Super charge: Nissan have just launched a prototype of their new electric car, the Leaf

ELECTRIC vehicles with batteries charged by low cost wind power are a step closer as the government has decided to put money behind zero emission travel. The Nissan/Renault alliance has joined forces with the government and the ESB to launch battery-powered vehicles and buyers are being given a €5,000 grant to join the programme. There is also a VRT exemption.

The government announcement comes as Nissan launced a prototype of their Leaf electric vehicle which will travel 160 km at 120 km/h for just €2 worth of electricity from an overnight eight hour charge from a domestic supply. The same journey in an internal combustion -powered car would cost €20.

The Leaf electric vehicle is noiseless and has no emissions. In a brief test drive in County Kildare the electric motor created no vibration, there were no exhaust emissions and driving controls for forward and reverse came from a simple lever movement on the centre console.

Power to wheels is instant and acceleration is quick . The long life battery pack is housed under the car floor and the plug for topping up is in the hose of the bonnet.

The domestic charge comes through an ordinary plug. For those on longer journeys there are plans for charge-up stations. These quick-charge stations will give an 80 per cent battery fill-up charge in 20 minutes.

Minister for energy and natural resources Eamon Ryan wants at least 2,000 electric vehicles on our roads by the end of 2011. He has plans to have 10 per cent of the national vehicles' fleet of 230,000 vehicles running on battery power by 2020. He points to huge savings if we used wind power.

The electric car lobby has some hurdles to cross such as initial vehicle costs. It is estimated that EVs will initially cost about the same price as the Toyota Prius (around €26,000). But prices are expected to drop dramatically as the technology develops. Sales of the Leaf start in the USA and Japan later this year. Ireland and Portugal are the first European countries to getvehicle supplies. Ireland was picked as a pioneer country because of the Nissan/Renault alliance with the ESB and is a small island with limited distances between major urban centres.

The ESB has installed four charging points in Dublin and plans 1,000 charging sites within a year . There will be 3,500 charging points by the end of 2011 . Dublin city and county will get 500 chargers. There will be 135 in Cork and 45 in Waterford and Galway. Initially there will be a charging point in every town with a population over 1,500. There will be 30 fast charge points by the end of next year on major inter-urban routes 60 km apart.