Electric Vehicles (EVs) have been a media focal point for the last few years, but are they the preferred transport mode of the future?
Thanks to new technologies the electric vehicle industry is growing rapidly. This has led to EVs which can go further per charge, for less money than traditional fuel powered vehicles. EVs were even mentioned in the Queen’s speech in April 2017 and now the UK government has proposed a ban on the production of petrol and diesel vehicles by 2040!
In this section we will give you the lowdown on what electric vehicles are, how they work, and a brief history of this not-so-new future of transport.
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What is an Electric Vehicle?
An EV is exactly what you might think it is. A vehicle propelled by an electric motor, rather than a traditional petrol or diesel engine. The electric motor is powered by rechargeable batteries that can be charged using household mains electricity via an EV charge point at home or at a more powerful EV charge station at work or in the street.
How do they work?
There are a few types of EV technology, the most common are plug-in electric hybrid vehicles (PHEV), range extender electric vehicles (REEVs) and battery electric vehicles (BEVs). In this introduction, we’re going to be focusing more on the latter: BEVs. However, we’ll tell you a little bit about the hybrids too because we’re good like that.
Battery electric vehicles
Battery electric vehicles use electricity, which is stored in a battery pack to power an electric motor and turn the wheels. When depleted, the batteries are recharged using grid electricity from a dedicated charging unit. You refuel the EV by plugging it into the charging unit or charging station, much like charging a mobile phone.
Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles
The same technology exists in hybrid vehicles, alongside a small petrol or diesel engine that also connects to turn the wheels when the battery is depleted. This powers the car at cruising speed, and batteries either provide power until depleted or extra power when accelerating. Batteries can recharge themselves when the car is decelerating or when plugged in. Hybrid technology means less pollution from the exhaust pipe, and can save you money if you charge the battery before each journey.
Range Extender Electric Vehicle
With the range extender vehicles, the petrol or diesel engine only kicks in when the battery is depleted, and instead of supplying locomotion to the wheels it instead recharges the battery which drives the car forward through the electric motor. The combustion engine is designed to be used on the odd occasions that the journey is too far for the electric battery to satisfy, and helps to alleviate some concerns with range limitations of battery electric vehicles.
A different way of thinking
Due to their sustainability and cheaper running costs, electric vehicles are likely to be the way of the future. However, they require a slight change in how we think about vehicles in general.
Currently, you only put fuel in your car when it runs out. If your fuel is getting low, you go to a petrol station, fill it back up and drive off. However, electric vehicles aren’t really designed for petrol station refills as they take a few hours to recharge.
What’s the solution? Charging when you’re not using your EV.
To put it simply, think of EVs in the same way you think about your mobile phone – you usually charge it when you’re not using it (overnight, whilst at work etc.).
You would need to have a charging station installed at your house, so you can charge your vehicle when you’re at home. Likewise, charging stations will eventually be set up at destination points like car parks and work places so you can recharge the vehicle while you’re not using it, instead of sitting at a petrol station for 4 hours.
In fact, governing bodies of the EU have proposed that all new and refurbished buildings with parking space for more than 10 cars should have to have an electric vehicle charging point on the premises (source: EULegislation).
There will still likely be charging points at petrol stations but these will be rapid charge units to give your electric vehicle a blast of power whilst you’re having a travel break.
So, when the Queen suggested that there will be electric vehicle charging points at every fuel station, she could have been trying to make sure that we had a safety net for the odd occasions we 'get caught short'. 95% of the EV charging takes place where your vehicle spends 95% of its total life time, at destinations you frequently spend time: work places, hotels and your house.
A brief history of electric vehicles
Electric vehicles are nothing new. At the start of the automotive revolution in the late 1890s, a defining battle, similar to that of VHS vs. Betamax, or HD vs. BluRay, took place. Electric cars fought side by side against internal combustion engine (petrol) vehicles to become the first choice to power the way forward for mankind. In fact, at that time there were roughly twice as many electric vehicles as there were petrol ones.
EVs enjoyed notable successes, including being the first vehicles to achieve a speed of over 62mph (100kmh) in the all-electric La Jamais Contente in 1899, driven by Belgian race car driver Camille Jenatzy. However, overriding factors still familiar today meant that fossil-fuel won the overall battle for adoption. The reason was that electric cars were limited by their range, which in 1890 was just a few miles. In addition, in 1912 the electric starter motor was developed for petrol cars, eliminating the traditional drawback of petrol cars: having to use a hand crank to get the car moving! In the end, petrol vehicles were deemed to be the better choice to replace horse power. Although horses were cheaper, went further and faster for a long time, combustion engine vehicles were more convenient to refuel and thanks to the likes of Henry Ford (who mass produced the Ford Model T), the overall purchase price for cars was lowered.
