- Myths about Electric Cars
- The Charging Infrastructure
- Why you should/shouldn’t buy an electric car
- Electric cars available in the UK
- Examples long journeys taken by cars at the Lewes show
- Car Sharing
MYTHS ABOUT ELECTRIC CARS
Myth: Source of Electricity – we shouldn’t drive electric cars because the electricity is coming from non-renewable sources of power.
Of course the source of the electricity has to be considered when determining overall efficiency. It is true that charging and EV with electricity made from burning coal is not as environmentally friendly as powering it with electricity made from wind turbines or solar panels. However coal has almost been phased out in the UK. Also, because of the efficiency of energy use of electric cars, a car using electricity generated solely by an oil-fired power station would use only two-thirds of the energy of a petrol car travelling the same distance.
So, although an electric car powered in this way is still ultimately burning the same fuel as the petrol car it replaces, it is burning much less of it. And although greenhouse gas emissions are similarly harmful wherever they occur, some other emissions which are harmful to human health are less dangerous when they happen at a power plant outside the city than at the roadside near schools and houses, as well as the environment in towns and cities being more pleasant.
Renewable sources of electricity made up about 33% of the power generated in the UK in 2018 and they are set to rise.
The diagram (left) compares the carbon footprint of electric driving using average grid electricity in a number of countries. The results are shown in terms of grams of equivalent carbon dioxide per vehicle kilometer (g CO2e/km). Each estimate includes emissions from vehicle manufacturing, power station combustion, upstream fuel production and grid losses.
The specs are based on a full electric vehicle, similar to a Nissan Leaf, using the 2009 average fuel mix in each country. For each country vehicle manufacturing emissions are assumed to be 70g CO2e/km, based on a number of studies detailed in the report.
It does show that where you are in the world and the primary source of energy affects the carbon footprint of driving an electric car.
Myth: Cost – they are more expensive
Although electric cars are much more expensive to buy, new research concluded that it is already cheaper to own and run an electric car in places like London where there are congestion charges than petrol or diesel alternatives.
The study examined the purchase, fuel and tax costs of Europe’s bestselling car, the VW golf, in its battery electric, hybrid, petrol and diesel versions. Over four years, the pure electric version was the cheapest in all places – UK (London), Germany, France, Netherlands and Norway – owing to a combination of lower taxes, fuel costs and subsidies on the purchase price.
Various reasons for the high price of buying an electric car include:
- Economies of scale, currently there’s a relatively low volume of sales.
- The cost of the batteries. It is both the raw materials in making them and the complex technical process in production.
- It is a relatively new technology. Just think that the ICE (internal combustion engine) has had 100 years of development and billions of dollars invested in it. It is a super cheap mass-produced manufacturing and distribution chain.
At some point, owners will be faced with replacing the battery which may cost more than the value of the vehicle. In reality, a well-maintained modern electric car should be able to achieve 150,000 miles and beyond before the battery begins to lose capacity, although this figure will reduce if a rapid-charger has been the predominant means of charging.
And the future?
Bloomberg New Energy Finance in their 2018 Electric Vehicle Report predicted that the purchase cost of EVs will become competitive on an unsubsidised basis starting in 2024. By 2029, most cars would be below ICE prices as battery prices continue to fall.
Myth: Electricity shortages – there is not enough electricity to power all the cars
National Grid has welcomed the plan to make electric or zero-emission cars and vans account for all new sales from 2040, but say the government and industry are now facing big decisions on how the extra power is to be provided and demand for it managed.
The grid calculated that, by 2030, electric cars could require 3.5 to 8 GW of additional capacity, on top of the current peak demand of 60GW. By comparison, the nuclear power station being built at Hinkley Point in Somerset will add 3.2GW of capacity to the system.
National Grid say the extra power would be generated from gas, windfarms, imports and nuclear reactors – not from coal, which is scheduled to disappear from the UK’s power mix by 2025 at the latest. Many of the new power could well come from us with far more people installing solar and batteries.
The lowest estimates of extra demand assume that drivers charge their cars at off-peak times. Smart meters and time-of-day tariffs could incentivise owners to charge when wind and solar power are plentiful and electricity is cheaper. Smart devices will have a big role to play such as in automatic time-shift charging, whereby a car plugged in at home at 6pm is not actually charged until the early hours of the morning, when demand is low.
