Reserve due to its remoteness and lack of development. As this is such a scenic area, those who live and work within the Park are keen to maintain its natural beauty and, to as large a degree as possible, preserve the local rural environment – after all, this is what attracts people there in the first place. The urge for conservation is challenged by the popularity of the park as a tourist destination and outdoor sports location and, in particular, by the road traffic this brings to the area. Visitors who come in the National Park represent 50,000 tonnes per year of fossil CO2 and, even if they come for walking or cycling, they usually drive around 50 miles a day.

In order to meet this challenge, a not-for-profit company called the Eco Travel Network developed a novel idea to market the park as a sustainable tourism destination. To reduce environmental impact, this not-for-profit company introduced a service for renting e-vehicles to visitors. In 2012, this network of local businesses purchased six e-quadricycles. The Eco Travel Network fleet is composed of Renault Twizys located at various businesses and attractions throughout the Brecon Beacons. The Twizy is very different to what most people normally drive and has, according to those behind the scheme, an exciting element of ‘not-car-ness’. Those who come in the park are typically on holiday, which means may be more willing to try something unconventional such as an e-vehicle. Driving here becomes something quite different to their ordinary routines. As they do not look like cars, visitors do not have the same expectations as they could have if they drive cars, in terms or speed, comfort and range. This is most beneficial to e-vehicles, which will sometimes be negatively compared to internal combustion engine vehicles. Finally, such vehicles supposed to be fun. These lightweight, nippy vehicles fit the bill in that regard thus providing a positive experience of e-mobility.

To finance the vehicles, the Eco Travel Network obtained a £25k Start up Grant from the Brecon Beacons National Park Sustainable Development Fund and used sponsorship from a local Renault dealership. This money was used to cover set up costs and subsidise first set of vehicles. All subsequent costs are covered by members. These members are largely local accommodation providers such as B&Bs, self-catering cottages and campsites. The Eco Travel Network has also established an infrastructure totalling some 40 charge points attached to members’ business location. In contrast to networks of independent charging points as might be found in urban locations, then, local companies such as hotels, cafes and restaurants have agreed to allow the Twizys to be charged at their premises. This means the visitors may well stop for a meal or visit the attraction, in turn benefiting the business involved and drawing drivers into the community. The electricity consumption of these Twizys is low enough to allow them to be charged with local renewable energy provided by domestic or community solar panels, wind turbines or micro-hydro plant thus heightening the sustainability credentials of the group.

A related scheme run by some of the same individuals as are involved in the Eco Travel Network is a pioneering rural car club instigated by Talybont-on-Usk Energy. The club recently celebrated their fourth birthday. Nestled away in the Brecon Beacons national park, this small village of fewer than 300 households was the first of several cooperative
car sharing schemes to develop in the Welsh countryside in recent years (they provided advice to those that followed in their path). The group, who have been working since 2006 in local sustainability projects such as hydro-electricity generation, calculated that personal transport accounted for 40% of their carbon footprint. Because of the isolated location of the village and the distances that must be travelled to do most anything, they identified nearly every household owning a car (and many running two or more).
It is generally assumed that car sharing services need operate in urban areas, where it compliments other forms of transit and there is generally less attachment to specific transport modes. However, with help from the community hydro-electric scheme, Talybonton- Usk Energy instituted a scheme in their rural locale purchasing two vehicles. Both have been given names in order to give them a sense of personality and identify them as important member of the community. One is an electric van, named Huelwen – sunshine, in English, so called because it is recharged using solar energy from the local community hall. The other is car called Mr Chips, whose name derives from the fact that she runs on recycled vegetable oil collected from local cafes and pubs.

At present, there are 15 households taking part. Rates of hire are set to ensure that the vehicles cover their running costs (insurance, maintenance, fuel and electricity) while, at the same time, remaining roughly comparable with running a privately owned car for the same journey (without the additional risks and responsibilities entailed). Competitive pricing is crucial here because the car clubs allows local people to have access to cars even if they cannot afford to buy and maintain one themselves. Even more significant, this car club using an e-car provides ordinary people with access to a form of sustainable mobility typically considered prohibitively expensive on the private market.

The vehicles, then, are not simply socially sustainable in that they allow local residents affordable access to amenities and services but they are also environmentally sustainable – they entail a move away from harmful internal combustion engines with their toxic emissions and depletion of fossil fuel resources. This is a double shift to sustainability and provides an exciting model that could be adopted in other rural communities – allowing access to transport for all and promoting a more ecologically sound approach to mobility.

The example of the Brecon Beacons National Park highlights that approaches to sustainability often emerge from ordinary people. This is a grassroots project, not promoted by the state or industry; it shows the power of local residents working together. Individuals from within a rural community have decided e-mobility will work for their local needs and, more so, that it would actually offer an improvement on the existing car regime. They have made a conscious choice to  attempt to draw e-vehicles into the life of the national park showing that e-mobility is an option in this most rural of locales.

Besides the examples presented here, there are a number of other examples throughought Wales that have seen the adoption of the EV as a solution for rural mobility. In this respect Wales can be seen a one of the pioneers in the development of rural e-mobility.


Fundamentally, urban areas have a greater degree of infrastructure to allow residents to go about their daily lives free from the car. Pavements, cycle paths and public transport all mean that sustainable alternatives to the internal combustion engine car are generally viable. As such, it seems strange that such a concerted effort is being made to promote e-vehicles as a sustainable urban mobility. Cars are not necessarily needed, so the environmental argument for introducing them is weak. On the other hand, rural and sub-urban areas may offer a niche in which e-mobility could flourish as a sustainable means to address a genuine demand for mobility.

In addressing the topic of sustainable transport, we must pay more attention to the needs of those outside the city while those seeking to promote e-vehicles would do well to learn about rural dwellers and make an effort at dispelling preconceptions that e-mobility does not fit. This is what we have done in ENEVATE2.0 and we will provide more evidence for the viability of rural e-vehicles in due course.