Why I don’t believe Electric Vehicles are the future

I have an unpopular opinion, and that opinion is that electric vehicles (EVs) are not the future and they aren’t as good as people make them out to be.

It is claimed that EVs are better than typical combustion vehicles as they save you money on fuel while being kinder to the environment, both points I find debatable.

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(NB. Long post warning, I normally like to keep them short and sweet but I got carried away)

Let’s start with the money side of things, as typically people are more interested in this as it’s something that can easily be seen and measured in real-world situations. Taking a typical Nissan Leaf, which has a 30kWh battery (EPA measured a consumption of 2.94 miles-per-kWh [1] which gives an 88 mile range).
The UK has typical electricity prices of around 10p/kWh [2]. This gives a cost of 3.4pence per mile, lovely.
This is all well and good but things take a turn for the worse if you ever need to charge your car in public, typically this is charged at around £6 for a 30-minute fast charge [3] and will fill the battery of a leaf to ~80% or 24kWh (25p/kWh) which equals around 8.5p/mile.

For comparison, the latest Polo from VW comes with a 1.4L diesel engine and achieves 83 mpg (Imp) [4]. At current fuel prices of 116p/L this gives an average of 6.3p/mile.

2015-VW-Polo-UK-spec.jpg

If you change your electric car at home more often it may work out slightly cheaper than the diesel car, and if you charge in public more often then it may work out more expensive. Either way it’s safe to say the two cars are in the same ball park with cost/mile.

The real difference comes when considering the cost of the car itself, the Polo retails at £17,700 and the Leaf retails at £25,400 for the 30kW model. Quite a big difference (+43%) considering you aren’t really saving any money on the cost per mile front. Even if the polo was getting 40mpg (13.2p/mile) rather than 83mpg, it would take between 80,000 and 160,000 miles before you broke even.

To make the issue even worse, Nissan Leafs are currently the worst depreciating car on sale in the UK, losing an average of 48% (-£12,192) of its value in the first year [5]. By comparison the VW Polo loses around 19% (-£3360) in the first year [6].

OK, but let’s say you didn’t buy the leaf for the money savings, and you bought it just to be kind to the environment, surely you made the right choice? Well maybe not.Earth_Eastern_Hemisphere.jpg

The electricity for the car has to come from somewhere. Burning coal releases around 0.9kg per kWh of electricity produced [7] and natural gas is around 0.55kg [7], so assuming that around a third of energy for an electric car comes from coal and a third from natural gas (which is about right for the UK and US) and the other third is ‘zero’ carbon, you are putting out around 483g/kWh which equates to 161g of CO2 per mile of driving. By comparison the VW Polo puts out 148.8g of CO2 per mile (93g/km), around 9% less than the Nissan Leaf. Not so green now is it?

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Part of the reason for this is the vast improvements in vehicle emissions treatment over the past decade, whereas comparatively little has been done to improve electrical power generation. Whilst power is generated from coal and other fossil fuel sources it will not be as clean as people might imagine.

The batteries used in the Nissan Leaf (and all other electric cars) are also particularly energy intensive to produce so electric cars tend to have higher emissions during production too.GreenMountainWindFarm_Fluvanna_2004.jpg

Of course these emissions figures are for a general case, if you powered the electric cars entirely from renewable/ zero carbon energy supplies they would be less harmful to the environment. But the fact is most people aren’t going to do this, at least not until their home supply comes from a renewable source. Dependant on the source of energy production, the CO2/km figure can range from 70g/km to 370g/km (112g/mile to 592g/mile) [8].

Moffat-Drive.jpg

The above discussion doesn’t even consider the issue of charging time (which can be an issue and prevent or significantly slow down longer journeys), I’m going to assuming it’s fairly obvious electric cars with a range of

Despite the negative tone of this post towards electric vehicles, I do believe they have a use. If charged at home using a renewable source they can be better for the environment than conventional cars, and they can be cheaper per mile as well. But as of today I believe that they aren’t a particularly good choice and are unlikely to be cheaper or particularly better for the environment under current energy production methods. All the time combustion engines are improving, with the latest crop of F1 engines achieving nearly 50% thermal efficiency (typical gasoline road cars achieve <30%), and in time this technology will appear in road cars, improving fuel efficiency further and making it even harder for electric cars to compete. The generation of Ethanol fuel from Algae farms also looks promising with its significantly reduced carbon emissions compared to fossil fuels (the production actually removed CO2 from the atmosphere), while also not competing with food crops for land as per current crop-based methods of production.

