Nov 25, 2020
The very first episode that was ever released on this podcast was called 'Myths and Legends'. It covered some of the main topics of ‘conversation’ that were trotted out whenever people were arguing against electric cars. You know the old chestnuts ‘The batteries will last three years then need replacing at huge cost’ and ‘you can’t drive them in the rain’ That sort of thing. If you want to go back and listen to that episode the link is here.
But since the announcement last week of the ban of new car sales with fossil fuel engines from 2030 there have been a whole list of different arguments that the sceptics have put up on social media.
I wanted to address these now and highlight those that are valid and those that are not.
You can be 100% certain that there are people in the fossil fuel segment that have a vested interest in making sure this doesn’t happen and they will be pushing forward a narrative which will include a number of the points I want to cover today. This is how you fight against that misinformation.
Remember: We are talking about banning the sale of NEW fossil fuel cars here. Not the sale of any fossil fuel car. So this is mainly aimed at fleets, companies and those people who like to buy a brand new car every couple of years. If you only buy second-hand cars, or you intend to run your current diesel Nissan Qashqai into the ground and take another 10 years to do it, that’s fine. This doesn’t apply to you.
So what’s the first argument that will be made?
1) The infrastructure isn’t ready. No. The infrastructure is not ready NOW to accommodate the large number of new electric vehicles that will be on the road in 2030. But we have 9 years to make it ready. There are currently (Nov 2020) 20,197 public charging points in the UK, in 12,724 locations, according to ZapMap. Companies like Podpoint, Osprey Charging and bp Chargemaster have ambitious plans to roll out literally thousands of new chargers over the next ten years. Osprey has funding to put 2000 rapid chargers in and bp Chargemaster will look to add somewhere in the region of 4000. That’s just two of the main players in this area.
The government has also committed to spending £1.3 billion in implementing new charge points: presumably a mix of rapid chargers for quick boosts and some of the slower chargers for ‘grazing’. We’ll come back to grazing in a little while.
2) If everybody plugs in the grid will collapse. No. It won’t. For several reasons: Firstly not everybody will plug in at the same time. As we’ve already established in previous episodes 40% of houses don’t have off-street parking so plugging in for them is not an option. This means that in reality we will be expecting 60% of those people buying new EVs to be plugging in at some point to charge. But - in much the same way as all 30-odd million cars in the UK don’t head to the petrol station at the same time - these EVs won’t charge at the same time. In our episode on the Kia eNiro owner Andrew Till told us he only charges about every couple of weeks to do his regular commute. This is generally all done from his home charger. This is not unusual. Personally I can go about a week without charging and I’ve only got a car with about 105 miles of range. For newer cars with longer ranges the length of time between charges becomes greater. Remember for the vast majority of people their daily travel is something less than 20 miles.
Secondly the National Grid have said they’re happy the grid can cope: I mean the Coronation Street mid-episode tea break causes a huge surge and that doesn’t seem to be an issue as hundreds and thousands people pop the kettle on. Yes, there might be some local infrastructure that needs upgrading. But the government will help fund that and the power companies have nine years to put that in place.
The corollary to this argument is “We’ll need to build 10 new power stations to cope with the increased power that’s needed”. No, we won’t because there will be a drop in the amount of energy needed to refine oil into petrol. At the moment we already have regular underutilisation of the grid at night where companies like Octopus Energy will actually pay you to use the power they can’t get rid of. If the grid is overstretched, how can this happen?
Finally on this subject the addition of new cars to the grid will also bring on the ability of vehicle to grid charging to play to help level the load on the grid. At the moment this is only available with the Nissan Leaf but there are companies looking at doing this with Type 2 charging and the CCS standard can support V2G charging although it still needs work.
