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Electric Vehicles: Good or Bad?

Author: Philip Adams

Every day we seem to see more and more in the media about electric cars. We are told that they are the future, but are they, and, if they are, should they be? That’s a hard question for the person in the street to answer so this article is aimed at guiding readers to consider the benefits and the downside of ‘going electric’.

Much of the media reporting on electric cars has arisen since last year, when the UK Government launched its policy called The Road to Zero to make road transport cleaner as part of a "growing green UK economy." Among other things the policy aims to end the sale of petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2040. So, what does this mean for people? Even if you think you can afford an electric vehicle (EV) now, should you rush out and buy one? It’s not that easy to decide and you need to consider the benefits and disadvantages of having an EV before you decide.

No good decision can be made until you understand the different types of EVs and how they work. An EV? What’s that? Today many of us know that an EV means an electric vehicle, but what about the other, awful, acronyms (such as BEV PHEV EREV and FCEV) used when describing them? Let’s forget the acronyms and call all electric cars ultra-low emission vehicles, not ULEVs, yet another hideous acronym. However, low emission, the LE bit, is the key phrase: new cars or vans must emit less than 75 grams of CO2 from the tailpipe per kilometre driven to be considered an EV by the UK government.

In this article we will consider the benefits and concerns both for drivers and for society as a whole to decide whether electric vehicles are the future, and if they are, should they be?

Concerns for the driver

Apart from understanding what acronyms mean, prospective drivers may have other concerns to sort out before they decide whether or not to embark on an EV. The first concern is where to get the information they need to help them to decide, with the costs of buying, running and servicing an electric car perhaps being the most important. They also need to know the range the vehicle will travel on a charge and charging point availability on the journeys they wish to make. Some wish to know whether they can tow a caravan using a hybrid or electric car. The life of batteries was also a question at one time. Many of these concerns fade as potential drivers become better informed and as most manufacturers are now committed to produce electric vehicles and the vehicle and battery supply is less of a problem, too.

Buying a car

One useful website that may be helpful when you are considering buying an electric car os Go Ultra Low. The site provides impartial advice from a partnership of Government and SMMT (Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders). It has a an EV car selector, and magazines such as Driving Electric currently offer assessments of 70+ electric vehicles of different types and predict the introduction of another 150 new models in the next three years.

Charging an EV

How you charge an EV and the length of time it takes is a key question. Whether you charge at home or at a public charging station, the cost depends on when and where you charge and how much charge you need. Many people do most of their charging at home where they have installed wall-box chargers. Others, who have to use on street parking, may soon be able to plug into public charge points on lamp posts.

At present most public charging is likely to be carried out on principal routes or at motorway service stations. On principal routes you are more likely to find 7kW free-standing charges and 50kW rapid chargers on motorways.

What are the purchase and running costs?

In the UK the least polluting electric vehicles are still eligible for an OLEV (government) plug-in car grant as an incentive to switch. For Category 1 cars this is up to £3,500.These are cars which can travel up to 70 miles without producing CO2. In other words - all-electric. The government also offers up to £500 to install a home charging wall-box for all electric and plug-in hybrids.

Although electric cars are costlier to buy at present, they are cheaper than petrol or diesel vehicles in the long-run regarding servicing, fuel and tax costs. There is no vehicle excise duty on a fully electric car because they emit no CO2. EVs are also cheaper to maintain because they have fewer moving parts. Cars and vans provided by a company for private use on all EVs attract a benefit-in-kind tax which is lowest for fully electric vehicles.

7kW home chargers are most popular. On a 7kW home charger using electricity at 14.5p per kW, it (theoretically) takes about 5.7 hours to charge a 40kW Nissan Leaf from 0-100%. Adding 40 kW in this way costs about 4p a mile for the 150-160 miles added.

Some public chargers have a monthly subscription with a card to access the charger, some attract a fee to use, some you pay-as-you go whilst many are free. For new drivers it can be difficult to decide how to proceed with different systems but the good news is that the government intend to standardise how new public charge-points are accessed.

