The myths versus the reality of owning an electric car

Electric vehicle (EV) adoption has grown steadily in recent years. Last year alone saw the biggest annual increase in registrations, with more than 175,000 vehicles registered, representing a growth of 66% on 2019. In the wake of September’s petrol crisis – where fuel stations ran dry due to a shortage of tanker drivers – interest in EVs skyrocketed.  The all electric Tesla  model 3 was the the best-selling car not just in the UK but the whole of Europe – the first time an EV has held this position. Auto Trader reports that at one point dealers were receiving direct enquiries every 1.8 minutes – almost twice the average pace in August. Meanwhile, carguide.co.uk found that online searches for electric cars in the UK rose by 1,600% on 24 September – the day the shortages became widespread.

As the climate crisis and political turbulence intensifies, motorists can expect to see rising fuel prices as well as further supply chain volatility. And as these search numbers show, drivers are largely aware that EVs represent a viable solution to these challenges. However, misinformation abounds, and in the wake of the petrol crisis online EV-related conversations revealed just how pervasive some EV myths remain. Here, we lay out the hard facts about electric vehicles, and what you need to know if you’re considering purchasing one.

  1. Can electric vehicles manage long journeys?

How far an EV can travel on a single charge is one of the biggest concerns for would-be owners (known as ‘range anxiety’), but EVs are suited to most people’s everyday activities. The average range of a full electric car is around 181 miles, although this will vary slightly depending on the model of your EV, and how efficiently you drive – many models can go much further. According to the Energy Saving Trust, 68% of the journeys we make each year are under five miles, but if you want to travel further, you can.

  1. Are there enough EV charge points to get me from A to B?

Most people charge at night on their drive ways however there are over 26,000 public charge points spanning the length of the UK, from the Shetland Islands to Jersey and more public charging locations than petrol stations. The government’s plan to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars from 2030 means industry is investing heavily in EV infrastructure, and EV charge points will become a much more common sight.

  1. Are electric vehicles slow?

EVs are faster than their fuel-powered counterparts, because an electric motor generates 100% of its available torque instantly. Formula E racing is a great example of just how fast an EV can go, with the average race car accelerating from 0-62mph in just 2.8 seconds – faster than most Ferraris! For ‘normal’ EVs, however, their speeds aren’t any different to other cars.

  1. Are electric vehicles really greener than petrol cars?

While it’s true that the energy used to manufacture and power an EV is not truly emissions-free, we need to take a ‘well to wheel’ approach to properly see the bigger picture. As the Energy Saving Trust explains: “We calculate well-to-wheel petrol or diesel vehicle emissions by taking into account the emissions associated with extracting and refining the fuel, transporting to your local fuelling station and finally being burnt within your fuel tank on the road. To allow comparison between your petrol or diesel vehicle and an electric vehicle, we also consider the emissions associated with electricity generation and the conversion to miles within the vehicle.”

According to a 2017 UK Government study, petrol vehicles produce the highest carbon dioxide emissions at 211g per kilometre, while diesel vehicles emitted 179g. EVs, however, produced just 73g of carbon dioxide emissions. And, as the UK’s electricity supply becomes increasingly renewables-based, electric vehicles will continue to become less carbon intensive. And, as all-electric cars produce no tail pipe emissions, there will be a reduction in the amount of toxic air pollution we breathe in our cities.

  1. Are electric vehicle batteries wasteful?

One common misconception about EVs is that their batteries don’t last very long. However, this is largely based on a false comparison with batteries in other things. Smartphone batteries, for example, tend to degrade after a couple of years. But smartphone batteries are charged every day, while EV batteries are only charged a couple of times a month.

The actual charging process for EV batteries is also much ‘smarter’ than it is for other batteries. When EV batteries charge, they only replenish the depleted cells, which distributes the load across many thousands of cells that make up the whole block.

Data has shown that batteries in Teslas, for example, show less than 10% degradation after 160,000 miles, while EV manufacturers in general usually offer a battery warranty of around 100,000 miles – they wouldn’t do that if the batteries weren’t able to last that long, as it would prove extremely costly.

When an EV battery has come to the end of its life, though, processing centres are able to extract 98% of its materials for recycling or reuse.

  1. Can the National Grid support the demands of electric vehicles?

There are two elements to this: how much charging takes place, and when the charging takes place. In terms of capacity, data shows that even if everyone in the UK switched their petrol or diesel car to an EV overnight, the Grid would only experience a 10% increase in demand, which fits comfortably within the Grid’s capacity.

The ‘when’ is slightly more complex. As Graeme Cooper from the National Grid explains: “The traditional evening peak of electricity demand is between 6pm and 8pm, and this might well coincide with people returning from their commute and plugging in their cars.

“If we want to provide sufficient infrastructure and energy for EVs as cheaply as possible for consumers, we ideally don’t want to add to that evening peak and need to spread that demand better.”

To mitigate this, the Government’s EV Energy Taskforce has recommended all future car chargers should be ‘smart by design’, and therefore able to balance output and demand with what’s happening on the Grid. Also, despite recent surging interest, the switch to EVs won’t happen overnight, allowing time for the National Grid to align its transmission system with the forecast uptake.

  1. Are electric vehicles expensive?

Compared to a second hand petrol or diesel car, EVs are the more expensive option. However, while new internal combustion vehicles keep going up in price, EVs are getting cheaper every year. A brand new mid-range electric vehicle can cost as little as £20,300 including the Government EV grant of £2,500 for new purchases (as well as up to 75% of the cost of having a charger installed at your home). Meanwhile the average cost of a new petrol car has jumped 39% since 2011 to £38,585.

And as EV prices continue to fall, so will the cost of running them. Currently, the annual cost of owning and running an EV is around £107 cheaper than running a petrol or diesel car, but as we add more renewable electricity to the national energy mix – and petrol and diesel prices continue to climb – these savings will become far more pronounced. Check out our guide to the most affordable electric vehicles of 2021 for an idea of what’s available.

The bottom line

The days of petrol and diesel vehicles are numbered, and in the future – not long from now – electric cars will be the norm, allowing motorists to get around cheaply and greenly. EVs represent a fairly radical change from the established way of doing things but who will miss filling up at a petrol station on a cold and wintry day? The hard facts about the benefits of EVs and EV ownership make an overwhelming  case to switch. With transport the biggest source of carbon pollution in the UK, the faster we go all-electric the better for all of us.

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