Electric vehicles (EVs) can be an eco-friendly alternative to petrol and diesel-powered options and they can also be economical if your commute is within the distance they’re able to cover. If the range and requirements of electrical vehicles meet your individual needs, then you might find they are worth adding to your list of possibilities when car shopping.
However, if you’re considering purchasing an electric car, there are many questions you might be asking, such as how much do they cost to run, where do you charge them and exactly how do they work?
How do electric cars work?
Put simply, an electric powered car makes use of rechargeable electric batteries to power its electric motor and turns its wheels. When the batteries are running low or empty they must be recharged via grid electricity via a dedicated charge point or a socket in the wall.
Unlike other road vehicles like petrol and diesel cars that operate using the long standing internal combustion engine, electric vehicles are powered instead by an electric battery pack, which is electrically charged. The batteries then work to power the electric car’s motor and turn the vehicle’s wheels.
Owners of electric vehicles can resupply power to their depleted electric battery packs easily via a standard wall-mounted socket used typically for standard electric household appliances. Alternatively, they can recharge from a dedicated unit for charging installed conveniently in their home. Once the electric vehicles charge port is connected to the electricity source, power will be received by the battery pack, replenishing it and storing it within the vehicle ready for use.
The term ‘hybrid’ refers to an electric car that utilises a combination of liquid fuels as well as electricity.
Entirely electric vehicles are not fitted with exhausts, which means that they produce absolutely zero exhaust emissions. This, in part, is responsible for their eco-friendly image.
There are many similarities between electric and regular cars such as their thermal system for cooling. Electric car batteries are lithium ion and, just as with a regular car’s engine, will heat up when in use. An optimum operating temperature is important at all times.
Electric cars contain an essential regulator, which ensures that the energy levels that are produced and used by the vehicle stay consistent. The prime role of the regulator is to protect the electric car battery and make sure it doesn’t burn out.
How far can an electric car go?
The distance an electric car can cover on a full charge is a question many customers are concerned about when buying an EV. Many in the market for an electric car fear not having enough battery power to make the journey to another chargepoint and can be put off. As a rule, the greater the battery size in your electric car, the greater your range.
Tesla models overall have the highest real-life range and this is due to the superior size of their batteries. Depending on the model they can cover between 200 to 300 miles – a far greater distance than their competitors. With an equally high price tag, often in excess of £60,000, however, an electric car from Tesla is beyond the price range of the majority of households.
Without Tesla vehicles included in the count, the real-life average range of an electric car is around 133 miles, with specific makes and models coming in higher or lower than this.
Battery size is indicative of the range an electric car can cover. For example, the Renault Zoe, with its 22-kWh battery, has an average range of 89 miles. Meanwhile, the Nissan Leaf, with a 40-kWh capacity, has an average range of just under double this at 170 miles.
Be mindful when electric vehicle manufacturers cite New European Driving Cycle (NEDC) ranges, as these can be misleading to customers. NEDC ranges have been found to overstate ranges in real life by as much as 40%, and in some cases more. This is because the testing conditions for NEDC do not imitate real-life driving circumstances, with cruising speeds at a constant, low acceleration, and no air conditioning or heat in use, among other factors.
Where to charge an electric car
There are multiple options when it comes to places for charging your electric vehicle. As a general rule, you can use the same method for recharging your electric car as you do your phone. Top up your car battery during the day as and when needed and, when you get home, let your electric battery charge fully overnight.
The majority of electric vehicle battery charging in the UK is managed either at home or at workplaces. Many workplaces benefit from electric charge points. If you are fortunate enough to be able to charge at work, you can recharge your electric battery while your car is idle and give it a full charge at night when you get home.
Home charging remains the easiest and most cost-effective way of charging your electric battery in the UK, but there are also a variety of public charge points available, offering a range of speeds from rapid to slow.
The biggest regional networks include ChargePoint Scotland, Source London and Plugged-in Midlands. If you are an electric car user with membership, you can access any of the charge points within the network you’re registered to.
The major operators offering charging facilities in the UK include Ecotricity, Charge Your Car ChargeMaster/POLAR, and POD Point. These networks for EV charging are at a relatively early stage in their development, which means that the level of coverage, support, services offered and prices vary widely.
Most networks provide an app you can download to your phone for free allowing you to easily find available charge points you can use on your route.
Rapid charge points situated mainly on motorways are an excellent option when you want to get a full battery quickly. Some supermarkets also provide rapid charging facilities.
How much does it cost to charge an electric car?
