Making sense of responsible motoring
Are electric cars saving the earth?
It is common knowledge, that electric cars are the all new, super clean alternative to Petrol, or Diesel vehicles. But you might also have read articles, or watched videos, which claim the complete opposite. In fact there are some people who claim electrical vehicles are worse for the enviroment, than Petrol, or Diesel cars. In this article, we aim to put the argument to bed once and for all, with a selection of facts that will put your mind at rest when it comes to choosing your next car.
What are the real CO2 levels of an electric car?
Manufacturers of electric vehicles, will claim that their cars emmid ZERO EMMISSIONS. However, this is actually very misleading. But the truth is that Electric cars are still very clean, so I find it bizzar that car makers are not more honest. In todays world, if you want a car that has low emmissions, an electric car is probably, pretty much, as good as it gets. But if the carbon footprint of an electric car is not zero, what is it, and why?
To answer this we have to consider how the electric car is powered; but first lets consider a conventional Petrol fuelled vehicle. A Petrol vehicle has a CO2 output that is easy to calculate. Oil is refined into Petroleum, then this is transported to fuel stations across the UK. The car driver then fills their car, and as the Petroleum is ignited to drive the engine, it produces polution from the tail pipe. There are actually various pollutants produced in this process, but we shall concern ourselves with the CO2, which is easily measured from the tailpipe of the car.
The process of refining the Oil and deliverying it to Fuel stations also has a CO2 output, and ideally we would consider this too. But at the time of writing we know of no research into this, so will have to put it aside for the time being.
So now lets consider an electric car. Electricity is created in power stations across the country, which are typically in turn powered by Nuclear, Coal, Gas, or renewable sources such as Wind, Sea and Solar plants. The proportions of these in the UK is subject to continuous change, but it is roughly as follows.
Nuclear 14% - Releasing 20g of CO2 per kW/hour of electricity produced
Coal 31% - Releasing 800g of CO2 per kW/hour of electricity produced
Gas 46% - Releasing 230g of CO2 per kW/hour of electricify produced
Wind 3% - Releasing 40g of CO2 per kW/hour of electricity produced
Sea (Hydroelectric) 3% - Releasing 20g of CO2 per kW/hour of electricity produced
Solar 3% - Releasing 70g of CO2 per kW/hour of electricity produced
Estimated true CO2 production of UK electrical energy = 485g CO2 per kW/hour
Can a Petrol or Diesel car be as clean as an Electric car?
You may be surprised to hear, that it is actually possible for a Petrol or Diesel car to equal the low CO2 output of an electric car. Modern technology has made Petrol and Diesel cars more and more efficient, and the result is that the CO2 produced by them has been dropping significantly. A few interesting examples we have found are:
Suzuki Ignis 1.2litre Petrol - CO2 emmissions of 14g/km
Fiat Abarth 695 1.4T - 139g/km
In addition to this, Hybrid vehicles charge their batteries by harnessing wasted energy from braking, and decelerating. So the electricity they use is effectively free, and with no CO2 implications. Therefore hybrids are an excellent way of reducing your carbon footprint. Some great examples of these are:
Mercedes S500e - 65g/km CO2
Toyota Yaris 1.5 Icon Hybrid - 75g/km CO2
BMW 530e - 46g/km CO2
Volvo XC60 2.0 T8 Hybrid - 52g/km CO2
As you can see, these figures compare very favourably with an electric car, in fact they are considerably better than something like a Tesla model S, which will likely result in around 120g/km of CO2, due to the electrical power is consumes.
So we can conclude that a Petrol, or Diesel car, particularly a Hybrid, can be just as kind to the environment as an electric car. So when making your choice you would be sensible to way up all the options available to you. Please use the car chooser on this webside to compare estimated 'Real CO2' levels of different models of cars, including electric vehicles.
Other than low CO2 levels, are there any advantages to electric vehicles?
So now that we know this, we can use this figure, in conjunction with the stated km per kW/Hour for a given car, to work out a theoretical CO2 output, for comparison against Petrol, or Diesel vehicles.
The Nissan Leaf has a range of aproximately 278km, on a full charge from a 40kW/hr battery. By dividing the charge of the battery by the range, we calculate that the Nissan Leaf uses 0.144kW/hours for every km travelled.