But as always I’m only human, I could be wrong. Only time will tell.

  1. http://www.greencarreports.com/news/1082737_electric-car-efficiency-forget-mpge-it-should-be-miles-kwh
  2. https://www.ukpower.co.uk/home_energy/tariffs-per-unit-kwh
  3. https://www.ecotricity.co.uk/for-the-road/faqs/general-faqs
  4. https://www.contracthireandleasing.com/green-cars/volkswagen/polo/
  5. http://www.autoblog.com/2015/12/31/nissan-leaf-depreciates-worse-than-any-other-car/
  6. http://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/cars/article-2034652/Five-cars-hold-value-depreciate-fastest.html
  7. https://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.cfm?id=74&t=11
  8. http://shrinkthatfootprint.com/electric-cars-green
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7 thoughts on “Why I don’t believe Electric Vehicles are the future

  1. You really do have to do your homework with electric vehicles. The Leaf has turned out to be the perfect vehicle for my sister. Here on Vancouver Island our power is hydro generated, costs about .08/kwh, she doesn’t drive a long distance, isn’t concerned with the resale value and there are numerous free charging stations around our town. Would it work for me? Not at all. I think electric vehicles are going to be a bigger transportation piece in the future as the technology evolves but I don’t believe there is any one answer to anything. Bottom line…Part of the future but not THE future and definitely not for everyone. I think of my vehicle as a tool and just like a tool you have to choose the best one for the job you’re doing. Thanks for crunching the numbers. Not enough people dig down past the hype.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Exactly, electric cars do have a lot of hype around them. Mainly because the emissions and costs are partly ‘hidden’ and they like to claim headline figures about how much you will save a week in fuel etc.
      It sounds like you sister is the perfect candidate for an electric car and in that case it makes sense, but for a lot of people they don’t make sense.

      The same applied to hybrid cars, they are good for stop start traffic compared to a non-hybrid, but they are actually worse if you do lots of continuous high speed miles. The test cycles they base the mileage figures on are quite short and thus the battery gives a large improvement for that time period, but for longer journeys they run out of puff and are more of a hindrance. One of the reasons that hybrids tend not to get the real world mileage that you might expect from the sales figures.

      You are exactly correct about cars being tools but often people don’t consider the full picture and buy a tool which is less than ideal for the job at hand.

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  2. Your math on CO2/mile is flawed. If 1 kWh of coal produces 900 g CO2 and 1 kWh of natural gas produces 550 g CO2 and 1 kWh of zero carbon electricity produces 0 g CO2, averaging the 3 out gets 483 g CO2 / kWh. At 3 miles/kWh, that’s 161 g CO2 / mile. About 9% more than the VW Polo. And that’s assuming the Polo was getting 80 mpg. The sources I found were citing 40 mpg. You’ll need to cite your source, otherwise the Polo suddenly becomes a LOT less attractive from an environmental standpoint.

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    1. Thanks for your input, you are correct. I did miscalculate the CO2 production, so the leaf does in fact emit ~161g CO2/ mile. Although I will stick by my figures for the 80mpg (imp) for the Polo. If you follow link 4 you will find the source of my figures, the 1.4 TDI SE (3dr, 5dr, 3dr Design and 5dr Design) achieve above 80 mpg(imp) and 93 g/km CO2, figures are based on the NEDC.
      I can believe these figures given I have managed to achieve over 70 mpg(imp) in the Alfa Romeo Giulietta I own.
      Some confusion may arise as I am UK based and my quoted mpg figures are based on imperial gallons (4.54L) rather than US gallons (3.78L), this leads to figures that look around 20% higher than US equivalents.
      It’s worth noting there are plenty of cars that achieve sub-100g/km (160g/mile) CO2 production, a fact that is highlighted by this being the lowest band of vehicle excise duty (aka Road Tax) in the UK, please see the link below for more details.
      http://www.carbuyer.co.uk/reviews/recommended/exempt-road-tax

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  3. Electric cars are helpful keeping in view the nature. To save this earth human have to adapt to electric cars, otherwise destruction through natural disasters are ineviatable.

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