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Electric vehicles: some thoughts

Why buy an electric vehicle (EV) when they are far more expensive, and generally have a shorter range, than a similar internal combustion engine (ICE) powered car?

In Australia, where this page was written, it was difficult to justify an EV on financial grounds in early 2018, even for those who are environmentally inclined. My wife and I recently bought a new ICE-powered Honda Jazz for $18k rather than spending twice that for a second-hand EV. I had been intending that our next car would be an EV, but when it came to the time to buy we simply couldn't justify the cost, especially when the range and charging time were taken into account.

But buying price, range and recharging times are not the only variables involved; in what follows I discuss the pros and cons, as far as I know them. The more I looked into the situation the more it became apparent that EVs have substantial benefits (and potential for more benefits in the future) to the vehicle owners, to the environment and to the power supply system.

This page written 2018/02/24 – ©
Contact: email daveclarkecb@yahoo.com (David K. Clarke)
 
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Summary – the points given in this table are expanded upon in the next table.
Advantages of EVsDisadvantages of EVs
  1. Environmentally friendly (1) – no greenhouse carbon dioxide emissions

  2. Environmentally friendly (2) – no petrochemical emissions, no NOx emissions

  3. Environmentally friendly (3) – no oily carbon emissions, no SO2 emissions

  4. Environmentally friendly (4) – an EV is quiet

  5. Low running cost if you have your own solar power

  6. Very few moving parts – greatly reduced maintenance costs

  7. Potential to use the battery to reduce your household electricity costs or get income by selling power into the grid in periods of high demand

  8. Government incentives
  1. High initial cost

  2. Limited range

  3. Much slower to recharge than the refuelling time of an ICE car

  4. Limited fast-charging sites

  5. The grid electricity available for recharging EVs is largely generated unsustainably

  6. EV batteries are not recyclable



Discussion – filling-out the points made above
Advantages of EVsDisadvantages of EVs
  1. Environmentally friendly (1) – no greenhouse carbon dioxide. emissions.
    Renewable energy can be used to recharge the battery, either from your own rooftop solar power or you can buy 'green electricity'.

  2. Environmentally friendly (2) – no petrochemical emissions, no NOx emissions.
    The burning of fossil fuels in ICE engines, both petrol and diesel, releases partly burned hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides, both of which are pollutants.

  3. Environmentally friendly (3) – no oily carbon emissions, no SO2 emissions.
    The burning of diesel, and the burning of oil in poorly maintained ICE engines release oily carbon particles, which are particularly damaging to health, into the atmosphere. The burning of poor quality diesel releases sulphur-dioxide, an important environmental pollutant into the atmosphere.

  4. Environmentally friendly (4) – an EV is quiet.
    Internal combustion engines, particularly diesel engines, can be noisy. Electric motors are almost silent.

  5. Low running cost if you have your own solar power.
    If, like us, you sell solar power to your energy retailer, you will probably be paid no more than $0.12/kWh (while you will probably pay at least twice that for the power that you buy).

  6. Very few moving parts – greatly reduced maintenance costs.
    The electric motor in an EV has one moving part compared to the hundreds of moving parts in an ICE, and there is no gearbox, transmission or differential.

  7. Potential to use the battery to reduce your household electricity costs or get income by selling power into the grid in periods of high demand.
    At least one EV newly on the market (the Nissan Leaf) can be used to feed electricity into a home battery. Combined with a roof-top solar PV system and a small (and low-priced) home battery this could give you more independence from expensive grid power than would a large (and expensive) home battery.

    Wikipedia states that vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technology could be worth $4000 per year per car to the utilities; if a substantial proportion of the savings could go to the vehicle owner it would have a big impact of the economics of owning an EV.

  8. Government incentives.
    A number of states and nations offer financial incentives to EV owners.
  1. High initial cost.
    As discussed below, the cost of EV will decline as production rates increase.

  2. Limited range.
    The range has increased and will continue to increase.

  3. Much slower to recharge than the refuelling time of an ICE car.
    Fast recharging options will increase with time. Charging times at home will probably remain substantial, but is this important?

  4. Limited fast-charging sites.
    These are increasing.

  5. The grid electricity available for recharging EVs is largely generated unsustainably.
    National power grids will gradually be decarbonised.

  6. EV batteries are not recyclable.
    It is cheaper to obtain the lithium required for lithium-based batteries by mining it than by recycling it; this seems unlikely to change in the near future.
 
An early experimental EV
Trev
Trev (Two-seat Renewable Energy Vehicle) – image credit University of SA



How is the situation likely to change in the future?

Almost all of the ways in which EVs compare unfavourably to ICE-powered vehicles in 2018 will change in future in ways advantageous to EVs; prices will decline, fast recharging options will become more readily available, ranges have increased and will continue to increase. It seems unlikely that the future will bring any advantages to ICE vehicles.

Lithium based batteries seem likely to remain non-recyclable because mined lithium will remain cheaper than recycled lithium at least for a number of years.

The electricity available to recharge EVs will gradually become more sustainable as fossil-fuelled generation is phased out.

The number of EVs built has increased at the exponential rate of around 70% per year from 2011 to 2017; the figures below are extracted from a graph on www.ev-volumes.com:

YearApprox. number built
201150,000
2012120,000
2013210,000
2014320,000
2015550,000
2016780,000
20171,220,000


While it is doubtful that this huge rate of growth will continue for very many years (if it continued to 2025 the number being built each year would be eighty million) there can be little doubt that a high rate of growth will continue.

The problems with air pollution, particularly in India and China but in big cities everywhere, will continue to incentivise the change from ICE-vehicles to EVs.

As EV technology advances, as designs become more settled and as the numbers of EVs built increase prices will come down substantially.

Fast-charging stations are becoming more common all the time.

As the integration of EV batteries with home electricity supply and vehicle-to-grid (V2G) services develop the advantage of having an EV battery available at home will increase. For more information on vehicle-to-grid ability see Wikipedia. This could easily become one of the main economic incentives to own an EV in the future.

As the need for action to reduce climate changing emissions and emissions causing ill-health and death becomes more recognised and urgent government incentives for owning EVs will increase.



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