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Is now the time to switch to an electric vehicle?

Posted by Sam Tonge on 21 September 2017 at 9:40 am

Recent announcements by car manufacturers and governments have arguably signalled an impending transformation in the way we will all move about in future. A shift from the polluting internal combustion engine towards greener forms of transport is arguably the biggest adjustment to our travel habits since the invention of the automobile itself. You may also be wondering how this might affect you in the long-term, particularly if you are currently the driver of a diesel car.

It’s understandable that you might feel a little frustrated about these developments given the policies of the 2000s which incentivised us to adopt diesel cars through lower taxation. Diesel was seen as a cleaner alternative to petrol which would help in lowering our carbon emissions as part of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, appearing to many as the fuel of the future. However increased awareness of the fuel’s impact on air pollution (notably toxic emissions such as NOx and particulates) alongside notable events such as the Volkswagen emissions scandal (otherwise known as ‘dieselgate’) have forced a change of direction with green transport.

Overcoming obstacles

Alongside these developments, innovations in electric vehicle technology have become increasingly feasible and affordable, with recent policy announcements giving them a big boost in terms of their future prospects. However for this to be realised on a national scale, certain obstacles must be overcome. For example, does the mains electricity used to charge the vehicle derive from renewable technology or will it continue to be generated through carbon-intensive method? Despite much lower running costs, through cheap charging and road tax exemption, the upfront price will be likely to put some motorists off from using electric cars all together.

Our national infrastructure will require across-the-board upgrades to ensure the National Grid can continue to keep up with increased demand, with some claims that it could even “destroy domestic wiring systems”. It’s also very reasonable to have logistical concerns such as ‘how will I be able to find a charge point?’, and ‘will they be placed often enough if, say I’m on a long journey?’.

There are also wider issues  of how this long-term mobility transition solves immediate air quality issues, problems of congestion as well as falling tax revenue from vehicle excise duty. It’s important to consider how such innovations affect progress in meeting global social and environmental improvements. Cobalt (an integral component of lithium batteries) has been found to originate from mines within the Democratic Republic of Congo where children are forced to work under exploitative conditions. Alongside the issue of resource exploitation lies the problem of battery transport and disposal, which will inevitably call into question the sustainability of battery technology at its current stage.

Reasons to be cheerful

These are of course valid concerns, which we as a society will have to address if the transition to electric vehicles is to be realised. Recent innovations in decentralised electricity generation such as solar PV backed up by domestic battery storage arguably boost the viability of electric vehicles. Grants for installing hybrid and electric car charging points are also available not just for individuals, but also for businesses and local authorities too.

V2G (vehicle to grid) is a strategy mentioned in the Government’s plan which would see the use of batteries in electric vehicles also being used as storage points to export electricity back to the grid during periods of high demand.

New research highlights how the carbon emissions associated with charging an electric car such as a Tesla have fallen by two thirds since 2012, due to the rapid rise in renewable technology in the UK.

Some car companies are already driving the change by releasing hybrid and plug-in hybrid models. This blend of diesel (or petrol) engines with pioneering electric technologies will prove useful for those who are unable to install their own charging point. Despite an initial price premium they boast low running costs and will provide a valuable stepping stone for those who are hesitant to make the transformation.

Car giants are also offering scrappage deals for old vehicles and the Government are now allowing local authorities to consider a wider diesel scrappage scheme to meet air quality standards. However this is currently only a trial which must meet Government approval at its current stage.

What should I do?

During major transitions, it goes without saying that uncertainty is an inevitable and no one really knows for sure how it’s all going to work. Only time will tell how the transition to electric vehicles will unfold, although here at YouGen we believe there is sufficient reason to be optimistic!

This leaves you with a choice. You can wait until the path becomes clear and you can learn from others about how the transition will take place. Or alternatively you can be one of those headstrong pioneers who actively shape and drive the change through taking action. This is of course thinking in black and white terms, as there are ways of engaging with the technology in between these two extremes.  The adoption of hybrid and then plug-in hybrid vehicles will be a key stepping stone for many in adapting to the change.  

Whatever option you choose, it’s safe to say that the future is bright for the electric car, and it’s seemingly increasingly likely that the question is not ‘if’ you will adopt an electric car, but ‘when’.

Find an electric car charging point near you using the interactive Zap Map tool.



Image credit: Mark Vauxhall

About the author:

Sam has contributed to our blog since 2016 and previously worked for the National Energy Foundation.

He became interested in green energy after completing a degree in Geography (BSc) at Royal Holloway, University of London. 

Sam is passionate about renewable energy and is committed to spreading the word about the role it plays in delivering environmental sustainability. 

If you have a question about anything in the above blog, please ask it in the comments section below.

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4 comments - read them below or add one

Kay Bickley

Kay BickleyComment left on: 31 October 2017 at 4:28 pm

We are now owners of our third Nissan Leaf and have been electric car owners since 2011. We have made every effort to ditch our use of fossil fuels both in our transport choices and also as heating for our home. As we have our own solar panels we can generate our own fuel which means a significant cost saving as well as doing our bit for the planet. As the majority of our journeys are local, the range issues that people moan about with electric cars has never been an issue for us. With careful planning using the many charging point maps now available, our longer journeys from Devon to London and further have always been achievable. It is with a certain smug satisfaction that we made a journey to London and back for less than a fiver. There are now rapid chargers at most service stations on the motorways that operate using apps as well as RFID cards and a growing number of alternative locations to top up your charge. Wild horses would not drag me back to using a fossil fuel driven car.

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andyteeComment left on: 12 October 2017 at 10:54 am

I've owned a Nissan Leaf for three years now and despite the range limitations it's amazing. I could never go back to an ICE car, or even a hybrid. The new mk2 Leaf available early next year has double the range of mine and looks fabulous. The charging infrastructure is getting better but there is a long way to go in the UK. Tesla have shown everyone else how to do it.

The important thing in the short term is that people stop buying diesels!

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rogerhowardComment left on: 8 October 2017 at 9:57 am

Cobalt's been mined for thousands of years for pigmentation, and in modern times for producing the superalloys in turbine blades and medical orthopedic implants, and oxidation catalysts. Would you lay on these users a guilt-trip about the poor young miners in the Congo, Sam? Then why EV owners all of a sudden? Give us a break. Superalloys are still the main uses of cobalt.

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MK1974Comment left on: 27 September 2017 at 7:30 am

Electric cars seem to be a no-brainer these days. The electric van battery technology needs to develop a little more before I consider leasing one for my business.

But I think that we shouldn't encourage people to drive in centres -  no matter if emission-free or not.

Best wishes,

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