Musings about Electric Vehicles

Worthinggooner, Going Postal

My Citroen C3 will be three years old in January and knowing that in the past I have often changed my car then, a friend asked me if I had considered going Electric. Several years ago I had briefly thought about it but quickly dismissed the idea. At that time I was commuting 90 miles a day (45 miles each way) and unless I acquired a very expensive model nothing could guarantee me the range on a cold, wet day. But now, years later, I am retired and supposedly Electric Vehicles have improved so could one be feasible for me? I decided that I would investigate the possibility. This is what I discovered.

The Government and many MPs have been suckered into the whole Climate Change scam. They have committed the country to make huge reductions in so called Greenhouse gases with little thought about the costs to the country, both in jobs and financially. One of their flagship policies is to force us into Electric Vehicles (EVs) instead of the Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) Vehicles we currently use. On the face of it, if the adverts for them are to be believed, EVs are wonderful, but is this true?

How has this policy on EVs come about? Under the Miliband Climate Change Act the Government is legally obliged to take up the predictions of the Climate Change Committee for planning anything to do with energy usage and ICEs use a lot of energy and produce lots of “nasty” CO2 so were an obvious target for the CCC. So firstly l looked at its prediction on Electric Vehicle Numbers – the CCC say 35% of 2025 new domestic car sales will be EVs but what is this in actual numbers. One thing I do know is that in 2016, when this prediction was made, new car sales for the year were about 2.7 million but today car sales are, for a number of reasons, falling. Last years total sales dropped to 2.4 million and this year is on course to be lower still. But the Government accepted the 2016 numbers so I did the same. If we take 35% of 2.7 million this means that the motor manufacturers are expected to make 945,000 EV sales in 2025 This is the number I worked with even though it is highly unlikely to be reached considering that the sales are for all types Alternatively Fuelled Vehicles (AFV) were only 59,911 in 2018.

The Government really wants us to purchase Pure Electric Vehicles (Rechargeable Battery Cars) and has messed around with subsidies to try to encourage their purchase (more of this later). However sales of Plug-in Hybrids (PHEV) and Hybrid Petrol Electric cars actually make up the vast proportion of AFV sales. PHEVs are similar to Pure EVs but have a small Petrol or Diesel engine to recharge the batteries as they are being driven as an addition to mains recharging. The engine in a PHEV cannot be used to propel the car. Petrol Hybrids have a larger Petrol Engine capable of propelling the car as well as smaller battery capability, with a limited electric range of about 30 miles and a petrol range similar to an ICE car. Diesel Hybrids are available but are so far out of favour that they sold zero in May and only 7 in the year to date. In April 2019 AFV sales accounted for just 6.4% of total car sales with Petrol Hybrids accounting for 4.2%, PHEVs 1.2% and EVs the rest. Not good news for the Government as the public appear to not want Pure EVs but hardly surprising given their limitations. It is interesting to note that many purchasers of Petrol Hybrids rarely use them in Electric mode making them an expensive way to buy a new car.

Next I had a look at capabilities of Pure EVs. The average mileage for cars in the UK has fallen since the 2008 economic crash but is now climbing again and is about 7900 miles a year (from RAC Foundation) or 21.64 miles per day, which would probably suit me. Looking at the Nissan Leaf, as I could find real life numbers for it and it is a roughly similar size to my C3, this would indicate that an average car would need to be FULLY recharged at least every 3 days. More likely every other day when you take into account Nissan’s strange recommendation that you should not regularly exceed 80% charge. However, this is average use and many users will need to recharge there EV at least once a day.
Although many cars are often used for short runs, such as taking the kids to school, to go shopping or a short commute for which an EV may be ideal, we all need to make the occasional longer run and I am no exception. That weekend away, a visit to relatives at the other end of the country, a business trip (not for me) or a couple of weeks away on Holiday will all require a much greater range. Most ICEs can go around 300 miles before needing to be refuelled, filling stations are plentiful and your car can be filled in under 5 minutes. Compare this to an EV, few have a nominal range over 200 miles on a full charge, public recharging points are few and far between and even on a fast High Voltage charger it’s often claimed you will need about 20 minutes to get up to 80% charged. Don’t forget that any electrical use in an EV reduces its range so you may have to limit use of the heater, wipers, Radio, heated seats and heated rear window to make it to the next charging point. When you get to your destination will you be able to recharge your EV? A recent survey found that many people were resorting to using multiple extension leads plugged into a standard domestic supply. Not only is this a very slow way to charge an EV, it is downright dangerous running a live cable across the pavement in the rain. Yes range could be a major problem so I dug a little deeper.

