The reality of an electric future

The reality of an electric future
The reality of an electric future

The electric car landscape and technology changes all the time, so here’s where we’re at right now

Electric cars are still far from mainstream, despite the eye-catching models and initiatives. Some of that resistance is the resistance to change, but it’s also a fear of running out of juice, lack of knowledge about the realities of recharging points, depreciation and so on. Which means reading this will make you more knowledgeable and knowledge is power.

Types of charger

Chargers are basically split into slow, fast and rapid. If you want to know where chargers are on a motoway then check out Ecotricity’s online map as they run them. Ecotricity charges 15p for 1kWh for existing customers. That means a car with a 40kWh battery could cover about 200 miles which would cost £5 – compare that to a supermini using about £20 of petrol.
On other roads look at zap.map.com. Public charging can be free but mostly it’s on a tariff.

Slow
You can charge from a normal three-pin socket with 3kW. That’ll take six to 12 hours and so is ideal for overnight charging. So a Renault Zoe ZE40 would take you about 180 miles (less distance in winter) and it would cost only about £2.85.
Fast
A 32-amp circuit at home can handle 7kW and that works if the car has the right charger. Do that and you’ll be good to go in three to five hours. If you have a three-phase circuit – probably at work – that can fill it with juice in just an hour or two.
Rapid
This is 43kW on AC or 50kW on DC and you can get 80 per cent charge in just half an hour (the Renault Zoe is the only car using AC right now). You’ll need an account with the supplier and you can pay by a variety of ways.
Actually there are four ways, the fourth being the Supercharger route available only to Tesla owners.

Range reliability

This is like with official petrol consumption figures – you get an official figure and then you disbelieve it. This system works well for petrol, diesel and electricity. However, the current European NEDC test is being replaced by the WLTP test which should be a bit more real-world. Renault with its Zoe recognizes the disparity and quotes the official figure and also a real-world figure of its own, so you can choose and contrast.

Rapid charging effect

Along with range anxiety is the anxiety that regular rapid charging will knacker the battery pack and cause polar bears to migrate to Birmingham. The normal course of events is that cars are charged at home or the office on lower-speed chargers, so it’s not a big deal. And those that do rapid charge slow down after 80 per cent and then again at 90 per cent precisely to stop the battery getting damaged. BMW reckons there’s no sign of damage from regular rapid charging, and Tesla says the same, adding that built in software control is a good defence anyway.

Battery life

Following on from worries about the effects of rapid charging, just how long will a battery last? In reality nobody really knows. Manufacturers offer warranties anywhere from 60,000 to 100,000 miles and from five to eight years for either total failure or a failure to charge above 70 per cent. Battery packs are undoubtedly expensive, but should last the life of the car. Nissan says that in the three years from 2011 to 2014 it replaced only three out of 30,000 batteries throughout Europe.

Can I get a grant?

The British government (ie us the generous taxpayers) will pay 35 per cent of the purchase price, up to a limit of £4500 for eligible EVs. That should remain until 2020 at least. You can also get an Electric Vehicle Homecharge Scheme grant of £500 to add a home charging point.

Could you replace your usual car with an EV?

If you do shorter journeys usually then you definitely could – and the average journey in the UK is 17 miles long even as a round trip. That would make something like a Renault Zoe entirely practical to the point that you wouldn’t need to charge it every day. But if you need to go from the middle of England to Edinburgh then it’s a different story.

A small hatchback could do it in about five hours on average, and would use not even a tank of fuel. A similar sized Renault Zoe would need to be recharged three times for the same distance, and the trip would take probably ten hours. Not attractive or practical.

But the newer higher-capacity batteries arriving now will make a difference. That 22kWh battery in the Zoe could be replaced with a 41kWh pack, making a major improvement in everything from charging times to range to journey times.

Is depreciation a worry?

Yes it is. There’s concern about the technology becoming obsolete very quickly, and people aren’t sure about whether the battery pack might need expensive replacement – see above. Depreciation can be horribly high, but manufacturers are at least now offering approved used EV programmes to mitigate some of the concerns.

So a battery costs how much?

As we’ve seen, the chances of an EV needing a replacement battery pack is tiny, something like 0.1 per cent. They are expensive though – the one in a Nissan Leaf is £4100 plus several hours labour plus VAT. However, Nissan has seen cars with 200,000 miles on them going just fine, with maybe one of the 12 bars of capacity being lost.

If you buy a lease package then of course this question ceases to be a worry. Prices are falling anyway, with lithium ion battery packs reducing by 24 per cent in the last year alone.

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