If we then multifly this my the CO2 output of 485g per kW/hour for UK energy, we can calcuate that the Nissan Leaf will result in the production of 70g of CO2 for every km it travels. This is incredibly low, and makes the Nissan Leaf an incredibly green and efficient car, so it is surprising this is not officially published. A typical 10 year old Diesel car will emit around 150g of CO2, twice that of the Nissan Leaf.
So we can conclude that electric cars are incredible efficient, and have a very low comparative CO2 level output. But calling them 'Zero emmissions' cars is very misleading.
This is the good bit - electric vehicles have lots of advantages!
1 - They are Quiet
First of all they are quiet - silent in fact. That droning noise of the engine seeping through into the cabin has been a problem car makers have strugged with for decades. But an electric motor is near to silent, so you will not hear engine noise.
2 - They are fast
Yes you read that right, electric cars are fast! Take the Tesla P100D for example, which despatches with 0-60mpg in a mere 2.5 seconds. Thats motorcycle territory!
Of course not all electric cars are superfast. But electric motors produce a lot of torque, which helps with acceleration times. So electric motors can produce blistering performance with a great deal more ease that a Diesel or Petrol engine.
3 - They help reduce running costs
Electricity is not heavily taxed like Petrol or Diesel, so the runing costs of an Electric vehicle are very low. In addition, Tesla have had some attractive deals with their new cars, where charging their cars is free at selected locations up and down the country.
Unfortunately new electric cars are still expensive, so the initial outlay is still high. But once you have purchased the car you could end up saving more than 50% on your fuel bills. See below on how fuel costs can be calculated.
4 - They are near to maintenance free
Because there is no internal combustion engine and no complex gearbox, an electric car is much simpler to maintain than a conventional Petrol or Diesel one. An electric car still needs checking and servicing, so they are not completely maintenance free, but there are less moving parts and serving is a much simpler task.
Unfortunately many electric car owners have reported getting high bills from the dealer, for what should be a low cost checkup. Because conventional garages cannot carry out work on electric cars, some dealers appear to be taking advantage. But it is inevitable that the skills required to service, and repair, an electric car will become more widespread in the future. We should then see costs fall considerably.
5 - They have no tailpipe emmissions, so you are not polluting your immediate viscinity.
What disadvantages are there?
of course there are disadvantages to everything; electric cars are no exception. These are a few of the things you should consider:
1 - The range can be limited
The range of an electric vehicle, is limited by the capacity of the batteries. Battery technology is being developed all the time, and some electric cars, now have impressive claimed ranges. However ranges of electric cars are still falling short of fuel efficient Petrol, or Diesel models. This means that electric vehicles, may not be suitable for people who do a lot of miles.
2 - Fueling up takes a long time
Unlike Petrol or Diesel vehicles, which can be re-fueled in a matter of minutes, electric cars have to be charged, and this takes hours. The charge time for a Tesla Model S is aproximately 7 hours. This may make an electric car impractical for some people.
3 - You cannot have your car repaired at a conventional garage
Obviously as electric cars become more common, garages will begin to develop the skills necessary. But at present, owners are at the mercy of the dealers. In many cases this is not a problem, as the dealers are fair, and offer a good service. However there are also reports of some owners being overcharged.
4 - They can be expensive
The technology of electric cars, particularly the batteries, is expensive. This in turn makes an electric car expensive. You may find that you can find a much cheaper Petrol or Diesel car with a similar specification to an electric one you are looking at. The initial investment has to be compared, with the lower running costs, when making a purchase.
5 - Lack of choice in the market place
The market place for electric vehicles is still very small; but growing all the time. This means if you specifically want an electric vehicle, you might find yourself with very few options that fit your requirements.
Electric cars are an incredible technology, and I have no doubt they will become more, and more popular as time goes on. The technology will inevitably drop in price, and the choices will grow. The only real sticking point will always be the charge time, but if the range can be increased enough, this might not be a problem, even for business users doing high milleages.
If you are in the market for a new car, I would strongly recommend you consider an Electric vehicle. But do not think it is your only choice, make an informed decision, after learning as much as you can about them.