Are we ready to take on EV ownership? Q&A with an electric vehicle expert
Tom Callow from bp pulse has taken the time to answer your questions concering EV life.
The prospect of electric vehicle ownership scares a lot of the general public, which is perfectly valid as humans tend to dislike change and the majority of the public have probably heard bad things about it. However, we as car enthusiasts need to embrace them more then ever as the thing we love the most is becoming battery powered and that's why I have put together this interview as a way to show that it isn't as bad as you may think.
Sure, EV ownership is always going to be different from the ICE way of life, but that's why I have spoken to bp pulse's Tom Callow who is an EV expert and he has answered some of your questions which you submitted a few weeks ago.
Image: Charlotte Stowe on Unsplash
Q: How will I get anywhere if my EV’s battery runs out &
are there enough places to charge it in the UK?
A: Given the number of electric vehicles currently on UK roads, one would have to conclude that the overall amount of infrastructure in the UK is sufficient, given the fact that most of it is not used at anything like its maximum capacity at the moment.
However, there are clearly areas that could do with more infrastructure as soon as possible, and some areas that already have plenty, which is largely a result of how early public charging infrastructure was deployed. We are probably not far away from every reasonably sized UK town having rapid or ultra-fast charging facilities.
The largest public charging network in the UK is operated by bp pulse and you can find charging points accessible via their network on this map.
Q: Is there any point buying an EV now if the tech is developing so quickly?
A: Even the electric vehicles bought 10 years ago (with their second or third owners by now, most likely) are entirely adequate to serve the needs of the average motorist covering 20-30 miles per day and 8,000 or so miles per year, with a maximum range of perhaps 65-75 miles.
While many consumers may not accept a new EV with a range of anything under 200 or 300 miles, these early electric vehicles are perfectly usable for most everyday needs. In 2030, the same will be even truer of today’s 200+ mile range EVs as used vehicles.
Q: How long does it take to charge an electric car?
A: If you drive an electric car, it’s invariably charging while you are doing something else (sleeping, working, drinking, eating, socialising etc.), so it takes a few seconds to plug it in and that’s probably all the marginal time it takes. However, in terms of how long it takes to add range – even if you’re doing something else – it depends on what car you have and what charger you use.
On a 3-pin cable using a standard domestic electricity outlet, you could be adding around 6-8 miles of range every hour. On an ultra-fast charger at a forecourt or charging hub, you could be adding one mile of range every 6-8 seconds.
Image: CHUTTERSNAP on Unsplash
Q: When my EV reaches the end of its life,
would there be any issues with battery recycling?
A: Electric vehicle batteries can be ‘recycled’ in two ways. The first is a literal recycling of the battery and its constituent parts, which is already underway in several markets. The second is the repurposing of the battery of its individual modules into energy storage.
Companies are already using second life EV batteries as home storage batteries, as well as mobile power units that act as temporary generators.
Q: Are EVs actually benefiting the environment &
have we seen any environmental impacts yet (good or bad)?
A: It’s obvious that any pure electric vehicle that has replaced an internal combustion engine vehicle will have reduced the local (tailpipe) emissions from its usage. In terms of the wider environmental impact, while there is a consensus that electric vehicles offer a lower lifetime emissions footprint than an equivalent petrol or diesel car, it’s clear that most electric vehicles will take some time to achieve this figure – albeit time that will reduce as supply chains improve and localise.
For example, Polestar suggests that “after 50,000 km of driving, the fossil fuel car surpasses the EV in total CO2e emissions.”
Q: How much range do things like heated seats and A/C use up?
A: While some early electric cars had inefficient heaters and ancillaries, these have become increasingly efficient and most drivers will probably not see a major impact on their range when using them. In fact, heated seats probably consume less than heating up the car using climate control.
Image: Vlad Tchompalov on Unsplash
Q: What does the future look like for self-driving cars &
is this something we will see soon?
A: Whatever the future holds for self-driving cars, it’s very likely that they will be electric. Engineers tend to prefer this technology as the base vehicle, since an electric drivetrain is easier to control.
Q: How does one charge an EV if they don’t have space outside their home?
A: While nobody fills up their petrol or diesel car at their home today, the fact that a portion of the population can charge their electric car at their home has led to a view that everyone should be able to do it. Those without home charging will have a range of options available to them, from local on-street charging to local off-street charging, including ultra-fast charging on a forecourt.
Many consumers today already spend 5-10 minutes each week or two on a forecourt, so stopping for a 15-minute charge to get potentially 150 miles of range could become the new normal for many drivers.
Q: What is the average (estimated) lifespan of an electric car?
A: There is no reason or evidence to suggest the lifespan of an electric car is any shorter than that of an internal combustion engine car. And at the end of their life, like other cars, they can be recycled – including their batteries.
Image: Mitch Kemp on Unsplash
Q: Does rapid charging genuinely deteriorate the batteries?
A: We would always defer to manufacturers for their own guidance for their own vehicles, but we have seen plenty of electric vehicles go well into six-digit mileages – using plenty of rapid charging – without significant battery degradation.
Q: Is living in colder weather really going to affect my EV?
- the same for warmer weather - how will it affect the battery?
A: Just like an internal combustion engine invariably delivers worse fuel economy in cold weather, an electric vehicle will also achieve lower efficiency – and thus less range – than it does in summer. For example, I currently drive a Kia e-Niro that delivers close to 300 miles in summer and closer to 240 miles in the depths of winter – still plenty of range to serve any of my needs
Q: Is the UK’s EV charging infrastructure ready for 2030?