Just how much it will cost you to charge your electric battery in the UK will vary depending on the location you charge it in. Electric batteries charged publicly, at work and at home will all differ in cost. Charging costs will also vary depending on the size of your battery, with larger batteries obviously costing more to replenish.
Here’s a snapshot of costs to charge an electric powered vehicle with a 60 kilowatt hour (kWh) battery and a range of 200 miles:
- Using rapid charger points at a service station on the motorway (or some supermarkets) for a 30-minute charge delivering 100 miles worth will normally cost around £6.50
- Charging points for electric cars based in car parks and many supermarkets are in most cases free of charge, allowing you to top up while your vehicle is idle during your stay
- Charging at the workplace is also usually free with access offered throughout the day to employees. If your company installs electric charge points, this is a highly cost effective way to top up your vehicle and reduce your costs while you work
- When charging your electric battery at home, achieving a full charge will cost around £7.80.
Charging electric cars at home is still the most cost-efficient and convenient way to maintain your electric powered vehicle at full charge. Most EV drivers will charge their vehicle overnight with a full charge delivered by morning.
The average home electric rate is charged at around 14p per kilowatt. Fully charging your vehicle will give you around 200 miles range and cost around £7.80. Home charging is ideally done via a dedicated chargepoint for the home – this is available at a single cost starting at £279 through an OLEV grant from the government.
Battery size will also have an impact on how much charging costs, with larger 100 kWh batteries costing about £12.93 for a full charge, while a car with 40 kWh capability will cost about £5.17.
How long does it take to charge an electric car?
Depending on a number of influencing factors, an electric car can take you as little as 30 minutes to recharge. However, they can take much longer, with some clocking in at 12 hours. Charging times for electric cars are greatly dependent on the speed of the charge points and the size of your electric vehicle’s battery.
The average electric powered car, for example a Nissan Leaf which contains a 30 kWh battery, will take four hours to achieve a full charge from empty when using a seven kWh charging point based at home.
Charge points located at service stations on the motorway can deliver the fastest recharge times. Dubbed “rapid charge”, these charge points are an incredibly quick way to charge your electric battery, providing a full charge in around 30 minutes. Rapid chargers are perfect for long-distance journeys.
How long it takes a car battery to charge can be affected by additional factors such as how full or empty the battery is, the ambient temperature and the particular electric vehicle’s maximum charge speed.
Are electric cars better for the environment?
Just how green are electric cars? There is a widespread belief that electric vehicles have a positive impact, or at least not a negative one, on the environment. To a great extent, this perception is true.
Environmental pros for electric cars
The main reason that electric vehicles are better for the environment is that they are far less dependent on fossil fuels than other vehicles on the road powered by diesel and petrol. For the time being, electric cars must still charge their batteries through electricity so they are still utilising fossil fuels, but due to the fact that they release no emissions into the atmosphere through an exhaust pipe, they are far more environmentally friendly.
Electric cars are designed to be more recyclable than those powered by petrol and diesel. There are many models of electric vehicles that are crafted with reusable parts such as dashboards, fabrics and air ducts, further improving their low carbon footprint.
In terms of sound pollution, electric cars are notably quieter than their diesel or petrol-powered counterparts, making a sound mainly when travelling at higher speeds, which even then is due to tyre noise or wind resistance and still makes them quieter than most regular vehicles under the same conditions.
Environmental cons for electric cars
There are some negative effects of electric powered vehicles too, however. Normally, electric cars will be recharged via the nation’s electricity grid and the electricity may not come from a renewable source. The mining and manufacture of the car batteries also has a negative impact on the planet. The disposal of the batteries is also an environmental concern. While these issues pale in comparison to the air pollution caused by petrol and diesel vehicles, electric cars do have a carbon footprint.
While electric cars do have a negative impact on the environment, they are still a far more eco-friendly option when compared to the alternatives, and it’s to be hoped that as more people begin to use them, their manufacturers find ways to make them even greener.
So should you buy an electric car?
While the high price tags associated with electric cars can be off-putting for some, it’s worth noting that the price of these vehicles is expected to fall over the coming years. It’s also worth bearing in mind the fact that electric cars are more efficient and cheaper to run and maintain than their gas-guzzling counterparts. Charging times are also expected to decrease over the coming years and it’s hoped that the number of public charging points will increase with demand.
Performance-wise, electric cars leave diesel and petrol cars in the dust when it comes to power, torque and acceleration. They also handle better and boast a range of benefits and smart features such as connectivity and regenerative braking, so if you’re looking for a vehicle that’s fun and impressive to drive, while helping you to keep your environmental impact to a minimum and your financial costs down, electric cars are definitely worth considering.