A standard Nissan Leaf is rated at 110Kw and has a stated range of 168 miles on a full charge. Now I could opt for a better model rated at 168Kw and the range goes up to 239 miles but what does this go to charging time. When I looked I could hardly believe what I was reading a full charge from a domestic socket would take 32 hours. Yes a day and a third! To get anything like a quick charge I would need to purchase a 50Kw fast charger (about £900 + installation + cable) and then a charge from 20% to 80% would take 90 minutes! Well my trip to the shops would be OK, but I reckon a trip to visit the relatives in North Yorkshire would require two extra 90 minute stops if I could find a 50Kw charger when I needed it.

I started to realise why EV sales are so sluggish and why most AFV buyers are opting for a Hybrids. Logically sales of AFVs are not going to jump straight to the 2025 target of 945,000 EVs a year, they are going to have build up to there. In the nine years from 2016 to 2025 let’s imagine sales increasing by 100,000 a year, cumulative sales would then be 4.5 million (100,000 + 200,000 + 300,000………). Using these numbers we should already have a national EV fleet of 600,000 AFVs but it is actually only just over 200,000. The projected total is not unreasonable if we are to meet the Government target as the current UK fleet is about 38 million cars and vans but we are clearly failing to get anywhere near it. However this is even worse than it looks as there were already over 50,000 AFV registrations at the end of 2015. Annual AFV sales are accelerating, but very, very slowly and are nowhere near hitting the numbers necessary to meet the CCC’s predictions.

Worthinggooner, Going Postal

I then considered if I would be able to charge a new EV anywhere other at home. I must also consider that in 2025 the capacity of many of those cars batteries will have deteriorated with age (Nissan predict 3% per year) and a life of perhaps 8 years. Taking this into consideration it is not unreasonable to expect half the 4.5 million Electric Vehicles projected to be on the road in 2025 will need a full charge every day. This gives a reasonable number of 2.25 million needing to be charged daily in 2025 for which recharging facilities need to be provided. Currently there are about 13,600 public charging points in the U.K. for the 200,000 EVs on the road, but this number is going to have to increase hugely if we are going to have 4.5 Million EVs by 2025. Plainly a huge investment will need to be made in Grid infrastructure to support the required network of fast chargers but there is no sign of it happening. Why? Have the PTB realised that we are never going to reach sales of 945,000 EVs by 2025.

I mentioned earlier that Nissan reckons an eight year battery life, so I looked at how much a replacement would cost. It appears to be about £5,500 so if I was to change a car after 3 years it wouldn’t be my problem but it I suspect it could effect the second hand price. The other problem is the weight of the battery, My C3 has a kerb weight of 1090 Kg, a Leaf weighs in at roughly double that 2149Kg. My C3 has a heavy engine and transmission, the Leaf has an electric motor. The main difference must be the weight of the battery. It must take a lot of power to drag around at least a tonne of battery.

Electric Vehicles rely heavily on Lithium-ion batteries and there are plenty of questions regarding their green credentials, so I suppose I should consider them as part of my investigation. But as someone who is not convinced by “Climate Change” my thinking was not unduly influenced by this. Firstly the question of Rare Earth Minerals. Lithium-ion batteries make use of Lithium, Cobalt, Nickel and other metals and the production of much of them has been associated with poor human rights and worker protection in third world countries many in Chinese owned facilities. On the other hand these same materials are used in modern electronics and as nearly everyone has a mobile phone people seem not to worry about this aspect, so should I? A little more worrying is that that, as the name implies, rare earth minerals are rare and there are major worries that there will not be enough available to meet the enormous demands imposed by a mass switch to EV’s. This is not a problem today but will need to be kept under review.

