The Guardian, UK: ‘Electric Cars: Everything You Need To Know’ By Adam Vaughan.
How will I charge an electric car?
The first generation of electric-car buyers have been people with homes where it is easy to plug one in. “The vast majority of Nissan Leaf customers are [families with] 2.4 children, mums and dads, with off-street parking,” said Gareth Dunsmore of Nissan Europe. “Tomorrow that won’t be the case.”
Dunsmore envisages charging points becoming ubiquitous at workplaces, and at shopping centres, railway stations, hotels and cinemas. For longer journeys, rapid chargers that can recharge a car’s battery in 30 minutes will increasingly proliferate across motorway service stations and at conventional refuelling stations.
For drivers living on terraced streets, the answers are not so simple but solutions are beginning to emerge. For example, Kensington and Chelsea council is running a trial with a UK energy company and German firm to add charging sockets to street lamps.
I’m worried about the battery running out – should I be?
Most mass market electric cars today have a range of 100-150 miles before the battery runs flat. Some of the top-end cars, such as Tesla’s electric sports cars, can run for 334 miles before needing a plug socket.
While that may not sound much compared to the 400-500 miles or more that a petrol or diesel car can manage before refilling, most car journeys in the UK would easily be accomplished in an electric car. Half of journeys are one to five miles; 38% are for five to 25 miles and only 2% are for 50 miles and more.
Of course, some people will need to go much further – and that’s where plug-in hybrids come in, using a petrol engine to run an electric motor after the battery runs out.
Improving battery technology is expected to extend even pure electric cars’ ranges to about 400 miles within a decade.
Are they cheaper?
Londoners in an electric car can already enter the congestion charge zone for free. If the government’s anti-pollution drive leads to more towns and cities imposing an air quality zone, that could lead to more tolls, from which electric cars are likely to be exempt.
In terms of upfront costs, electric cars are still clearly more expensive than conventional ones – but companies like Renault and Nissan are getting around that with deals where buyers lease the battery. For example, the UK’s best-selling electric, the Nissan Leaf, is £16,680 with the battery on lease for a monthly fee, rising to £21,680 if you buy the battery outright.
Electricity is certainly cheaper than petrol or diesel. Travelling 100 miles in an electric car will cost £3-£4 depending on energy tariffs, compared with £15 in a petrol car.
Affordability is a key issue. When Volvo announced all its new car launches would by electric or hybrid from 2019, it stressed that they would be premium models, ie expensive.
Jack Cousens of the AA said: “Buying a car is an important financial decision, and families on low incomes will need government assistance and incentives to make the change to electric vehicles.”
Don’t the batteries die after a few years?
Makers of electric cars sell their models with a warranty for the battery, which will lose capacity over time. In the case of the Nissan Leaf, it’s covered for five years or 60,000 miles, rising to eight years or 100,000 miles for the version with a bigger battery. But yes, eventually you will need to either buy a new battery – by which time their cost should have fallen – or sell the car on.
Electric cars have been around long enough in the UK for a second-hand battery market to be emerging. One energy company, Eaton, is already selling used electric batteries for reuse as household batteries.
Will my diesel car lose value?
Probably, yes. One car-buying website says bad headlines for diesels, which on average sell for £7,000 used, are causing prices to fall faster in value than before. Motorway.co.uk predicts that over the next year the average price of used diesel cars could fall as much as 15% compared to their current depreciation rate.
What happens to all the petrol stations?
There are 8,476 filling stations across the UK. Energy analysts Wood Mackenzie say they are closing at a rate of about 100 a year and, with the rise of an electrified fleet, there will probably be no more than 6,000 sites by 2035. Numbers will probably continue to fall, although some may be converted to fast-charging sites
Are they really better for climate change than conventional cars?
Yes, even with fossil fuels in the power mix. In the UK, 50% of power is now generated from low carbon sources, and with that share growing rapidly in the next decade, emissions from electric cars will fall too.
Where will all the material come from for the batteries?
Analysts are expecting a 100-fold increase in the production of lithium, the key material in electric cars’ batteries. Much of that will come from South America, particularly Chile and Bolivia, which claims to have 70% of the world’s lithium reserves. China and Australia also provide lithium.
Adam Vaughan is the Guardian’s energy correspondent. He tweets at @adamvaughan_uk