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.
(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  which gives an 88 mile range).
The UK has typical electricity prices of around 10p/kWh . 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  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) . At current fuel prices of 116p/L this gives an average of 6.3p/mile.
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 . By comparison the VW Polo loses around 19% (-£3360) in the first year .
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.
The electricity for the car has to come from somewhere. Burning coal releases around 0.9kg per kWh of electricity produced  and natural gas is around 0.55kg , 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?
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.
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) .
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.