In the short term however, I note that the Chinese, who have collared much of the REM supply market, have recently been threatening to stop exports as part of the trade war with the US. Now this could be a huge problem as I have a possible January date for a car. Will one be available then if the Chinese threat materialises? One other thing to think about is used battery disposal. It shouldn’t worry me if I dispose of any EV before it needs replacing, but I can see a future Government introducing a Tax here. Could this happen before next January?

Having considered the availability of charging points I now needed to think about electricity. What if in 2025 we have all done the Governments bidding and purchased an EV, I now needed look at if there would be plenty of generating capacity to cope with the additional load coming from the need to charge 2.25 million AFVs daily. Some basic facts, the UK, will have a stated Electricity capacity to supply a maximum of 98GW this winter according to National Grid projections. This includes every source, interconnectors, biomass, pump storage, CCGT, Coal, Wind, Solar and anything else you can think of. But this is clearly rubbish as the calculations includes 11 GW of Coal, 43 GW of renewables and 3GW of Storage. Let’s deal with these in turn. Coal capacity is falling quicker than predicted because it is not getting supply contracts so it looks like being down to about 4GW. Renewables are highly intermittent, Solar is only available in daylight and capacity drops off during the winter and Wind at best produces 38% of it plated capacity in winter but only 20% in summer. At the time of writing, June 2019, the U.K. has 21.7GW of installed wind power, are we seriously going to double this by the end of the year. I nearly forgot Storage, at the moment this is basically pump storage which has the capacity to supply 36GW for about 45 minutes so it is only useful for smoothing unexpected peak demands. The Grid predicts (providing the winter is no colder than last year) peak demand will be 48GW in the week before Christmas meaning that with any luck we will just about scrape through without power cuts.

By 2025 the country will have closed down any remaining coal fired power stations to meet emissions targets. In addition we are scheduled to close 5 life expired Advanced Gas Cooled Reactor stations before then, removing another 5.06GW of capacity. The last 3 three AGRs are to close by 2030 removing another 3.6GWs.

What generating capacity is going to be added by 2025? Well Hinckley C is supposed to bring 3.2GW to the party in 2025. However, this is a new design and the four others of the same design that are currently under construction are all running years late. One is currently 10 years late, another 7 years late and the remaining two in China are both 4 years late. This is not to say that it will not be ready by 2025 but it looks ominous. Other new Nuclear projects all seem to have died or stalled and there is no chance of any other new Nuclear station before 2025. There is one CCGT, in Manchester, which should be online by then, but this is only 0.8GW and Lynemouth PS will have been converted to Biomass adding 0.42GW. 3.8GW of Offshore Wind is under construction, but this is the plate capacity and can only be expected to add about 25% of that to the grid (0.95GW). There isn’t any tidal power under construction in the UK. that project was scrapped due to its outrageous cost.

Worthinggooner, Going Postal

Totalling this up the National Grid says we are going to have 111 GW available in 2025 which on the face of it shows a slightly improved situation over the current situation. However this is heavily reliant on Hinckley being built to programme, 9 GW of renewables and 14GW of interconnectors being added, of which there is no sign at present. The official prediction even includes 1GW of extra storage capacity and 1GW of extra Oil Fired Capacity. I assume the oil is lots of small Diesel generators and the extra storage is coming from battery farms that can only supply power for a very short term. Importantly these predictions takes no account of any growth in usage. Domestic use is sure to rise as the Government wants us all to use less Gas and move to Electricity for heating and cooking. Several railway lines are going to be using more power. CrossRail, ThamesLink, Great Western Mainline, Midland Mainline and Northern Hub are all examples. HS2 is due in 2026 so just misses out being counted.