There have been several attempts over the last 100 years to revive the initial successes enjoyed by electric cars in the 1890s and early 20th century. However, they were mostly one offs, concept cars and individual engineering projects.
Developments throughout the 20th century have resulted in more simple and efficient electric cars, which is why EVs have a good chance of taking over as the “standard vehicle” over the next few decades.
In the last decade, there has been more interest in electric vehicles than ever before. Tesla’s Roadster, which went on sale in 2008, was a game changer for the industry. The attractive design and extended range appealed to a larger market than previously and encouraged competitors, such as Nissan and Chevrolet, to launch their own models.
Read the next part of our introduction to electric vehicles for information on the financial side; how much they cost to buy, run and how far they can go per charge.
A guide to costs and running
One of the big questions surrounding EVs is their range and how much they cost to own and run. We will give you the lowdown on how far EVs can go per charge and how much they cost.
How far do they go per charge?
The big question: how far can an electric vehicle go on one charge? Well, it depends on the EV your heart desires. The majority of today’s EVs can travel about 100-130 miles per charge, though some of the more expensive models have a range of up to around 335 miles per charge, with the perceived distance of a 200 mile range being psychologically significant to today’s car drivers. Prices vary hugely.
100 miles or so might not sound like much on paper, but how far do you usually travel per day? The average UK commuter travels 18 miles per day to get to work and back (source: The Telegraph). By that standard, the average EV would only need charging in full once every 7 days.
As EVs work off a very different power source to petrol or diesel, our attitudes to refilling have to change. Electric vehicles are more like battery powered electronic devices (like your phone or tablet), so they are designed to be charged when they aren’t being used. This means that you would usually charge them overnight or whilst at work – therefore, concerns about the range EVs can go before being recharged isn’t as big of an issue as it used to be.
How do I pay for fuel?
Paying for fuel will be another cultural shift from petrol or diesel. Your fuel will become part of your home energy bill. You will likely see a slight increase on your monthly bill, but at a faction of the cost of the amount you spend at the pumps today.
Some energy providers are working out new tariffs that account for EV charging. The general idea is that an EV tariff would take into account the need for additional home power consumption and make charging cheaper than it would be on a none EV tuned tariff, or relate recharging periods to cheaper tariff rates – for example, making charging after 10pm cheaper (like with an economy 7 tariff).
So what about charging away from home? There is a downside here. Currently, there is a growth in the number of public EV charge stations, but more are needed and the industry is working on a common standard for how the public accesses all the charge points. It is anticipated that it would work like this: if you charge at your provider's station you pay the standard price you agreed to in your tariff, but if you use a different provider’s charge station it may be slightly more expensive. However, EVs have a much stronger focus on charging at home. Charging away from home would not be the main way to charge – it would be more of a backup.
The most commonly quoted challenge to buying EVs is the upfront cost, however prices were predicted to drop by a further 40% in 2017, and with over 80% of new cars being bought on finance, the argument is evaporating quickly (source: carsuk).
EVs range from a few thousand pounds for electric motorcycles and e-bikes up to £130k+ for a top of the range luxury car. There is a portfolio of vehicles to suit different markets, such as the Chevrolet Bolt EV which boasts 238 miles per charge and costs roughly £30k, through to the Tesla Model S that can go 335 miles per charge, with prices starting from £57k. As you can see, the prices and ranges vary – just like with a traditional petrol or diesel vehicle. Prices have come down greatly as battery prices have fallen, and automobile manufacturers are heading towards providing electric engine versions of all their models in the next few years.
One of the biggest advantages to EVs is that the fuel is extremely cheap in comparison to traditional petrol/diesel vehicles, each full charge currently only costs about £3, depending on battery size and charge location. However, due to the way electric cars are charged (overnight, at work etc.) it is very unlikely that you would ever charge it in full. You would be more likely to top it up a little every day.
Just to put that into perspective – the average UK car owner clocks up 7,800 miles per year, which would be roughly 60 full charges. So at £3 a charge, that could cost you as little as £180 a year on fuel. Just let that sink in a minute. Even if you drive double the national average and travel 16,000 miles a year, that’s still potentially only £360 a year, compared to approximately £2400 for fuel to travel the same distance in a diesel or petrol vehicle.