StrategicFit, an energy consultancy, thinks a single electric car could earn its owner £1000-£2000 a year for helping the grid, depending on where it were located and how often it were plugged in.
And EV uptake could be a boon to the grid, by levelling out daily electricity demand and possibly even storing renewable energy in cars’ batteries, to be discharged when needed. This could even earn the driver a rebate. The government recently announced £20m of funding to support research on vehicle-to-grid technology.
Myth: ‘Whole-life” environmental impact – electric cars are no better for the environment than petrol cars
Although electric cars use less fuel energy, the vehicle manufacturing of a gasoline car is just 40g CO2e/km compared to 70g CO2e/km for the electric vehicle, according to a report. Of that, nearly half is incurred in producing the battery. So it’s important to look at the whole life-cycle of the car.
Locally, there’s little doubt that electric cars will help to make our towns and cities cleaner, quieter and more pleasant. In terms of their “whole-life” impact, much depends on where they are manufactured (eg Asia with its high dependence on coal as the energy source) and the source of energy in that manufacturing as well as the energy efficiency of the manufacturer. Whether the batteries are recycled is another factor.
A report by Ricardo has estimated that over its whole lifecycle, the electric car will be responsible for 80% of the emissions of the petrol car. For example, a typical medium sized family car will create around 24 tonnes of CO2 during its life cycle, while an electric vehicle (EV) will produce around 18 tonnes over its life.
Changes in battery technology, in particular the constituents, better battery recycling and improved manufacturing processes will no doubt lead to further improvements. Most of the major manufacturers of cars available in this country are trying to lessen their impact and bring the production emissions down.
Internationally, in particular in countries such as India and China, the source of electricity, ie a dependence on coal, makes it questionable at present whether electric cars are better overall for the environment.
In 2018, Chinese sales topped 1.1 million cars, more than 55% of all electric vehicles sold in the world. The Chinese government injects billions into the technology. Reasons include air pollution and dependence on imported oil.
THE CHARGING INFRASTRUCTURE
The fear of not being able to find a charger (often called range anxiety) is not so different to the early days of the petrol car and not being able to find a petrol station. The fear is overestimated because:
- There are now more EV charging points than petrol stations in the country. Numbers are increasing rapidly
- There are plenty of apps around to show you where the nearest charging station is
- Charging times are getting faster
- All EVs indicate how much power you have left just like a fuel gauge.
It is estimated that about 60% of uk dwellings have off street parking and 84% of UK drivers have access to off street parking at home.
However, at present only drivers with access to off-street parking can charge at home and the public charging infrastructure is generally poor.
The UK’s charging networks
There are at least 20 different companies and organisations installing and running nationwide or regional electric car charger networks in the UK. Other EV chargers which are installed and run independently may be available to users of larger networks too, or simply at the discretion of their owners.
Typically, EV charger networks are run by energy firms and other companies wanting a slice of future profits from the growing car charging business, or local authorities and organisations who are more environmentally-motivated.
The government is pumping nearly £40m into improving the infrastructure for electric vehicles. 12 projects were awarded money to trial solutions.
Charging at work
Most cars are parked for hours on end outside houses or offices, and it’s the perfect time to top up the battery so you have a full ‘tank’ whenever you need it. It is a huge opportunity and no doubt will be taken up.
Already four 350kW High Power chargers have been launched in Maidstone (M20 Junction 8) and new stations will be opened in Milton Keynes and Gretna Green. These points have been developed by IONITY, which is a joint venture between Daimler, Ford, BMW and the Volkswagen Group with Audi and Porsche. The company is aiming to install a total of 2,400 chargers installed by 2020, many of which will be equipped with these rapid chargers. The 350kW network will allow the car to be charged in less than 20 minutes and it claims that the ‘charging network is future-proofed, delivering infrastructure capable of charging times as low as 8 minutes depending on the capacity of the vehicle’s battery.’ One problem with this new technology is that currently no car can handle a charge rate of 350kW but as vehicles become updated over time the stations will be ready to provide faster charging.