3) Disposing of old batteries is not green: Yes. It is. In fact recycling of batteries is super important for the whole EV life cycle. The whole canard of 'batteries last three years then need to be replaced' is such abject nonsense that it is actually causing a problem for the recycling industry. There are companies out there that can recycle batteries and turn well over 90% of the recycled components back into new batteries. But there are so few batteries available for recycling that they’re having to use ones from old hybrids and crashed vehicles to test their process. Remember, too that batteries do not go from the car to the dump or recycler. They go from a car to a second life usage to a recycler. Second life usage is putting batteries into things like home storage solutions or using them to store power from a portable generator. This extends the life of batteries and reduces the amount that get recycled.
Obviously as more EVs come onto the road and more accidents happen we’ll see more batteries available for recycling so the cycle will continue.
4) People with no off-street parking won’t be able to charge: Yes. That’s right. But why’s that an issue? Nobody can fill their car at home now with petrol or diesel but that doesn’t seem to be a problem. So why is not having a home charger an issue? Co-founder of the podcast Simon has just finished his third year of living with an electric car in a flat that has no ability to charge. He has no problem getting his car charged.
There are numerous options available for helping with this.
With EVs - as we’ve said numerous times - grazing is the way of charging. For example: put your car on charge when you go shopping - Tesco has charge points at hundreds of its larger stores. Morrisons are served by Geniepoint rapids, Aldi and Lidl have teamed up with Podpoint to provide charging at their stores. Many big shopping centers have added EV charging to their car parks. Charge while you are at the gym: Bannantynes have Instavolt chargers. Charge while you are watching a movie. Go to somewhere like Oxford and charge in their Park and Ride car park while you spend the day in the city.
Tesla destination chargers are also pretty widespread and available for ALL EVs (with the type 2 connector). Then - if you absolutely must charge overnight - find a local fast charger and spend 15 minutes there.
Petrol stations will also be places you can stop and charge. Bp Chargemaster is already rolling out high speed chargers at the petrol stations it owns and operates. Shell has chargers at many of its forecourts and it wouldn’t surprise me if one of the other top four charge point operators moves into that arena shortly,
There are many, many options. It’s just they require people to think a little more than they do at the moment.
However, the majority of charging for those without off-street parking is going to be at work. As the roll-out continues companies will start to put fast chargers (7 kW) in their car parks. You arrive at work, plug in and when you leave at the end of the day your car will be charged. The government will help with this and - as a large proportion of new car purchases are company cars - it makes sense that this would happen.
5) Electric cars are too expensive, nobody can afford them. Not strictly true. We’ve done an episode on this before. They might cost more than a second-hand car (although you can get lots of second-hand EVs). But the basic logic is that a £30,000 electric car costs exactly the same as a £30,000 petrol car.
The majority of the vehicles that this applies to are going to be company cars or fleet vehicles. Bulk purchasing of vehicles will bring the price down (I worked in the taxi trade for a while and know for a fact that if you’re ordering 200 Nissan leaf 40kWhs you can get them for a lot less than the retail price for the public!).
Remember we’re talking brand new cars here not a second hand car or a runaround. I did the maths and realised that the lease in my Kia Soul is way less per month than the loan I would need to take out to buy a similarly specced brand new Honda CRV.
As Robert Llewellyn mentioned in his recent E-2008 review video, the one thing that people tend to forget is that if a company produces a car that has an EV variant AND an ICE variant the EV is always more expensive than the ICE variant. However the EV is always a much higher specced car than the ICE version. Comparing the base price petrol version with the electric is apples and oranges. Having said that the electric mini is already cheaper than the Cooper S it is based on and you’re comparing like-for-like in that case.
Absolute price parity, in general, for EVs is expected within the next couple of years when battery prices drop below $100/kWh. But to encourage more EV uptake the UK government is going to provide grants of £580M for people to buy electric cars. As we discussed with Heather Kennedy in our Round Table at the end of last season they already do this in progressive countries like Scotland! By the time the new fossil fuel vehicle ban comes into place the price issue will have completely disappeared.
