The incremental rise in global temperatures over the last century has reached a point that words like ‘concern’ have been replaced with words like ‘crisis’, even ‘catastrophe’. Though there is still some disagreement on how we tackle global warming, consensus is unanimous that our planet is getting hotter and that rising temperatures have coincided with the increased volumes of C02 pumped into Earth’s atmosphere.
Among the various innovations designed to prevent humanity reaching a point of no return are electric vehicles (EVs). Producing zero exhaust emissions, EVs were heralded as major step forward towards a carbon-neutral future. However, as their availability increased, doubts surfaced as to the scale of impact they could actually deliver.
In this piece, we’ll take a deep dive into the world of EVs, from their manufacture to their costs, to their everyday usability before concluding whether these eerily silent machines really are better for the environment.
Before we can begin dissecting the eco credentials, it’s worthwhile establishing what constitutes an EV.
An electric vehicle – otherwise commonly referred to as an electronic vehicle or battery vehicle – is an automobile that is propelled by an electric motor from energy stored in a rechargeable battery. Compared to internal combustion engine vehicles powered by petrol or diesel, EVs are much quieter and produce zero exhaust emissions.
Due to reduced fuelling and maintenance costs, the TCO of EVs is also lower than that of traditional petrol and diesel vehicles with EV owners powering up their vehicles at private charging stations typically installed on the exterior of their property or at public charging points.
With almost half a million EVs now whirring across the UK, the government banning the sale of new petrol and diesel cars from 2035, and with fuel prices reaching record highs, more and more people are considering making the switch.
Although the government recently withdrew its EV grant with little warning due to a claimed lack of impact on sales, the financial argument for switching remains compelling.
Price-wise, the gap between EVs and traditional, internal combustion vehicles continues to narrow, to the point it is expected to disappear altogether. But we’re not quite there yet and the monthly repayments for an EV tend to be around £150 more than a petrol equivalent. They are, however, often cheaper than diesel alternatives.
As any EV owner will eagerly tell you, it’s the running costs that generates the real excitement. Rising fuel prices has meant that filling the tank of a family hatchback can exceed £90 but – even with a similar rise in energy costs – charging an EV at home can cost less than half that.
Then there’s the vehicle tax status of an EV. Depending on the model and its age, an EV can either be entitled to a lower tax or be exempt altogether. Moreover, EVs are exempt from the London congestion charge and many councils provide owners with free public parking.
Even with a heftier price tag, the cumulative savings after the initial purchase of an EV are undeniable.
One drawback for many would-be EV owners is the time needed achieve a full charge. However, a rapid public charger, can take an EV to 100% battery in as little as 20 minutes. Home chargers tend to take longer with between six to 12 hours needed but if charging is done overnight, the process is not intrusive and drivers can awake to car capable of covering over 180 miles.
Should an EV battery run low while out on the road, drivers should rarely run the risk of losing power completely as the UK now boasts over 30,000 public electric vehicle charging points and more rapid chargers than any other European country.
According to the government’s recent Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Strategy, operators are also preparing the groundwork increase the number of chargers by a factor of 10 in time for 2035.
As the popularity of EVs continues to surge, electricity suppliers have been busily forecasting how this is likely to impact the national grid. As it stands, the general consensus is that the extra demand can be accommodated.
To give an idea of how an impressive feat this would be, in 2019, UK Power Networks estimated they had 63,000 EVs charging from their networks. By 2035, they expect that figure to have topped 4.1 million.
Accommodating this staggering increase in demand for power will partly come from the construction of extra power generation capacity. However, the further sophistication of innovations such as smart charging and vehicle-to-grid (V2G) will also play a crucial role in guaranteeing that supply of electricity can keep up with demand.
Smart charging describes a charging infrastructure and group of electricity tariffs that allow EV owners – whether a single EV or a fleet – to access lower rates – providing charging occurs at times when there is a surplus of electricity available.
As opposed to Economy 7 and comparable tariffs which traditionally offered customers cheaper electricity during designated hours, smart charging is based on real-time price data. Using automation technologies, supply and demand levels within the network are monitored and at times of surplus, EVs that are plugged in to mains electricity will begin charging the moment rates reach their lowest.
So, for example, a business with a smart tariff might plug in EVs within its fleet at 5pm, but actual charging will not commence until much later on in the evening when demand for electricity has dropped and the supplier has accordingly lowered its rates.
In what is a win-win situation, owners pay less to charge their EVs and electricity suppliers can reduce their peak demand times thus allowing them to avoid costly investments into new power generation capacity and network upgrades.
V2G, on the other hand, takes the concept of smart charging and makes it reciprocal. Where an EV is plugged in during periods of high demand, electricity streams from the EVs’ battery back into the grid to help ensure the demand can be met.
The best business electricity deals will include smart charging and V2G as options, so be sure to look for them.
While it’s true that EVs can only ever be as environmentally friendly as the source of power from which it relies on for charges it’s vital to remember that the potential is very much there for this to happen sooner rather than later.
In May 2019, the UK reached an historic milestone; the country was powered for a full fortnight without a single lump of coal being burnt. Then, in the third quarter of 2019, another milestone was surpassed when the UK’s windfarms, solar panels, biomass, and hydro plants generated more electricity than power stations fired by coal, oil and gas combined.
With solar power set to provide the largest share of electricity generation in the UK by 2050, the dream of 100% green EVs is very much alive.
To assess the environmental friendliness of any new vehicle it is subject to what’s known as a ‘vehicle lifecycle analysis’. The analysis factors in all the emissions the vehicle will produce during its time on Earth, from the mining of base metals to the manufacture of each constituent part, to the in-use consumption of whatever fuel it uses.
Lifecycle analyses on EVs have shown consistent and significant overall CO2 savings compared to fossil fuel powered vehicles. Indeed, the UK government’s 2018 publication ‘The Road to Zero’ reported that EVs, “…have substantially lower greenhouse gas emissions than conventional vehicles, even when taking into account the electricity source and the electricity used for battery production. Assuming the current UK energy mix, battery electric vehicles produce the lowest greenhouse gas emissions of all the energy sources and fuels assessed, irrespective of vehicle type and operation.”
The publication went on to estimate that EVs in the UK generate 66% fewer greenhouse gas emissions than typical petrol vehicles and 60% lower than diesel vehicles.
Evidence abounds that EVs are much better for the environment than their internal combustion engine-powered counterparts. At a local level, they help make the air in public areas cleaner and reduce noise pollution and, at a global level, they take us closer to achieving the objective of net zero.
If you’re looking to find out more information about adopting either electric vehicles or charging points at your business, get in touch with Tariff.com today. Our Tariff team can provide all the advice and support you need to get ready for an EV future.
At Tariff, we’ve made a firm commitment to helping businesses from all sectors adjust their energy usage habits. We have extensive experience in securing businesses the best possible deal on their gas and electricity, as well as preparing them for the looming 2050 deadline for net-zero emissions.
Whether you’re uncertain of your business’ future in energy, or you’re ready to make the move to a cleaner and brighter future, get in touch with our knowledgeable team today to find out how Tariff can help your business begin its green journey.