The government has given £2.3m to a company called Char.gy, which is developing ways to deploy wireless charging technology on residential streets which would remove the need for trailing cables and additional infrastructure. It works by installing a pad on the underside of an electric car. Once that aligns with another pad hidden underneath the road surface, electricity is passed to the car via a process known as induction.
Public kerbside charge points
There is public funding available to install kerbside charge points, but it’s rarely spent by local authorities. This is because fitting genuine charge points on streets is very challenging and expensive. Urban Foresight has been awarded £3m of the government funding. to roll out “pop-up” chargers in two cities. These are built into the pavement and designed to help drivers without access to off-street parking.
Various companies are working to install streetlights with integrated EV charging points. but it doesn’t scale beyond 2 or 3 cars per circuit charging at a time and doesn’t address other issues, such as the parking bay being free when required.
Commercial car parking
Commercial car parks are largely empty overnight and busy during the day. These could work 24hours with a small fee on top of the energy costs. The same could be done with empty retail parking spaces at night. The fees could rise as the shop opens, encouraging drivers to leave the charge point before it gets busy.
The ultimate solution??
The arrival of fully autonomous features into our cars could offer two solutions.
Those without home chargers will now be able to send their cars somewhere to charge. Those without off street parking may well be the amongst the first to ditch their cars, opting instead for ride-hailing very inexpensive autonomous vehicles (AVs) for their vehicular mobility needs. This will further reduce the scale of the challenge.
Developing the capacity to charge the AVs (largely overnight during fleet redundancy) will be its own challenge, but can avoid some of the current pitfalls and that provision will solve the on-street charging issue forever.
Most manufacturers now give a warranty for their batteries of around 8 years or 100,000 miles. After this time they won’t fail, just reduce the charge they can hold. It is extremely unlikely that a car’s battery will degrade to the point that it actually needs replacing. Nissan says it has only ever had to replace a handful of Leaf batteries despite there being thousands of models on the roads.
A group of Tesla owners in Europe reported about a 5% drop in battery capacity by the 50,000-mile mark but then the degradation slowed. On average, cars with 160,000 miles on them still had 90% of their battery capacity remaining. Projecting forward from the real world data available, a Tesla battery should still have 80% battery capacity after 500,000 miles of driving, the group claims.
Most electric vehicle batteries are lithium based and rely on a mix of cobalt, manganese, nickel, and graphite and other primary components. Some of these materials are harder to find than others, in particular cobalt. There isn’t enough cobalt in the world to replace all existing cars with battery electric cars based on current battery technology, but this will no doubt change.
Tesla is leading the way in new technology and responsible manufacture of batteries. They are committed to sourcing materials only from North America.
The global market growth in electric vehicles may well exacerbate the race for more natural resources at the expense of natural reserves, environmental standards and human rights. For example, over 60% of the global supply for cobalt comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo, which has a very poor human rights track record.
Changing battery technology
Manufacturers are of course aware of the difficulties with the nature of the materials they have to use and millions are being invested in alternative battery technologies. Most research is focusing on improving the existing lithium-ion battery. For example, Tesla are now using a quarter of the amount of cobalt in their batteries compared with VW; they hope to reduce it to zero.
Solid-state batteries are one hope for the future, as they’re much less flammable and potentially even more efficient than current lithium-ion cells. BMW, Dyson and Toyota are just some of the manufacturers who have stated that they’ll be using solid-state batteries in the near future.
Another solution being investigated is sodium-ion batteries, which operate in much the same way as lithium-ion. Sodium is cheaper and far more abundant than lithium, so if sodium-ion batteries can be brought up to the same performance levels as li-ion it could be a good solution.
Vehicle battery packs when they are deemed too worn out for driving can still have up to 80 percent of their charge left. So before even being considered for recycling these batteries can be used to prop up the grid, especially alongside energy sources that may not be regular, like wind or solar power. They can also store power to help with the peak demands of energy during the day.
They are also being used as power storage for domestic and commercial buildings. For example Nissan recently launched the largest power storage facility in Europe to use both new and used car batteries; the Johan Cruyff Arena in Amsterdam (above) uses 63 second-hand EV battery packs and 85 new battery packs, which feed off of 4,200 solar panels on the stadium roof.