Ownership matters

Electric cars have as much manufacturer’s warranty cover as petrol and diesel models. All batteries degrade but when their performance falls below 70-75% of original makers repair or replace, whether leased or owned. Used electric cars are now entering the market and may be attractive to many. Insurance costs for both new and used may be slightly higher because there are no technicians yet trained at independent garages to work on electric and hybrid cars

To help during your ownership the website Go Ultra Low offers tools such as a Journey cost calculator, a journey range calculator a charge-point map and a home charge tool. www.nextgreencar.com is a commercial site offering similar services.

Maximising range

Most electric vehicles available on the market today have a typical range of over 100 miles. However, how far you can go on one charge largely depends on how you drive the car. Driving the car in the most efficient way maximises the car's range and ensures driver satisfaction. For planning journeys and finding the location and type of charger you need, Zap Map is useful.

Concerns for others

The substitution of internal combustion powered vehicles by electric may not all be positive. The electricity supply infrastructure could become inadequate. If cheaper vehicles mean more vehicles, then non-tailpipe emissions from tyres and road would certainly increase. Vehicle usage and congestion might increase, too.

Benefits for the driver

Benefits for the electric car owner are clear, particularly the reduced running costs arising from electric energy and less expensive maintenance. If, in addition, solar panels and battery storage are used as part of a smart-charging and metering system the owner not only benefits from cheaper car running costs, advantage may also be taken of storing cheap solar power when it is needed or selling the power into the national grid.

Benefits for society

Internal combustion engines are around 20% efficient with non-renewable fuel, whereas electric vehicles are over 90% efficient with increasingly renewable sourcing of energy. More electric vehicles at the expense of petrol and diesels reduce tailpipe emissions and this mean less polluting carbon compounds go into the atmosphere. It also means cheaper electricity as solar photovoltaic costs are halving annually and solar capacity at the same time doubling. Spare energy from the solar panels used to charge vehicles is increasingly being stored and used in the home as an alternative to grid power. The point will arise soon when unsubsidised roof top-generated solar power will be cheaper than power transmitted from elsewhere.

The growth in the uptake of electric vehicles in the industrialised world has come about because of the disruption to internal combustion engine technology caused by the convergence of solar energy power and computer technology for transportation. The application of computing power and laser/radar technology to electric vehicles will enable manually-operated vehicles to become driverless. Most Uber-type car services today are at the pre-electric stage of this development, but the convergence has wider implications for transport than just the widespread introduction of electric cars and even wider consequences for society than just transportation. 

Any car is expensive and, as they are parked for 95% of their time, the young are now questioning the concept of car ownership. Will car ownership become obsolete? People’s mobility requirements can be met by integrated public, shared and private transport services via on-demand smartphone apps, using a system that integrates the planning, booking and paying for travel. This provision of transport services is known as MaaS (Mobility as a Service). The House of Commons Transport Committee believes that the Road to Zero focuses too much on the growth of electric and autonomous vehicles. It has not yet recognised the extent of the role MaaS could play in transforming mobility, delivering truly integrated transport solutions, or the wider benefits this could bring, for example by helping to reduce congestion on our roads, demand for public parking spaces and encouraging healthier, more active travel choices.

Conclusions

EVs are the immediate future, providing their energy sourcing is renewable. Most who drive their own car should therefore be considering electric if they are to replace a car soon, whether for financial or ecological reasons. There will be a reducing choice of non-electric cars until 2040 from when only a diminishing number of used petrol and diesels will be available. Many will still wish to drive in the traditional way without the automated control features that are gradually appearing on many cars. In the longer-term, others will choose to surrender some control to automation, as many have already done.

MaaS still has some concerns to be resolved before it can be adopted widespread. In the longer term it will be an essential feature of urban conglomerations and beyond. Not just car drivers, but the whole of society, can benefit from these developments if they are properly introduced and managed.

We can therefore conclude that the extensive media coverage of electric cars is presently justified. Electric vehicles are the future for personal road transport and, as substitutes for internal combustion engines, their use should be encouraged, along with other measures, to reduce pollution and atmospheric warming. They are a good thing, but in future they may be replaced with a better thing: Mobility as a Service.

Philip is a member of Ludlow 21 Sustainable Transport Group.


The publisher is the Centre for Welfare Reform.

Electric Vehicles: Good or Bad? © Philip Adams 2019.

All Rights Reserved. No part of this paper may be reproduced in any form without permission from the publisher except for the quotation of brief passages in reviews.