What types of use best suit electric vehicles?
The first wave of electric cars mostly have a far more limited range than petrol or diesel cars. This obviously makes them more suitable for short rather than long journeys but there are specific patterns of use which are particularly favourable for operating an EV (electric car).
These considerations only really apply to the early short-range cars we’ve seen so far – as range improves, it should be possible to use electric cars as flexibly as diesels and petrols.
- Short predictable journeys
Short journeys within a few miles of a home charger – shopping trips, school runs and so on – can all be undertaken in an electric car without any worries about range.
- Longish within-range regular commutes
The sweet spot for electric car use is probably a longish regular daily commute of about 30 miles each way. This should be comfortably within range for most electric cars in all conditions but involves racking up a lot of miles.
That’s important because an electric car has a big per-mile fuel cost advantage over petrol and diesel – about 2p per mile compared with 10-20p per mile, so the higher the mileage the greater the saving.
In the case of a PHEV, much the same argument applies – journeys that can be accomplished within the “electric only” range of a PHEV are going to be a lot cheaper than those which require the internal combustion engine to kick in.
It’s worth bearing in mind, though, that the electric-only range of a PHEV is typically much shorter than the range of a pure electric car.
- Main routes/rapid charging
Motorways are increasingly well-served by rapid charging facilities but longer journeys away from these main routes in an early short-range electric car will require a bit more planning.
Urban v rural v suburban
Because the first wave of modern electric cars suffered from comparatively limited range, it was commonly assumed that they would mainly be used in an urban setting. But these cars are probably better suited to suburban and rural use.
More prospective owners will have off-street parking for home charging, and they will probably do slightly longer journeys, but still within range. Away from urban congestion, traffic conditions are more predictable which makes it easier to judge whether a particular journey can be completed without range problems.
Of course, a PHEV is much more flexible from the point of view of the types of journeys that can be undertaken without needing to worry about charging up the battery. But longer trips that involve a lot of use of the petrol or diesel engine on a PHEV are going to cost far more per mile.
Electric cars – the practicalities
No discussion of electric cars can avoid the subject of range – the distance an electric car can travel on a top-up from the mains. Most of the first wave of modern electric cars could cover about 80 miles on a full battery – although that can probably vary as much as the fuel consumption on a petrol or a diesel depending on factors such as driving style.
Motoring journalists coined the term “range anxiety” to describe the supposed feeling of dread at running out of juice. In fact most electric car drivers probably have a good feel for the range of which their car is capable but if range is rarely a source of anxiety for the drivers, it is certainly a limitation – most petrols and diesels can go far further on a single tank of fuel.
On the other hand, the battery capacity, and therefore the range, of electric cars has been improving rapidly – probably far more quickly than was previously expected.
A PHEV will have a similar maximum range to a normal petrol or diesel car but doesn’t really have any economy advantage for the portion of the journey that isn’t completed under electric power.
- What you can expect
Battery capacity is measured in kilowatt hours (kWh). The first modern electric cars such as the first Nissan Leafs, the Renault Fluence ZE and the earliest Renault Zoes had batteries with a capacity in the 20-24 kWh bracket and offered a range of approximately 80 miles but the most recent models offer far more.
- What affects it
The actual range an electric car can achieve depends on a wide range of factors. An important one is driving style – gentle use of the accelerator pedal really pays off.
Range tends to suffer in poor weather. Not only does the driver have to use heating, wipers, headlamps and so on – lower temperatures mean fewer miles from the battery anyway.
Similar considerations apply to the distance a PHEV will be able to cover in electric-only mode.
- How it is improving
Range is improving quickly – probably far more quickly than experts expected when the first modern electric cars started appearing a few years ago. The first Nissan Leaf had a 24 kWh battery and offered a range of about 80 miles.
Later, a 30 kWh battery was offered as an option, and the second-generation model has been launched with 40 kWh, and a larger battery pack is expected to follow soon.
A competitor of the Leaf that isn’t imported into the UK, the Chevrolet Bolt, already has a battery of 60 kWh. Range should, broadly speaking, increase in line with battery capacity so it looks as though future owners of electric cars would be starting to expect a 200+ mile range rather than 80 miles.
Teslas have always been offered with larger-capacity battery packs that have allowed them to be much more range-competitive with diesels and petrols than other electric cars.
There are a wide variety of charging options for electric cars and PHEVs. Most owners do most of their charging at home, and subsidies are available for professionally installed home chargers. This can be difficult to arrange for homes without off-street parking.
Some employers provide charging facilities at workplaces, and supermarkets, hotels and local authority sites sometimes have charging points too.
Tesla has its own network of rapid “Superchargers” and the main motorways are also served by rapid chargers – most notably those provided by Ecotricity.
In November 2017 Ecotricity and charge point manufacturer Rolec EV launched the Fully Charged Bundle, a new electric vehicle charging offer with three key elements:
New Green Electricity + EV tariff – Recognising electric vehicle drivers use more power than the average home, Ecotricity has created a new structure that will save the average EV household around £120 a year compared to a Big Six standard tariff – it’s the lowest cost electric vehicle tariff on the market.
WallPod home charging unit from Rolec – £99 installed – Thanks to its new partnership with charging specialists Rolec, Ecotricity customers can benefit from a significant discount on a professionally installed home charging unit. The WallPod can charge a vehicle up to 60% faster than a standard plug socket. Compared to other home chargers, this is a saving of around £180 – and is exclusive to Ecotricity customers.
Half price charging on the road with the Electric Highway – Ecotricity removed the connection fee of £3 for everybody and charges a simple 30p per unit to charge on the road. Ecotricity customers will pay just 15p per unit – half price, and roughly equivalent to what they will be paying for their green electricity at home on the new Green Electricity + EV tariff – around a £50 a year saving for the average user.
Mobility specialist Alphabet, which accounts for one in ten new EV and hybrid registrations, has a partnership with Chargemaster giving access to more than 5,500 chargers for those using its cars.
Charging at home is cheap – the usual rule of thumb is 2p per mile – but expect to pay up when using at least some charging facilities away from home.
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