Bright Spark

How green is your EV?

I don’t really feel too comfortable about disagreeing with a colleague at Diesel Car and Eco Car, but The Editor encourages diversity of thought amongst his contributors. So there’s no threat of me “losing the whip” if I beg to differ with Bright Spark David Wilkins regarding his recent thoughts about how clean EVs are, and how many miles they travel before they truly become greener than fossil fuel cars.

He writes “A decade old Nissan Leaf is greener now than it was when it left the showroom.” Based on what? Nothing else than the fact that electricity is fortuitously a lot greener than it was a decade ago! But it’s likely that the Leaf’s battery is now getting rather tired and, with David referring to aftermarket EV battery specialist Muxsan, in the Netherlands, I took a look at costs of reviving such a fading Leaf, in the autumn of its life, perhaps instead of a brand-new battery for £6,000 plus fitting costs? So how much is it for Muxsan’s 17.6 kWh low-cost, boot-located booster for tired Leafs, when EV optimists are writing about Li-ion battery costs coming down to under £150 per kWh? Adding a generous 40 per cent for fitting costs, that should make it cost around £3,500, when it actually costs around £5,500, which makes it poor value, with a reduced boot capacity and a 160kg weight gain thrown in! Can we imagine that manufacturers, by then reduced to half their sales volume, if David’s electric vehicle lifetime forecasts are correct, are going to be selling and fitting cheap batteries, if not giving them away, when they fade out at over eight years old? Do owners realise how manufacturers can manipulate displayed battery capacity figures, as the miles and years pass, to disguise the true depreciation of their range until it’s eventually impossible to ignore? How and why can Californian EV buyers get a 10 year/150,000 mile warranty, when most other people, like the UK, only get eight years and 100,000 miles?

The other thing that upsets me about the “How green is an EV?” issue is that owners seem to think that whenever some new “green” electricity capacity is commissioned, usually wind or solar power, they feel they are entitled to exclusive use of this cleanest electricity available for their electric vehicle. They make their calculations using that assumption, oblivious to the needs of other users. Many suppliers who source “green” electricity are merely buying their way to the front of the queue, and much like private hospital treatment, arguably at the expense of others. Is it ethically correct to use cherry-picked grid electricity carbon counts for EVs, when justifiably you should use the mean National Grid figure, whatever it is at any given time of day.

Those who want to fast charge their EVs on the road will usually do it when the carbon count of any kilowatt hour is pretty high, and those who plug in as soon as they get home are also doing it at peak demand hours, when the electricity is at its “dirtiest”, and probably has twice the carbon count of the figures that EV fans like to use. You don’t hear much about time management of EV charging, and those screaming for more on-road rapid charging facilities should be made aware of the inescapable links between supply, demand, and time of day, that results in paying a premium price for the convenience of peak time on-road fast charging they demand. Perhaps that disincentive is already there, with the 68p per kWh that the Ionity network charge for rapid charging. A good incentive to set out with a full charge and avoid on-road charging if you possibly can. At over 15p a mile, it makes the rosy advertising claims of potential electricity costs of only a few pence a mile seem just a little optimistic!

Finally, David writes: “An electric car usually has a single fixed gear, so you really can just press the accelerator and go.” How utterly, utterly boring, and it’s all going to get progressively worse with more and more driver aids, and then totally self-driving cars, until car driving as a skill effectively expires. We’ll look back fondly on the Golden Days of Motoring, and we’ll be subscribing to “Which?” – the ultimate idiot’s guide to buying electrical white goods, for user ratings on electric vehicles. We’re already on that very slippery slope… Beam me up Scotty!

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