An EV is a vehicle that operates using an electric motor powered by a battery.
Electric vehicles (EVs) include pure or battery electric vehicles (BEVs), extended-range electric vehicles (E-REVs), and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs).
Pure or Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs) operate using an electric motor powered by a battery 100% of the time.
Extended-Range Electric Vehicles (E-REVs or REEVs) have also been available but there are no new Extended-Range Electric Cars on sale at the moment (although there are some Extended-Range Electric taxis and vans). E-REVs operate as electric vehicles all the time, but a small engine can act as a generator for the battery if it becomes depleted.
Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs) feature an electric motor powered by a small battery, and usually a petrol engine, or occasionally a diesel engine. PHEVs typically only have a short electric driving range, possibly between 20-50 miles (depending on make and model); the vehicle can operate on its petrol or diesel engine for longer journeys.
The number of makes and models of electric cars is increasing month by month, and this trend is set to accelerate over the coming years. Already there is an electric vehicle in most car body styles, there are increasing numbers of electric vans coming to market, and there are even electric trucks and buses.
Most electric vehicles cost from around £20,000 to £100,000. Some electric vehicles are more expensive to buy than similar petrol vehicles, but electric vehicles have much lower running costs – fuel costs can typically be around one-fifth of the fuel costs of petrol vehicles – so electric vehicles are usually cheaper to run on a whole life cost basis than petrol or diesel vehicles. Forecasts suggest that EVs will reach cost parity with petrol vehicles in the years to come. The residual values of EVs are also rising.
There are now increasing numbers of second-hand electric cars.
The range of electric cars varies considerably depending on the size of the battery. The latest plug-in hybrids will commonly have a pure electric range of 20-50 miles before transferring to running on the petrol or diesel engine. Modern pure electric cars can achieve ranges of 100-400 miles before requiring recharging. A 100 mile range may be enough for a car that is primarily used in the city, whereas a 300 mile range is more useful for a car that is frequently used on motorways.
When most people try an EV for the first time they prefer the driving experience to that of a petrol or diesel vehicle. This is because EVs are virtually silent, they’re very refined, and they have instantly available torque, which means strong, linear acceleration. There’s no clutch and no changing of gears. And most EVs have their batteries in the floor, resulting in a low centre of gravity, and therefore good handling. In summary, they find EVs easier and better to drive. This feedback is typical for people trying both electric cars and electric vans. Once people have driven an EV the vast majority don’t want to go back to a petrol or a diesel vehicle.
EVs are cheaper to run than petrol or diesel cars (potentially one-fifth of the fuel costs of petrol cars).
There are a number of financial incentives for electric vehicles including the Plug-in Car Grant (a £3,000 discount for a car with a zero emission range of over 70 miles) (cars costing £50,000 or more are now excluded). There’s also the Plug-in Van Grant (up to £8,000). Pure electric cars benefit from £0 a year Vehicle Excise Duty (VED), and all zero emission vehicles are now exempt from the Vehicle Excise Duty ‘expensive car supplement’ (currently all cars with a list price above £40,000 pay a £325 supplement for five years from the second time a vehicle is taxed).
There’s zero percent Benefit in Kind tax on EVs for company car drivers for 2020/21, one percent in 2021/22, and two percent in 2022/23. Switching to an EV is likely to save company car drivers – and companies – thousands of pounds per year, and the whole-life costs of EVs will, in most cases, be much lower than petrol and diesel equivalents.
There’s the home charge point grant (up to £350) and the workplace charge point grant (up to £350 per charging socket, up to 40 per company).
Most people charge their electric vehicles at home overnight using a home charge point. Grants are available for home charge points. There is also an ever-increasing public charging infrastructure around the UK, including rapid chargers, which are located at virtually all motorway service stations.
Some public charging points are ‘open access’ (free). But most belong to one of the main network providers. You may need either their contactless RFID card or mobile app, depending upon the provider. There is a government and industry push for inter-operability of charge points, which means that you could use any charge point without having to be a member of that network.