This clearly shows that rather than there being plenty of power, even without adding 2.25million EVs into the mix, supply is hardly enough today let alone in 2025. If we start getting Black outs or even Brown Outs it is going to make people think twice about buying an EV that they can’t drive because they can’t charge it. Do I really want a car sitting on my drive that is little more than an expensive ornament.

All this and I haven’t yet looked at the question of vehicle costs. First I looked at running costs and here an EV is attractive as there is no road tax or fuel tax to pay. Recent calculations in a green car magazine showed that but for the Tax and VAT on petrol it would be cheaper to run an ICE. It is worth pointing out that the Government will not put up with a drop in revenue if ICE sales drop or AFV sales increase. In fact the Government has already trimmed EV subsidies to £3500 for a Pure EV and removed them completely for other car categories, although a £500 grant towards a home charger is still available (but due for review next year). At the moment EVs are exempt from vehicle tax and congestion charges but how long will that last? If it can be shown that ICE car sales numbers are falling substantially and EV numbers are increasing how long will be before they are taxed to make up any shortfall. Subsidies have already been reduced how long before they are ended completely. Unlike petrol there is no special electricity tax for road users. Fuel duty raised £27.6 billion last year and the Government can’t afford to lose that kind of money so a scheme will have to be developed to tax the electricity used to recharge cars.

We also have to consider the plight of the SME who finds that he is having to pay to enter the Ultra Low Emissions Zone in London in his five year old van. £12.50 a day on top of the £11.50 a day congestion charge soon adds up. I have heard many a Plumber or courier complaining that they cannot afford to buy an electric van and even if they could there are none on the market that can carry the equivalent load to a diesel van. There is a Transport for London scheme of grants if you scrap a Diesel van but I understand that it offers a low sum and is tied up in so much red tape that many London SMEs find it next to useless. If you don’t live in London don’t think you are getting away with having an old van ULEZ schemes are due to be rolled out in a number of U.K. towns and cities over the next couple of years.

Insurance is also worth looking at but a little more difficult to compare as it is very much down to the individuals driving record. My C3 is fairly cheap for me to insure but a full No Claims Bonus makes a huge contribution. However I like my creature comforts in a car so I want lots of extras, meaning I do not go for the cheapest in the model range. My C3 is insurance group 11, to get a similarly specified car I had to look at the Leaf Tekna and this is insurance group 26!

All AFVs are more expensive to purchase than an equivalent petrol car by between two and three times, even after the Government grant has been taken into consideration. I decided to use CarWow to compare purchase costs as their prices include discounts. My model C3 currently comes in at around £16,500 and a Leaf Tekna is priced at £34,340 including the Government grant of £3500. At the moment it would seem that a home charger is essential due to the low number of public chargers so you can add another £1000 to that. But if you want a truly fast charger you will need to pay out a lot more as a three phase supply is needed. The Leaf is a Pure EV, PHEVs and Petrol Hybrids are still more expensive due to the need to include a petrol engine and not being eligible for a Government grant. The question is am I going to pay out over £18,000 in running costs over 3 years of ownership of an ICE to make an EV a viable option?

Another thought, the main driver for EVs is so called Climate Change and the restrictions placed on CO2 emissions by the Climate Change Act. Brexit could well lead to a rethink once free from the EU’s climate legislation and the costs and lack of uncompetitiveness become apparent. The Act is already forcing up electricity prices to the detriment of steel and glass makers. Recent figures show the EU Greenhouse Gas emissions have not decreased for several years and bit for our the UKs reductions would have increased for the past three years. Will EVs still sell if they have to compete on a level playing field?

So what is my conclusion? I cannot see me buying a Pure EV, they don’t have the range, there is insufficient support infrastructure and they are far too expensive. In the future I might consider a PHEV as they gets over the range and infrastructure problems but they are far too expensive at the moment. I just can’t see the point of a Petrol Hybrid, they are an expensive way to buy an ICE car. At the moment I will stick with a normal ICE car if I choose to replace my C3 next January, but I will keep the situation under review, who knows there might be a break through in battery technology, a new cheap EV on the market or a huge Government incentive to encourage us to buy an EV.

© WorthingGooner 2019

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