The final argument you’ll likely hear is this one:
6) ‘I need to carry two cords of wood and a snowmobile 600 miles without stopping. There isn’t an electric car that can let me do that.’ (A cord is, roughly speaking, enough wood to put into a 6’ x 4’ trailer and stack about 4’ high). This is an example I found on Canadian Twitter as an argument about why electric cars won’t work. It basically means there’s always an edge case being put forward for where an EV is the wrong car. The logic is that if I can show one example of where an EV won't work for somebody I can write off the whole EV movement as being nonsense.
Yes, there will be people for whom an electric car will not work at the moment: People wanting to tow heavy trailers. Or seat more than about 6 people with luggage. Or reps who might do 500 miles driving in a day and not have time to stop and charge (although I think that’s unlikely and, quite possibly dangerous)
But in ten years time - with the rate of change of technology - the number, and variety, of EVs on the road will be much, much greater than it is today. The variety today is much, much, greater than it was even five years ago. Back then you had Tesla, Nissan and Renault making EVs. The Nissan and Zoe were small with relatively limited range.
This year alone we’ve had new cars announced or released from Peugeot, Honda, MG, Vauxhall, Volkswagen, Mazda, Mini, Polestar, Porsche and Skoda. These range from small city cars to supercars to SUVs to family cars to estate vehicles. The market will start to open up and manufacturers have ten years to start to meet that market and produce the cars that are needed. The technology is there, it just needs to be put into place.
It must be said, however, that there are going to be challenges with this goal.The timeline is tight and there are obstacles that will need to be overcome.
One obstacle is political lethargy. The targets and policies put in place by this government could quite easily be rolled back, altered or delayed by a subsequent government. That’s the price to pay for democracy but hopefully people will see the benefit and future prime ministers will keep pushing forward with this.
Another obstacle is Brexit. As we have limited EV manufacturing capability in the UK at the moment any future trade deals will need to ensure that foreign cars can be imported into the country without massive tariffs which will make them uneconomical. Mind you that’s not just an EV issue. ALL vehicles manufactured abroad will be subject to tariffs without a trade deal.
The vast majority of cars that UK buyers are buying today, and will be buying up until 2030 and beyond, will be manufactured in countries such as Germany, Korea, America and China rather than the UK. Of course those EVs currently manufactured here (notably the Nissan leaf) should continue to be manufactured here.
A key factor in making all this work is implementing renewable sources of energy. The government has committed to funding lots of offshore wind to provide the power for these vehicles. But making sure these projects are approved, commissioned and implemented on time can be a challenge. Likewise solar panels and onshore wind often find opposition from NIMBYs who don’t want things like this being built near where they live. On the other hand you have companies like Ripple Energy who are crowdsourcing funding for a wind farm to be built in which you get cheap electricity as part of your investment. There are solutions. They just need the government to put them in place.
On a day-to-day basis one main issue is charger reliability. Many of us have got horror stories about chargers that weren’t working. Green Car review recently drove 400 miles in a Honda e, which has a real-world range of around 100 miles. This provided yet further evidence for them that the rapid charge point provision at motorway service stations is simply not fit for purpose. Out of four motorway service stations that were visited, the rapid charging points at two weren’t working, and in all of the charging locations, various non-battery electric cars were parked – ie. blocking charging – in some of the bays. James Coates from James and Kate recently visited the Instavolt charger at Banbury. Eight chargers, none of which would accept any of the methods of payment he presented. Plus he spent 40 minutes trying to get through to their help line without success. Stories like these need to get fewer and farther between to make the general public more comfortable with an EV roll out.
But - as you’ll hear in the next week’s episode where I chat with the charge point operators themselves - it is not in their best interests to have non working chargers. Newer units, better software and more remote reset abilities will reduce this issue in future.
In closing I hope I have managed to go through and shatter a number of the 'myths' that are going to be put forward by those with a vested interest in maintaining the fossil fuel status quo. These myths will also apply to those who don't have a vested interest but are working on outdated information (I'm looking at you, Daily Mail reader...).
Will it be easy and straightforward? No. Absolutely not. There will be challenges every step of the way.
Will it be worth it?