There’s an agreed standard for the sockets found on the latest charging points – all now using the universal ‘Type 2’ socket. All new cars have Type 2 sockets, apart from the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, which still has a Type 1 socket. Teslas have their own sockets which are compatible with the Tesla Supercharger network, but you can use an adaptor to charge Teslas at standard rapid chargers. The Tesla Model 3 can use a Type 2 connector.
Most electric vehicles come with a cable with a 3-pin plug to allow for easy charging at home or anywhere without a designated charging point, although charging times will be significantly increased. However, a cable with a 3-pin plug should be for occasional use only; it is recommended that a charging point should be used rather than a 3-pin socket.
Most people charge at home overnight. Charging at home or at the workplace will cost around 2-3p a mile, as opposed to 12-14p a mile for a typical petrol or diesel car. This equates to between £1.50 and £2 per charge for around 80 miles depending on your electricity provider.
If an EV was only charged at rapid chargers it may well cost as much to run as a petrol vehicle. These facilities are designed for occasional use on long journeys, with most charging taking place at home or at a workplace where electricity is much cheaper.
How long it takes to charge an EV depends on the type of vehicle, how depleted the battery is and the type of charge point used. Charging rates vary from slow chargers, which can take more than 12 hours to completely replenish a battery of a Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV), to rapid chargers, which can provide a 0-80% charge in 20-30 minutes. Even faster chargers are due to be introduced.
Electric vehicle charging is dependent both on technology built into the vehicle and that built into the charging infrastructure. For example, when the charging capability of the vehicle is less than that of the charger, then the vehicle will charge only at the maximum speed allowed by the vehicle. When the charging capability of the vehicle is greater than that of the charger, then the vehicle will charge at the maximum rate allowed by the charger.
While electric car batteries do experience some degradation over time, examples have shown that this happens too slowly to be considered a concern. Most vehicle manufacturers offer extensive battery warranties, for example Nissan offers an 8-year, 100,000-mile battery warranty on the new LEAF, during which time Nissan will provide a new battery free of charge if there is a failure or if degradation reaches an unacceptable level (a reduction of 25% from its original capacity).
In terms of the national picture, primarily because of different people using electricity at different times around the UK, the industry believes that there shouldn’t be a huge problem.
There may be challenges at a local level, when a large number of people on one street – or more specifically on one substation feeder – all plug in their EVs at peak time. Because adding an EV is equivalent to adding an extra house, this could result in too much demand on the local electricity network.
In an ideal world, all local electricity networks would be upgraded to cope with the possibility of lots of electric vehicles. However that would result in huge cost and disruption.
There are a range of solutions to this issue, which are being implemented, including smart charging (the time when an EV is charged can be managed to avoid all EVs charging at peak times) and battery storage (electricity from eg. off-peak renewable energy such as solar or wind can be stored in the battery and used at peak times to reduce the demand on the grid). There are a number of trials of vehicle to grid (V2G) charging, where energy can be taken out of an EV’s battery and put back into the grid at peak times if required; V2G is expected to be rolled out in the coming years.
In terms of Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions, electric cars require more energy to manufacture so on average have higher embedded GHG emissions than a petrol or diesel car. However even when using UK grid electricity to recharge the car this is more than offset during the car’s use. Over an average car’s life an electric car will usually be responsible for around 30% – 50% less GHG emissions than an equivalent petrol or diesel car when manufacture, use and disposal is considered. Using renewable electricity to recharge reduces this further.
The electricity used to charge electric vehicles ultimately comes from a range of sources within the grid, some of which use fossil fuels. However, in a country such as the UK with a mixed energy grid, electric vehicles are much cleaner than their petrol or diesel counterparts. Renewables’ share of electricity generation is growing all the time, and some energy suppliers offer 100% renewable tariffs. As the grid decarbonises with the increased use of renewable energy sources such as wind and solar, an electric vehicle’s emissions will continue to reduce over time.