EVs are also cheaper to maintain as they have less moving parts – so running them could be a lot cheaper, and there are currently grants from OLEV (Office for Low Emission Vehicles) for newly registered EVs.
Something to consider would be the cost of installing a home charging station. At the moment many energy companies are selling and installing them for about £200, but that won’t last forever. Eventually, the installation price could increase, as presently there is government funding for up to 75% of your charging station fee (source: which.co.uk).
EVs are excluded from paying car tax at the moment, they are excluded from London congestion charge, and qualify for a number of other local taxes and fees. They are also cheap to maintain, refuel, and are becoming increasingly attractive in the used car market as the manufacturers are extending warranties and providing guaranteed residual values at the end of leasing periods.
If you are a company car driver then you’ll likely have an emissions related tax. However, as EVs have an emissions tax of as little as 7% and traditional fossil fuel cars average at around 20%, you are likely to save money by opting for the EV (source: HMRC).
Continue reading for information on the environmental and health benefits of EVs and how you can get your hands on one.
Electric Vehicles, The Environment, and Our Health
A huge question surrounding Electric Vehicles (EVs) are the environmental implications, but what are the environmental benefits and could they have a positive effect on your health and those around you?
Thanks to new technologies the electric vehicle industry is growing rapidly. Electric vehicles (EVs) can go further per charge to the point of covering 95% of all travel without public charging points, and all at a lower cost than traditional fuel driven vehicles.
Before EVs evolved to become plug-in EVs, there was controversy in the media surrounding their green credentials, however, as they can now be plugged in and recharged using renewable electricity sources, their green credentials are much clearer.
EVs are one part of a wider picture, as we still have to generate electricity for these vehicles and today some sources of electricity generation still cause pollution. However, EVs pollute a lot less than petrol or diesel vehicles, and renewable energy is currently the fastest growing section of the electricity market contributing 36.2% of all generation today. Overall, little doubt remains that EVs are better for the environment than petrol or diesel cars (source: The Guardian).
Here are some facts about EVs and the environment:
- EVs are charged using mains electricity, therefore they show a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions– the figures suggest a reduction of around 40% compared to a small petrol car (source: nextgreencar.com).
- As mentioned above, currently renewable electricity represents a significant proportion of the UK power grid and this percentage increases every year.
- Pure EVs themselves have zero emissions. Therefore, the air quality directly around you and in cities should improve (source: nextgreencar.com).
- Today, most EV batteries are made from lithium, so there could be a negative impact in the areas where lithium is mined, although most automotive manufacturers now police the provenance of their manufacturing material.
To summarise, if everyone used an electric vehicle and the electricity they were running on was mostly renewable, then the air quality could be better than it has been in over 200 years and the impact on global warming would be reduced (source: greencarreports).
Petrol/diesel car exhaust fumes can damage your lungs because of the fossil fuels they burn, but electric cars don’t burn fossil fuels. Combustion engine emissions can lead to respiratory illnesses such as pneumonia, emphysema, bronchitis etc., and even cancer. However, an electric car doesn’t generate these types of emissions.
Taken overall, and given that current road transport is responsible for a significant amount of emissions of nitrogen oxides, the impact on human health is likely to be reduced within urban areas due to the fact that most EVs are zero-emission at the point of use (source: sciencedirect).
There have been some articles in the media regarding possible risks caused by electromagnetic fields (EMFs) generated by electric motors. However, these are not accurate and given the shielding and distance in the cars from the electromagnetic field generated by the motors, and the presence of similar strength EMFs occurring in the natural world, the links appear improbable, and there is no proof at this moment in time (source: sciencedirect).
How can I get an EV?
Before you look at getting an EV there are a few factors to consider:
- Do you want to go fully electric or get a hybrid? Hybrids are probably better if you live in rural areas or need a larger vehicle, but fully EVs are greener, more fuel efficient, and grants are offered with them. EVs are currently smaller vehicles and are best suited to city driving at the moment.
- You may be eligible for a plug-in car grant - Government-backed grants are available through OLEV (Office for Low Emission Vehicles) which provides grants towards the cost of electric vehicles.
- You will most likely need to get a charge point installed at your home. Grants are also available towards these - OLEV could give you roughly 75% of the cost (source: which.co.uk).
- You will also need to consider how accessible charging points are near your work or regular destinations. For example, are there any near you and are there any at your work place? If not, you can charge at home, but extra charging points that are near you could be useful.
- An EV will not incur car tax, but still needs to be registered, MOT’d and insured.
- Then there are all the normal car comparisons you would need to consider such as boot space, interior, comfort, multimedia etc.