A: Of course not, but we are confident that it will be. While the UK’s EV infrastructure rollout may not be making the same headlines as all of the new EVs coming to market, the landscape has been transformed over the past 3-4 years, with charge points that are more abundant, easier to use and more reliable.
Image: Michael Marais on Unsplash
Q: Realistically, how much longer would a long trip take in an EV
(around 500 miles) while factoring in charge times in the UK?
A: Of course, this depends on your journey and the availability of charging along your particular route, but a new record was set in 2020 for the 855-mile journey from John O’Groats to Lands End with the quickest charging time, with the trip completed with just over 90 minutes of charging and a total time of just 15 hours and 32 minutes.
Assuming you could cover around 180 miles in three hours of driving before needing to stop (and you should probably stop more frequently than that), then 500 miles could be dispatched in one of the latest EVs with just a couple of comfort breaks of less than 15-30 minutes built into the journey.
Q: How will the UK be able to cope with the massive influx of electric cars
being charged as doesn’t the UK already use more electricity than we produce?
A: To quote National Grid’s foremost expert on the subject: “The most demand for electricity we’ve had in recent years in the UK was for 62GW in 2002. Since then, due to improved energy efficiency such as the installation of solar panels, the nation’s peak demand has fallen by roughly 16 per cent.
Even if the impossible happened and we all switched to EVs overnight, we think demand would only increase by around 10 per cent. So we’d still be using less power as a nation than we did in 2002 and this is well within the range of manageable load fluctuation.”
The challenge will be distribution of power rather than the supply of energy, so diversity of charging will be important. From a grid perspective, it’s arguably a good thing that home charging isn’t available to 100% of consumers, since that would increase peak electricity demand – although smart charging will help defer peak loads until off-peak periods.
Q: Is charging an EV at home going to raise my energy bill a lot?
A: It’s important to consider the costs of electric vehicles – including charging – within the context of the costs of petrol and diesel cars. At current average fuel prices and assuming an average of 50 mpg, your fuel cost today could be around 12p per mile.
The average UK home uses something like 3,000 kWh of electricity per year. If an EV was driven 9,000 miles, averaging 3 miles per kWh, and only ever charged at home, then your home electricity bill would logically double. However, given that the average cost of domestic electricity is around 18p per kWh, then your ‘fuel’ cost could be around 6p per mile – so while your home energy bill may have doubled, your (more expensive) fuel bill may have halved.
In addition, there are ways to save even more money by charging home, for example by choosing an energy tariff that has lower rates at off-peak times, and then using your smart home charger to charge during these periods. You can even choose a dynamic energy tariff that responds to half-hourly market prices.
As hard as this might be to believe, consumers on such tariffs in the past year have seen periods where they were actually being paid to consume electricity, including charging their EV.
Image: Michael Fousert on Unsplash
Q: Are hybrids more sustainable than EVs?
A: While there is no doubt that a hybrid can achieve lower tailpipe emissions than a standard internal combustion engine vehicle, an electric vehicle always delivers lower tailpipe emissions than any internal combustion engine vehicle.
While electric vehicle manufacturing today can carry a higher emissions footprint than those of internal combustion engine vehicles, that is mainly down to immature global supply chains. As supply chains become more localised, and the movement of vehicle components (especially the batteries) is reduced, the emissions footprint will reduce.
Numerous studies have already concluded that on a lifetime emissions basis, electric vehicles emit less than internal combustion engine vehicles, including hybrids.
Q: When a battery has a “thermal run away” and causes a fire,
it is very difficult and dangerous to extinguish. What is the EV industry doing
to tackle this?
A: While it’s true that battery fires can be challenging to extinguish, the fire services have been and continue to be trained on the correct procedures for dealing with electric vehicle fires – including with innovative new equipment such as advanced fire blankets – just as they are trained on how to deal with fires involving vehicles with internal combustion engines, of which there are over 20,000 per year in England alone.
Q: Why don’t a lot of EVs charge using solar powered body panels?
A: While several hours of charging via solar panels could deliver the average daily mileage of many motorists (the company Lightyear states that its Lightyear One electric car, which is covered with solar panels, can add 12km or 7.5 miles of range in one hour), this alone would not be enough to power the car on longer journeys – unless you’re only driving at 7.5 miles per hour.
Image: Martin Katler on Unsplash
Q: Tesla’s supercharging network is said to be eight years ahead of the
mainstream car makers such as VW, so what does this mean for the future of EVs?
Does it look like we will see a universal charging network soon much like
we have with petrol stations around the world.
A: We already have a public charging network in the UK that must be, by law, accessible to any driver without pre-registration, an account, membership or special access card.
This is increasingly being enabled by contactless bank card, but in some cases – such as on slower charge points, which tend to be used in a more planned way – is enabled via a ‘guest checkout’ function, a bit like buying something from any retailer’s website. We are also seeing the emergence of charging hubs, such as those recently announced by bp pulse.
What can we learn from this & a thank you to Tom Callow!
As you can see from the in-depth responses Tom has given us in this Q&A, there isn't any need to be as stressed as we are about the adoption of electric vehicles. The world is adapting and the best we can do is ride the wave and enjoy them and I bet it will make us appreciate a simple ICE even more than we already do to make your weekend drives even more enjoyable.
I would like to give a big shout out to Tom Callow too for his help with this. He has set aside time from his busy schedule to help us understand the world of EVs better and I applaud that.
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