Busting misconceptions about electric vehicles
New petrol and diesel cars will no longer be sold in the UK from 2035, so, before long, more of us will be behind the wheel of an electric vehicle. But there are a number of concerns and misconceptions about EVs that are still making people think twice. Here the National Grid addresses some of the most common EV myths
Myth 1: The electricity grid won’t be able to handle the increase in EVs
There are two aspects to whether the electricity grid can manage lots of EVs being plugged in at once: whether enough electricity is available; and whether the wires that carry that electricity have enough capacity to do so.
It’s important to remember that the shift to EVs is happening gradually – not overnight. Renewable energy sources are constantly being developed to supply us with more clean and green electricity, and we’re constantly ‘evolving’ the electricity grid to be better equipped to handle it.
A main source of concern here is the scenario of all EV owners charging their EVs at the same time. So is it possible to spread out the demand, while still making sure we all get our EVs charged when we need it?
With this in mind, the UK Government has introduced Electric Vehicle Smart Charge Points Regulations, which ensure that EV charge points will have smart functionality; allowing the charging to happen when there is less demand on the grid, or when more renewable (and therefore often cheaper) electricity is available. This means that no matter what time you plug in your car, it will charge when you need it but can automatically pause during those peaks when demand on the grid is highest and energy is most expensive.
The most demand for electricity in recent years in the UK was for 62GW in 2002. Since then, the nation’s peak demand has fallen by roughly 16 per cent due to improvements in energy efficiency.
Even if we all switched to EVs overnight, we believe demand would only increase by around 10 per cent. So we’d still be using less power as a nation than we did in 2002 and this is well within the range of manageable load fluctuation.
A significant amount of electricity is used to refine oil for petrol and diesel. Fully Charged’s video Volts for Oil estimates that refining 1 gallon of petrol would use around 4.5kWh of electricity – so, as we start to use less petrol or diesel cars, some of that electricity capacity could become available.
Myth 2: The electricity used to charge EVs is created by burning fossil fuels, so there are still emissions involved
More and more of our electricity now comes from renewable, green or clean energy sources, and zero-carbon power in Britain’s electricity mix has grown from less than 20 per cent in 2010 to nearly 50 per cent in 2021. With the growth in onshore and offshore wind farms and the closure of a number of coal plants, transport is in fact now the most polluting thing the UK does as a nation.
Our energy system is also becoming more flexible to maximise on this cleaner energy whenever it’s available. Apps like the WhenToPlugIn app, as well as new legislation and smart energy tariffs, are all helping us manage our electricity use – for example, Smart Chargers that can start or pause our EV charging to ensure it’s using the cleanest and cheapest power.
Myth 3: EVs are slower than petrol and diesel cars
Formula E racing is a great example of just how fast EVs can go. A Formula E car can accelerate from 0-62mph in just 2.8 seconds – faster than most Ferraris. They can have a top speed of 174mph (280km/h), equivalent to travelling from London to Edinburgh in just over two hours. Definitely no issues with slowness there.
For normal EVs outside the racing world, top speeds aren’t really any different to other cars, but they accelerate more quickly so can ‘feel’ faster. This is because you get the maximum torque (leading to acceleration) from the minute you start rolling, whereas you need to ‘rev up’ an internal combustion engine car to get maximum power and torque.
Myth 4: EVs are much more expensive than petrol and diesel equivalents
It’s true that products based on new technology do tend to be more expensive for early adopters. But, as they become more mainstream and volumes increase, prices typically come down – look at mobile phones for example.
EV battery prices are already falling, which helps with this. So we absolutely expect the upfront cost of new EVs to reduce over the next few years.
For those looking to buy used rather than new, the current uptick of supply in new EVs will hit the second hand EVs market fairly soon.
It’s also important to look not just at the initial outlay for your car but the ‘whole life cost’, which means considering its running costs and how well it retains its value. It seems that EVs are depreciating less than petrol and diesel cars, so you might well get more payback when the time comes for you to trade in or sell on.
Even though EVs currently have higher purchase prices, they’re cheaper to run – costing much less than petrol or diesel, at as little as 2p per mile if you charge at E the right time of day or night. EVs have fewer moving parts too, meaning they should also have lower servicing costs. Incentives may also be available to lower the price of an EV, such as the government’s plug-in grants, which are now available for vans, taxis and trucks.
Myth 5: We’ll end up with lots of EV batteries going into landfill
The lithium ion technology in our mobile phones is not dissimilar to those in an electric vehicle, but what’s different is that EVs have effective power management systems that guard the long-term health of their batteries. Most manufacturers are offering battery warranties of seven or eight years, or around 100,000 miles, but there’s a reasonable expectation that they will actually last longer than that and indeed outlive the car itself.
Even if a battery became no longer fit for use in the car it won’t end up in that landfill site, as it can either be recycled or given a second life as an energy storage unit for homes or businesses.
Myth 6: Electric vehicles don’t go far enough on a single charge and take a long time to charge
The sweet-spot for the range of an EV is between 200 and 300 miles. This gives the optimal balance between cost and range. Most people don’t need a range of more than this; after the time it takes to drive this distance most of us need a pit stop anyway.
Statistically in the UK, the first car in a family does around 37 miles a day on average and any second car covers around 11 miles daily.
Understandably people don’t, however, buy for their average journeys – they buy for the longest ones they do. In reality, when we take longer trips, most of us already do stop for 15-20 minutes at a service station, to grab a drink, use the toilet or fill up on petrol or diesel. That would be all the time it takes to power up your EV with the new range of ultra-rapid chargers that are already available.
Charging an EV can take as little as 30 minutes or up to 12 hours – it all depends on the size of the battery and the speed of the charging point.
A Nissan LEAF with a 40kW battery, for example, would take around five hours to charge from empty with a 7kW home charging point, whereas a Polestar with a 78kW battery would take around 10 hours. A rapid charger at a motorway service station, however, could charge your car to full in about 30 minutes.
The charging rate can also differ depending on the ambient temperature, the state of the battery (e.g. empty or half full) and the maximum charging rate of the vehicle.
Similar to your mobile phone though, up to 80% of your charging will likely be at home, including while you’re sleeping.
Myth 7: The infrastructure isn’t able to support a lot of people driving electric vehicles – especially in rural areas
In the UK, National Grid has proposed the optimum locations for adequate grid capacity to enable others to provide ultra-fast chargers, ensuring that nobody on the strategic road network (motorways and principle dual carriageways) is further than 50 driven miles from ultra-rapid charging. This will give drivers consistency, continuity and therefore confidence that their main – or only – car can be electric.
Myth 8: Electric cars break down more than normal cars
Electric cars are actually shown to break down less than combustion vehicles, as they have fewer moving parts. They also require less maintenance, fewer fluids and their brake systems generally last longer due to regenerative braking.
Edmund King, president of the UK’s biggest breakdown organisation, the AA, told The Clean Energy Revolution podcast: “There is a massive misconception; 99 per cent of people in a survey of 15,000 exaggerated by quite a lot the number of EVs that would break down from running out of charge - it’s less than four per cent, and 50 per cent of them aren’t actually out of charge, they’re low on charge and maybe a little bit worried.”
He continued: “The biggest reason we’re being called out for EVs [breaking down] is exactly the same as for conventional cars.”