Unlike lead or nickel-based batteries, lithium-ion batteries can be difficult to recycle. More than 90% of batteries used in conventional cars are recycled, versus less than 5% of lithium-ion batteries. This is partly due to the fact that the recycling processes are still catching up with the changing battery technology but it is also because currently lithium-ion batteries are generally not worth recycling because of the difficulties of the recycling process and the value of the lithium and other materials in the battery.
The recycling of lithium-ion batteries is in its infancy but will take off as the demand rises. Belgium-based company, Umicore, is one of the businesses already offering recycling for lithium-ion batteries. It reclaims the valuable metals using a combination of pyro- and hydro-metallurgy, and while the company currently runs a pilot plant, it can still recycle
While battery development continues at a fast pace, material recovery remains significantly underdeveloped. Currently, the prevalent recycling method for LIBs is pyro-metallurgy. However, it is associated with high energy requirements, adverse environmental impacts, and low metal recovery.
around 35,000 EV batteries per year. And the legal framework will provide an impetus for example, an EU directive states that 50% (by weight) of the batteries used in electric cars must be recyclable.
Tesla plans to recycle its batteries to the point where it hopes that the reclaimed materials would negate the need to mine new metals.
Why you should buy an electric car
- ELECTRIC CARS = CLEAN AIR. Surface transport now holds the dubious crown of being the sector that emits the most greenhouse gas emissions in the UK. Of these emissions, cars, vans and HGVs account for almost 90%. Cars alone account for over 50%. Air quality in many of our towns and cities is at dangerous levels in places. We desperately need to move away from the internal combustion engine for our health.
- They are capable of using renewable energy rather than fossil fuels. Renewables made up 33% of energy production in 2018 and is increasing. Many people with solar panels have electric cars, solar panels being an environmentally effective way of powering them.
- The materials being used in the manufacture of electric cars and the way they are manufactured are generally more environmentally friendly than a petrol car, apart from the batteries. Many of the newest models have interior parts made from recyclable materials, such as the seats, door trim panels and dash. For example, BMW says that a quarter of the interior of its electric i3 car is made of recycled plastics and renewable materials – while 95% of the car can be recycled. The eco-friendly production also ensures that waste is reduced when these materials are dismantled and recovered at the end of a car’s life.
- After a battery has worn out in a car, it can be used elsewhere as it’ll still have approximately 70-80% of its original energy capacity. It is also possible to recycle much of the material in them. The technology is changing fast in terms of environmental impact so that materials, manufacture and recycling/re-use of batteries will improve.
- Over time you will be better off. Electric cars are already cheaper to own than a conventional ICE car over a four year period.
- Most EV drivers do not find charging too much of a problem. The infrastructure is catching up fast to meet the demand and some kind of on-street solution will no doubt be found for those without a driveway.
Why you shouldn’t buy an electric car
- This is a slightly tongue in cheek statement because yes, if you are going to buy a new car, buy an electric car, it’s environmentally preferable. But should you be buying a new car? Why not get a second hand car so reducing the huge environmental cost of manufacture as well as the cost to you?
- And should you be buying your own car at all? Any car is going to have a significant environmental impact, even with electricity coming from renewable sources, because of its manufacture and costs to the environment of the mining of raw materials. 95% of the time a car sits idle, so it is a huge waste of resources. There is also significant pollution on our roads from tyre and brake This is not only an air pollutant but also gets washed down our drains and into our water sources.
- If we are to meet our net zero target by 2050 it is unlikely that we shall be able to use cars as we do now with every one of us having their own personal car. Already it is now often cheaper not to own a car and take taxis or hire a car when needed. Self-driving automated cars will be with us before long and could well be a solution to our desire for personal transport on demand. And there is car sharing, easier now with apps and insurance and a way to earn extra money from your car.
- There are quite distinct benefits of not having a car: the cost especially the initial outlay, the freeing up of space at home, one less possession to keep repaired and safe and health benefits when instead of nipping out in the car to buy a pint of milk, you walk.
- We can make it work without our individual cars, it may just be that we need to change our mindset and attitude to ownership.
