It is estimated that the cost to the climate of the internal combustion engine annually is around 5 billion tons CO2 equivalent or 10% of total CO2 equivalent emissions. It is true that certain transport sectors such as airplanes, boats and heavy goods vehicles present a big challenge in terms of moving to electricity as a fuel, but otherwise figures show that this transition for cars is possible and worthwhile to reduce transport’s effect on the climate.
According to the US Department of Energy electric vehicles convert 77% of the power from the grid into energy at the wheels versus 12-30% of the energy stored in gasoline to the wheels by internal combustion vehicles. It has been shown that this efficiency means that even when powered by the dirtiest electricity (coal) the lifetime emissions (including manufacture) of an electric car are considerably less than those for an equivalent petrol/diesel car. This efficiency advantage and simpler engine maintenance also plays out in terms of the annual cost of a car. Recent publications by car lease companies put the annual cost of an electric mid-size saloon at 85% of an equivalent petrol/diesel version.
The above also considers the situation as of today and as the electricity grid decarbonises further and battery production efficiency improves, the gap will only grow. So, less damaging to the environment and cheaper, but what about the experience?
The first thing you will notice is that you are driving a car without gear changes (manual or automatic), and whilst there have been experimental multi gear initiatives we do not see them being adopted. The simple reason for this is the electric motor’s extraordinary ability to achieve very high RPM so a single gear becomes a practical engineering solution. As most of the torque is still at the lower end you will also notice that acceleration is impressive in almost every class of vehicle. Finally braking is noticeably different, as without a clutch, taking your foot off/easing up on the accelerator results in your car slowing down correspondingly, due to the engine breaking effect. Indeed, you will probably find yourself using the brakes much less often (which again is good for the environment). All this does feel different to start with, but you will soon become accustomed to it. Indeed, in multiple recent studies, all be they relatively small, run by motoring organisations an incredibly high percentage of owners say they would find it difficult to go back to a nonelectric car.
Clearly electric car ownership means that you also need to be conscious of how and when you will charge your car. It cannot be denied that the infrastructure for fuelling electric cars is not as mature as that for internal combustion cars. Electric car range, however, is improving quickly (commonly up to 150 miles) and will continue to improve, and public charge points are increasing by the day. But look at it another way, how many of us can fuel internal combustion cars at home? So, if you can, get a fast charger installed at home, see our article on electric car charger grants. Also, get to know your local charging infrastructure. Many apps are available to help you; independent (Zap-Map), charge point specific (Electric Highway), and many electric cars will come with apps that help you with this. The apps will commonly give information on number of free pumps, charger type available and pricing. Free charging points still exist in some retail centres and car parks, albeit numbers are reducing, and they may have limitations on permitted usage, but see if they exist in places that fit with your plans. Finally be aware that the range of your electric car will be affected by driving style, the equipment in use (AC, lights, etc.) and the outside temperature, however, in most vehicles this information will be fed back to you.
Also worth noting is that due to their upfront cost and the requirement for user information, electric cars commonly have a reassuring high spec, plus due to their mechanical simplicity a lower maintenance requirement.
Moving to an electric car can seem like a big decision, however, with a considerably wider range of new cars to choose from and the second-hand market now increasing rapidly in size, it can be a very satisfying one. If you are unsure it is always worth using a car sharing scheme to try one, and perhaps you will also find that car sharing fits your vehicle usage.