Deciding to buy an electric car can be daunting, particularly if you don’t know anyone with one. In this article I give a run down of the environmental pros and cons of an electric car and our personal experience as owners. So if you’re thinking of going electric read on.
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Our Experience of Owning an EV
Why we bought an EV
We bought our first EV primarily for financial and ecological reasons. We were thrilled to be able to do something to lower our carbon footprint, but also it made economic sense. We calculated that, factoring in lower tax, lower fuel costs and lower service costs, we broke even on our EV after 7 years.
Why we Changed our EV
We bought our 2012 Nissan Leaf second-hand in June 2016. It had an original range of 150km, and although, by 2016 this was down to 120km it was still sufficient for our day-to-day needs. We were able to get away with charging every 2-3 days in summer, and every evening in winter. The lower range in winter was because the car consumed a huge amount of energy when the heating or cooling was on.
When buying the 2012 Nissan Leaf we knew it wouldn’t work for long journeys and so we factored car hire costs for long journeys into our calculations.
But after 10 years the battery life of our 2012 no longer suited us. We were getting about 100km in the summer and about 50km in cold weather. This wasn’t an issue for us most days but meetings on the far side of Dublin in winter became impossible.
We thought about upgrading the battery in our 2012 car and did some research into this. It is possible to upgrade the battery in an electric car, as this very lengthy post on LinkedIn confirms, but it’s a process that’s not for the faint hearted. You can either get a battery from a newer car from the breakers yard or buy an upgrade pack from Muxsan in the Netherlands. If you’re interested the EV owner, Eamon Stack, is offering to buy these packs and bring them back to Ireland for people.
After careful cost analysis and much debate in 2022 we bought a 2021 Nissan Leaf with an initially range of 250km, and a current range of about 240km. We do still hire Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) cars for very distant journeys but for 95% of our journey our 2021 Nissan Leaf is more than enough.
Things I love about our EV’s
One the things I most love about it is how quiet it is. It’s completely silent when stationary and there is only a slight noise as it moves off.
Being Rewarded for Driving Efficiently
I also love how the dashboard rewards your efficient driving with digital trees. Although fast acceleration uses up less fuel in an EV than in a fossil fuel car but you are still encouraged to avoid harsh acceleration and braking in order to conserve energy when driving. It’d be great to see these energy metres in all cars. I think it’d really help us all use less fuel when we can. I feel like it’s a challenge to drive as economically as possible.
Driving an EV Saves you Time
Another bonus of having an EV is avoiding petrol stations as often. Sure you might use them to charge on a long journey but day to day I don’t have to visit them at all. Saving me time. Yippee!
EV’s are cheaper to Run
EV’s are far cheaper to run than ICE cars. Based on night rate electricity, an overnight full charge will cost approx €2, while average daytime charging is likely to be €4 for a full charge.
I love being able to set the heater to come on at a predetermined time so the car is warm when I get into it.
It Saves us Money
You get free parking in the Dun Laoghaire Rathdown Council area when you’re charging and I’ve heard that other councils offer free parking in any space to EV drivers.
You can also get a 20% discount on insurance for electric cars from Zurich.
What I don’t like about driving an Electric Car
Unreliable Charging Infrastructure
Thankfully there are more and more charge points around the country, which is great, and although having to pay for charging has clamped down on the people abusing charge points it’s still not problem free.
Sometimes you have to wait to use a charger and if there are a couple of people ahead of you this could be up to 40 mins. If you’ve kids in tow this really is a runner and so we just aren’t willing to go on trips that require us to charge on route.
Chargers don’t always work so you can’t rely on them. It doesn’t help that staff in petrol stations, where most chargers are site, can’t help you if the chargers aren’t working.
You can get locked to a charge point. No being able to access a working charger is one thing, but I’ve had a charger refuse to release my cable. I was told to wait up to an hour for an engineer came out to disconnect me. I didn’t. I simply shut down the charger and unplugged, which I wasn’t meant to do. Opps!
How Sustainable are Electric Cars?
Lets pull back and look at the big picture. There is no denying that using public transport, cycling or walking is far more sustainable than owning a car in the first place and before anyone decides to buy a car I would suggest asking if you really need one.
If the answer is yes, then the second question is do you really need to replace the car you have. The energy taken to make a car is huge and maintaining an existing car may be more sustainable than replacing it, even with a more efficient one. It’s also true that the embodied carbon in a new EV is greater (about 10 tonnes) than in a new ICE car (about 7 tonnes), but that after two years of use an average sized EV would pay off it’s carbon debt and then be carbon negative for the rest of it’s life, whereas an ICE just keeps increasing it’s carbon debt.
How Efficient are Electric Cars?
Electric motors operate efficiently over a wide range of speeds – 80’s to high 90% – while an internal combustion engine varies between 0% to mid 30% range. Some energy is lost during charging resulting in an efficiency rate of 70-73% for electric cars, which compares to tank-to-wheel efficiency of 16% for ICE cars. So in summary electric vehicles are more energy efficient than ICE cars. For more detailed information on this check out this article on Electric Car Efficiency.
