“Hey, cool car. Is it electric?”
“How far can it go on a charge?”
“A thousand miles”
A regular conversation I have that always results in the other person being totally convinced and immediately rushing out to buy an electric car…..not!
Range seems to be all anyone cares about. But living with a car is about a lot more than range. Range is the headline grabbing figure but here’s why, from my experience of living with electric cars for the past 6 years, range is the wrong question:
- What gets used must be recharged: until electric cars can more than double their efficiency, charging a 1000 mile battery at home will take about 60 hours.
- The range of the battery doesn’t equal the maximum journey I can drive
- I need recharging before the battery: can’t drive more than 150 miles without a break
- Electric cars are just not the same as petrol or diesel cars: you have to think a bit differently
What gets used must be recharged
Until electric cars can more than double their efficiency, charging a 1000 mile battery at home will take about 60 hours. That’s just impractical. If you’re interested, here’s the back-of-an-envelope calculation behind it, otherwise skip to the next point;)
Electric cars today get between 2 and 4 miles per kWh of battery — the average is around 2.5 [link]. Therefore, to have a range of 1000 miles you need between 250–500kWh of battery capacity.
Using the average of 2.5 miles/kWh means 400 kWh battery capacity so let’s take that as our basis.
A standard 32 Amp home charger will give you a charging rate of 7kWh. To charge a 400 kWh battery would take 400/7 = 57 hours.
The reality is actually even worse than this because it doesn’t take account of the fact that a 400kWh battery pack alone weighs about 2.5 tonnes, which means the average EV would then weigh about 4 tonnes and wouldn’t get 2.5 miles/kWh anymore.
And while we’re at it, let me just dispel any thoughts of using your normal wall socket for anything other than absolute emergencies. A 13 Amp socket is good for about 3kW. That’s what your kettle uses. If you want to charge your car with it then a normal 90kWh battery is going to take you 30 hours. Our fictional 400kWh battery is going to take 133hrs to charge. That’s nearly 6 days!
The range of the battery doesn’t equal the maximum journey I can drive
When have you ever driven somewhere and been delighted as you pull up into the parking space just as the car splutters to a stop having supped the last vapours from the fuel tank (unless you’re returning a hire car at the airport and about to miss your plane!)? No, you want to get home again as well. I don’t like having less than 100 miles of range left unless there is a destination charger I can plug into (see my other blog). Electric cars use up electricity even when they are just standing still (probably due to all the connectivity we expect now) and they use lot of electricity when they’re cold. This means that I’ll lose 10–20 miles of that 100 miles range just to get the car warmed up the next day and drive the first few miles.
Once you get below 50 miles of range the car starts telling you to charge soon and limits the performance, which just adds to the feeling of range anxiety. It’s like the red marker on your fuel gauge — when you get into it it makes driving a bit stressful. If I get somewhere with less than 100 miles of range and there’s nowhere to charge then it can play on your mind. It kind of spoils my enjoyment of the destination as you’re worried about where you’re going to charge the next day. There are more charging points in the UK now, but so often they are not working — especially the ones at petrol stations.
So this means that even if I have 300 miles of range, I’m still going to charge up on any journey over 200 miles. But that’s fine because…
I need recharging before the battery
I can’t drive more than 150 miles without a break. Even if I did have a car that could do 1000 miles I would still have to stop, so I might as well charge up while I’m there.
The latest generation of fast chargers are 350kW. This means the average EV could add about 146 miles (or 58kWh) in a 10min stop. (They are expensive though — hopefully that will come down — I talk about this in my other blog. There aren’t so many of them though, but there are quite a few 100kW chargers and in a 30min stop you could add 125 miles (50kWh) on one of them.
Electric cars are just not the same as petrol or diesel cars
I think the whole range issue comes from the fact that we have got used to never having to plan and just being able to fill up whenever we need to. Owning an electric car requires a bit of forward planning. Even if it does have 1000 miles of range, you’ve got to plan ahead in order to charge up that battery (like nearly 3 days ahead if it’s empty!). So, I think what is behind the question of range is really the question of “will I ever have to worry”? And it doesn’t matter how big the battery pack is, if you don’t plan ahead and charge it then you’re in trouble. They do need less maintenance though, so you don’t have to worry about oil changes and timing belts!
Would I recommend an electric car?
Yes, definitely. They are nicer to drive, much cheaper to run and need less maintenance. As long as you can charge it at home they are brilliant for 99% of driving.
Would I recommend an electric car as your only car?
Only if you can afford a Tesla, at least in the UK anyway. You’ve got to be able to charge at home and when you do have to travel, the non-Tesla infrastructure is pitiful. The UK is a long long way from being able to support everyone driving an electric car.