ELECTRIC CARS AVAILABLE IN THE UK
- Nissan Leaf
- Renault Zoe
- Tesla Model 3
- Tesla Model X
- Tesla Model S
- Kia Soul
- Kia e-Niro
- Hyundai Kona
- Hundai Ioniq
- Audi e-TroN
- Mercedes EQC
- BMW i3
- Volkswagen e-Golf
- Smart EQ
- VW E-up!
Cars due to be available soon
There are too many to list but most of the main manufacturers such as VW, Seat, Skoda, Honda, Peugeot and even Porsche have plans for electric cars over the next 6-12 months. An important one is the MG ZS which should start shipping in September – it will be the cheapest new electric car you can buy. Look at autocar.co.uk for a comprehensive list.
Hybrid cars available
There are again too many to list but Toyota, Audi, Mini, Golf, Kia, Lexus, BMW, Mitsubishi, Hyundai, Mercedes and Volvo all do versions.
EXAMPLE REAL LONG-DISTANCE JOURNEYS
TAKEN BY CARS AT THIS SHOW
- Family holiday from Brighton to the Lake District. 300+ miles each way – Hyundai Ioniq
- Burwash (Sussex) to Mojácar (Spain) 1500 miles in two days – Tesla Model S 75D
- 585 miles each way to Angouleme in France – 94ah BMW i3 BEV
- A day trip to Horsey Gap and back home. 500 miles – 27 kWh Kia Soul
- A 614 mile round trip to Milford Haven – 2nd hand 4 year old 24kWh Nissan Leaf
- Worthing to Inverness – 22kwh Renault Zoe
- Shoreham-by-Sea to Kilkenny via Hollyhead-Dublin, then onto Cork and back – Kia e-Niro.
The future for individual transport?
Car sharing could become the norm in fighting traffic congestion, as well as saving costs and reducing emissions.
A study in 2018 found that the average car owner spends about 9 hours a week behind the wheel of their car. The rest of the time, some 159 hours the car is parked and idle. Also the average car was found to lose 60% of its value by the end of the third year. And average ownership costs are around £1000 a year. Many of us are prepared to spend a small fortune on our cars but never use them to their full potential.Car sharing contributes to a more sustainable future. According to one forecast a single car used by car sharing schemes could eliminate the need for 12.5 cars. Additionally, several providers are now offering electric cars.
Road-traffic forecasts predict congestion could increase by as much as 55 per cent in the next 25 years, hitting urban areas and cities hardest.
Car sharing may well become more prevalent as people realise how much they can save and how much less stress is involved. The availability, flexibility and ease of using shared cars has come on leaps and bounds. You only have to look at the rise of ride-hailing platforms like Uber to see how popular this is becoming, particularly among younger drivers. Nowadays in many places you can have access to a car at all times at the touch of a button on an app.
Car sharing contributes to a more sustainable future. According to one forecast a single car used by car sharing schemes could eliminate the need for 12.5 cars. Additionally, several providers are now offering electric cars.
Types of car sharing
Commercial car sharing
This involves transportation providers who rent out vehicles professionally. Unlike traditional car rental operations, car sharing companies often calculate the rates for their services based on the precise number of minutes or miles driven.
Examples: Co-wheels (four cars in Lewes), Zipcar, Enterprise car club.
Person-to-person car sharing (also known as peer-to-peer car sharing)
With peer-to-peer car sharing, individuals simply share a car with other users. They coordinate via private networks, car pool agencies and apps. This business model is closely aligned with traditional car clubs, but replaces a typical fleet with a virtual one made up of vehicles from private participating owners who charge a fee to rent out their vehicles when they are not using them.
Examples: easyCar Club, Drivy, Hiya Car
Ride sharing is a collective term for rides shared by individuals. One person drives their car a certain route and takes along another person who wants to go to the same destination. Opportunities for ride shares (or lift shares) are generally found and settled via websites or apps.
Examples: Liftshare, BlaBlaCar
Sharing doesn’t necessarily mean settling for less. Users can see it as a solution that offers a high degree of flexibility so they will always receive the precise form of transportation they require. For many users this is combined with lower transport costs and a considerate use of scarce resources – including parking spaces in the city.
Traditional sharing options
There are of course additionally rental cars, though these may be restricted as to pick up and drop off times. Taxis and Uber provide flexibility but are generally more expensive than ride sharing options.