I should mention that electricity loses energy as it is transmitted across the grid to customers. According to Wikipedia transmission and distribution losses in the USA were estimated at 6.5% in 2007, i.e. the discrepancy between power produced (as reported by power plants) and power sold to the end customers. That said, I’m sure there are inefficiencies in the extraction and processing of oil so I wouldn’t imagine that transmission losses render petrol / diesel cars more efficient than electric cars.
Cold weather temporarily reduces EV battery range. AAA tested the range effects of 7C / 20F degree weather on several popular EVs and found that temperature alone could reduce range by 10-12%, while the use of in-vehicle climate control could amplify range loss to 40%. Here are some tips on How to Maximise the performance of EV’s in cold weather.
Regardless of the type of car you have it’s worth investing in tyres with a high efficiency rating as these allow you to reduce fuel consumption.
How Damaging are the EV Batteries?
There has been a lot of concern around the mining of lithium for use in electric car batteries. The publication Ethical Consumer gives a very good outline of where we’re at on chemicals used in EV batteries from an environmental and ethical point of view.
Ideally though, we need to be recycling EV car batteries. This is starting to happen but unfortunately, with the industry in it’s infancy, a lot of this is ‘backyard’ recycling of batteries, which puts people and the planet at risk.
It’s worth noting that traditional nickel batteries used in petrol / diesel aren’t fully recyclable like EV car batteries. And that lithium batteries are used in most tech appliances these days so this issue isn’t just confined to electric cars.
Running EVs on Fossil Fuel Energy
It’s true to say the ‘green-ess’ of electric cars is affected by the power they’re charged with. If the electricity used to charge their batteries comes entirely from solar, wind or tidal then it is obviously going to be much cleaner than if it comes from peat, coal or gas. In 2016 renewables made up about 27% of electricity generation in Ireland with the vast majority coming from wind.
On average, electric cars in Europe emit, almost 3 times less CO2 than equivalent petrol/diesel cars. Even in Poland, with all it’s coal-fired power stations electric cars produce 29% less carbon than ICE cars.
This was corroborated by research by Yale University found EV’s blow combustion cars out of the water when it came to carbon emissions.
Of course the more renewals used in energy production, the closer to home batteries we manufactured / recycle batteries and the better we get at storing energy, the greener electric cars become.
If you really want to delve into this issue more here is a very thorough and well-research review of electric cars versus fossil fuel cars by Carbon Brief, a UK based science climate news outlet funded by the European Climate Foundation.
What about Air Pollution from EVs?
Some research has found that because of their heavier weight, electric cars may produce more PM emissions than petrol / diesel cars. These emissions include tire wear dust, brake pad dust, tiny road particles, and road dust re-suspension and are created by all vehicles, including bikes.
Having looked at the figures it seems that it’s the re-suspension of road dust (i.e. throwing up dust already on the road) that gives electric cars a higher reading in this regard.
PM emissions don’t affect CO2 levels, but they do impact on health. Obviously as electric cars get lighter their scorecard in relation PM emissions will improve. Here’s an interesting article defending electric vehicles in light of this issue.
Should you buy an Electric Car?
I’ll be honest, having an electric car won’t suit everyone and given the number of charge points around the country you do still have to plan your car use a bit more than you do with a petrol / diesel / hybrid car.
I think if you can do all your travelling in one or more days on one charge, return home most nights and have a home charger you’re onto a winner. Or if you can get to your place of work on one charge and your office has a charger you’re quids in. Otherwise a hybrid might be a better option.
Picking the Right EV for You
If you want to hear more about electric cars check out the Irish Electric Vehicle Owners Association
Also here’s an excellent podcast episode on what to consider when buying an EV in Ireland
Although UK focused, Next Green Car website is a good resource for comparing the environmental impact of car models.
Or if you’d like some less data-driven info the check out the website Fully Charged, which focus on the cooler side of electric car design.
If you’re interested in getting a plug-in hybrid you might want to read this article about their potential inefficiencies, which often results in hybrid cars having emissions akin to ICE cars. Also The Society of Irish Motor Industry has some good info on the difference between electric, plug-in hybrids and hybrids, and this EV Database ranks new EV’s by a range of metrics.
Tips re Home Chargers
If you’re thinking of getting an EV, then get an engineer to check that you can have a home charger fitted. I’ve heard of people left stuck without a home charger after purchasing a car.
If you do get a home charger you should get a night-time metre installed. This allows you to avail of cheaper electricity rates during the night, although your daytime rates for electricity become slightly higher as a result.
Just One More Thing
Before I go let me just add the most sustainable car is the one that doesn’t exist with the next being one that already does. So check out my article How to Avoid Buying a Car before making a final decision.