Are electric cars the answer to rising fuel costs?


As diesel and petrol prices soar, many car owners are contemplating making the shift to an electric vehicle. In this article Tom Moore, from Top Part examines the pros and cons associated with this decision. He looks at the initial cost of an electric vehicle, the costs over the life of the vehicle and the practicality of an EV in the current Irish EV support framework.

Looking at these areas we will see that the answers to many of the questions that arise are far from black and white. There are vast shades of grey with individual circumstances playing a major role in determining what is beneficial and crystal ball gazing into the future of where industry and green politics will be. The point really worth giving serious consideration to is that the factors we are looking at now are likely to change dramatically over the next decade.

Purchase costs of an EV
If your motivation in purchasing an EV is to save on rising fuel prices then you firstly have to ask the question, is this the time I would normally trade my existing vehicle? Do I normally change my car every two to five years, and is this out of kilter with my normal financial plans.

Secondly, the opportunity to purchase a used electric vehicle is unlikely with the numbers purchased over the last number of years being a very low percentage of vehicles on the road. Also, with the advances in EV battery technology and range, it is probably advisable if one is to make that purchase to select from one of the latest models available.

However, if you are changing your vehicle how does the initial purchase price of an EV compare to a conventional ICE vehicle? In a mid price vehicle category (€30,000 to €40,000) you will need an initial budget of €5,000 to €10,000 extra to purchase an EV, even allowing for the €5,000 grant available.

Running costs of an EV
The saving comes in the running costs associated with an EV. Again, there are variations here between car models, electricity charges, home charging, and public charging stations. Having a home charging station will cost less per kWh of electricity than public-charging stations.

When you do your research online about potential savings, beware that the figures used to display savings may be based on outdated electricity costs like 11c per kWh for night-rate electricity. The reality is that from May, many will be paying 30c per kWh for electricity. A guide for the short-term going forward is home-charging will be in the region of €3 to €5 for 200 km of driving while public stations may be in excess of €12.

In comparison, this will still be about a quarter or a third of the expense of driving a petrol or diesel powered vehicle. On average the payback in owning an EV in energy costs alone is about three years. Home charging stations vary in price but a guide would be in excess of €1,000. With a grant of €600, a home owning an EV can be fitted with an outlay of around €500.

An additional saving should be in servicing. EV manufacturers are estimating the servicing costs associated with an EV will be about 70 per cent of a comparative ICE vehicle due to there being fewer moving parts involved. Over a 10 year period there is an approximate saving of €20,000 for an EV in this category. If you want an exact comparison between specific vehicles you will find extensive information on the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland website; www.seai.ie.

On this site there are 306 different eligible EVs featured; their price, a comparison savings calculator over similar ICE vehicles, and a comparison estimate on the 10 year total cost of ownership. There is also information about charging stations, grants and the application process.

EVs and the National Plan
There are very ambitious plans being spoken about at a national level. Aiming to have 50 per cent of the vehicles on the road being electric by 2030 is admirable but the reality for now is if 10 cent swapped over tomorrow morning, would we even have an infrastructure with sufficient charging stations to support an increased EV fleet?

Not all car owners have the choice to install a home charging unit. If you are an urban dweller on the side of a public street, having a charging lead crossing a public foot path is not an option for lots of obvious reasons. Also would our existing electricity power generating capacity cope with the increased demand? With the already increased demand from existing industry pushing us to the point of near blackouts on peak demand days when coinciding with zero wind contribution, where is the additional power going to come from?

In a sector very much in the spotlight from Europe to reduce its greenhouse gases by eliminating coal burning plants like Monypoint in Co Clare and plans for new data storage centres going forward, there is an anomaly here that is not adding up.

The Original Question?
So getting back to the original question, is now the right time to buy an EV? Let’s take the scenario of spending an extra €7.5k on an EV and over the next three years saving back that extra spend on fuel and servicing. In three years time is one in a better position having made that purchase? What will be the value of a three year old EV versus a three year old ICE car?

Will the trade value of ICEs have plummeted or on the other hand will EVs have become more affordable? Will the national electricity grid be able to support an increased EV fleet and will the government have lived up to its plans and rolled out a national network of charging stations? Will vehicle manufacturers have access to sufficient battery supplies to meet demands?

Sources in vehicle manufacturing project that with the best efforts in ramping up the mining resources required for battery production it will take until 2030 before they have the full requirements for 100 per cent EV production. These are questions that we can only speculate on but with Europe pushing the green agenda and car manufacturers making a serious shift towards EV production, it is difficult to imagine that nationally we will not have moved in a direction to accommodate this green change.

Again, situations vary. If you are a two car family and are in need of updating one car and you have the option of being able to install a home charging unit, then from a financial point of view there is a very strong case for one EV. If you have only one vehicle, would you go for an EV now? Personally I would not consider the option unless the car was due to be changed, but if a change was due I would give serious considerations to an EV – but again only if a home charging station was possible.

There remains one last question: Would I make the EV decision based on ethics and a green conscience? Well personally as long as electricity is still being partially produced by fossil fuels, I wouldn’t be completely motivated by the green agenda but more by the financial benefits.

I have no doubt that in future we will move to more greener energy production and EVs will dominate transport, but for now we are in a transition phase where EV technology has forged ahead of the roll out of green energy production and the infrastructure required to support a national fleet.

-Tom Moore, Top Part