Electric cars could be on the streets of Birmingham by this time next year as part of a Government trial of the new green technology.
Motor city Birmingham, in a joint bid with Coventry, is bidding for the pilot demonstration project. If successful, the cash will be invested in the cars, power points and infrastructure needed to put the pioneering new technology to the test on the city’s streets - with the public encouraged to try them out.
A spokesman for the Government’s Technology Strategy Board said: “We want to see how the cars will cope in the real world and are offering funding for demonstration projects.
“We have asked consortia of local authorities, manufacturers, power suppliers and data-logging firms to come forward with bids and we will co-fund their projects.”
The Board is expected to announce up to ten pilot schemes early next month and will back them with cash from a £20million pool.
Birmingham is among the bidders and with its motor city reputation and position at the heart of the motorway network, is among the front-runners. A City Council spokesman said: “We are bidding to run electric car demonstrators on the streets of Birmingham.
“We believe we have the necessary technology, skills and manufacturing base to ensure we would deliver a highly successful pilot project.”
He said that a manufacturing partner has been lined up for the pilot, but they were unable to name them at this stage.
At present, the city has only two electric car power points, one at the International Convention Centre and the other at Aston University, where pioneering research into the technology is taking place.
Increases in the power and long life of batteries, as well as reductions in their size and weight has seen vast improvements in the range and performance of electric car and while they could be charged from domestic electricity supplies, motorists would also need superchargers available on the street.
This project would see them installed which could then encourage more motorists to use electric cars. Electric charging points could resemble parking meters at strategic points, with a cable link attached and the charge going direct to the energy company, or could be based at existing petrol stations and key car parks.
Environmentalists said plans to increase the amount of electric cars will not make the nation any greener. Chris Williams, from the West Midlands Green Party, said that unless the electricity to power cars came from renewable resources, Britain would not become any greener.
His comments came as Rail Minister Lord Adonis confirmed that the Government had no immediate plans to increase renewable energy sources to cope with the demand for the cars. He said: “Our key priority at the moment is to stimulate a market for electric cars.
“That market does not exist but we have announced cash incentives to create that market.
“When it comes to the issue of power generation, we will address that, but we believe this first generation of cars will not require additional energy.”
He also spoke about the use of smarter technology and ‘charging cars at night’ as a way of making sure the current electricity grid is capable of coping with the additional demand.
The Government has announced subsidies of up to £5,000 to encourage drivers to buy electric and hybrid cars but Green Party European Election candidate Chris Williams said current electricity demands were largely met through coal-powered stations, which do nothing for the environment.
“The Government is still investing in coal-fired power stations, which is how we get our electricity for these new cars, which is not very green,” he said.
“We’re not in favour of this scheme as it does little to address that problem. “What we’re doing is moving people from oil-powered cars, through petrol, to coal powered cars, through electricity.
“There is no progress at all and we need to be moving towards greener forms of energy.
“This may be a step in the right direction, but a better way forward would be to reduce the amount of cars on the road as you’ll still have congestion problems, whether cars are electric or not.”
The subsidies are part of the Government’s £250m plan to promote low-carbon transport over the next five years but ministers do not expect the cars to hit the showrooms until 2011.
The Government believes there is huge potential to reduce emissions, with less than 0.1 per cent of the UK’s 26 million cars now electric.