Five years ago, if you asked, “Is an electric car cheaper to run than a petrol car” people would have no hesitation in stating it is. However, times have changed, electricity costs are set to rise, and many of the big incentives for willingly switching to electric-powered cars have vanished.
Over recent years, the justifications put forward by politicians, environmentalists and the media for switching to electric-powered cars is they are more environmentally friendly and cheaper to run. However, Paul Godbold feels he is one of the few who’s not falling for the marketing, which he feels is hidden behind smoke and mirrors and in this piece, he explains why.
Most people want to do what they can to help the planet, including me. I have a meticulous approach to recycling; I pick up discarded litter on my hikes and do what I can to reduce my carbon footprint, which includes purchasing pre-owned goods.
I am also keen to find ways to keep the general cost of living as low as possible. A few years ago, I seriously considered switching to an electric car as it was said to be cheaper to run, and the only thing it would cost me was my time due to the charging. However, as of yet, I haven’t traded in my small engined, petrol-powered car for an electric version, and I am moving further away from doing this the more research I do.
As someone working in media, I feel I have an advantage when spotting all forms of spin and propaganda, and being a journalist means I am not averse to investigating beyond what is being told to me. It’s my research that has led me to believe that the reasons for owning an electric car need to be questioned.
Before I go on, I want to state that I do believe climate change is real; however, as I said in my previous opinion pieces, I am not convinced by all the reasons being offered for what’s causing it, which I will leave to another time.
The cost of ownership
One of the biggest initial lures of electric-powered cars was the low running costs, e.g. minimal maintenance, exemption from road tax and a lower cost per mile compared to a combustion-powered vehicle.
Although the minimal maintenance incentive is still there, one of the other benefits has been recently chalked off. In the UK Chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s Autumn Statement, he announced that electric cars would no longer be exempt from vehicle excise duty (VED) from April 2025. As things stand, the VED on electric cars will be £10 in the first year, rising to £165 from the second year onwards. However, it doesn’t end there.
In the main, electric cars are considerably more expensive to buy when compared to their combustion-engined equivalents. Although £40,000 seems like a lot of money to spend on a car, it’s not in the world of electric vehicles, and it’s owners of these types of cars that will feel the full weight of the VED introduction. A charge, which has been dubbed the “Tesla Tax”, will affect electric cars with a list price of £40,000 and above, and owners of these will be forced to pay an extra £355.00 a year on top of the standard £165.00 annual rate.
The impending electricity price rise
Something else that will increase the pain of ownership for electric car owners comes into force from January 2023. Currently, the maximum a UK energy company can charge is 10.3p per unit for gas and 34p per unit for electricity. From January, the price energy suppliers can charge for a unit will increase to an average of 67p per kilowatt hour for electricity and 17p for gas. I should also mention that the UK Government could be launching a £25m campaign to encourage the country to reduce its energy consumption, which could be construed as another slap in the face for electric car owners.
On the 26th of September, the BBC published a piece by Michael Rice titled “Electric car charging costs nearing petrol prices for some – RAC”. In the article, Michael Rice cited the RAC’s research which showed that the cost to charge a car on a pay-as-you-go-basis at a publicly accessible rapid charger had increased by 42% since May to an average of £63.29 per kWh. At that time, before the impending January price increase, electric car drivers were paying approximately 18 pence per mile for electricity, just 1 penny less per mile than a petrol car.
Since the publication of the BBC article, RAC fuel data has shown the price of petrol has fallen by a couple of pence per litre to £1.62.5. Unless my math is failing me and the company’s operating the publicly accessible rapid chargers will not be subject to any price increase from January and the time afterwards, and factoring in they will need to make a profit, it now appears that at this time, running an electric car will be more expensive to run per mile than a petrol car.
Not as environmentally friendly as we had been told
A few years ago, I watched a Tedx Talk by Graham Conway, the Principal Engineer at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas, who eloquently explained why electric cars were not the environmentally friendly nirvana they were being marketed as.
The research provided by Graham in his video prompted me to write an article, “Why switching to a Purely electric car will not save the planet.” In the article, I highlighted the environmentally damaging process involved in manufacturing an electric vehicle and how it was nigh impossible to ignore. In addition to the video, I discovered a study published by ScienceDirect, which suggested that CO2 emissions from electric car production were 59% higher than producing a traditional internal combustion engined vehicle
Electric vehicle batteries require lithium, which is a rare and finite resource found underground, and the process of mining it has become a hot topic in recent years. A 2021 article by the Institute for Energy Research (IER) detailed the lengths the mining companies needed to go to extract it.
In the IER piece, they stated that lithium extraction requires an enormous amount of water. To mine, one metric ton of lithium requires half a million gallons of water to be pumped into the ground, which forces a mineral-rich brine to the surface. After several months, the water evaporates, leaving a mixture of minerals, including lithium salts. The minerals are then placed into a further evaporation pool, and after somewhere between 12 and 18 months, they are filtered, and the lithium carbonate can be extracted.
In South America, is an area known as the “lithium triangle” that extends across parts of Bolivia, Chile and Argentina. It is said that this area holds more than half of the world’s supply of the precious metal beneath its salt flats. The region also happens to be one of the driest places on the planet, and the massive amount of water needed to mine lithium has had a hugely negative impact on local businesses and communities.
Another significant drawback of the lithium mining process is toxic chemical leakage from the evaporation pools, particularly hydrochloric acid, which is needed in the processing. In North America and Australia, lithium mining is done in a different way, using chemicals to extract the lithium from rock. Researchers in Nevada discovered that the lithium processing had impacted fish more than 150 miles downstream.
Although the negative environmental impact from the manufacturing of an electric car is upfront as opposed to a combustion-engined car which negatively impacts the environment throughout its lifetime, an electric car would need to be driven at least 100,000 miles (Graham stated much higher numbers in his video), until it becomes as environmentally friendly as a similar sized combustion vehicle.
In a world where we need to recycle, Electric vehicles don’t help
In the Institute of Energy Research article, it discusses the problems with recycling lithium-ion. It stated that in Australia, out of the country’s 3,300 metric tons of lithium waste, just two per cent was recycled. The major issue is lithium cathodes degrade over time, meaning they cannot be placed in new batteries; additionally, manufacturers tend to protect the details of what goes into their batteries, which makes them much harder to recycle.
In the next decade or so, the world will face a mountainous problem, e.g. millions of tonnes of lithium-ion batteries, which need to be disposed of. There are significant moves to address this problem; whether it can be is another matter altogether.
The are benefits to buying an electric car
First and foremost, buying one generates revenue and business for the manufacturers and everyone involved in the industry. If you decide to switch from a combustion-powered car to an electric car, your money will help to safeguard jobs and will generate taxes for the government and probably appease some of its donors. The money going to the government will boost public finances, which should filter down to your local authorities and councils to help maintain and improve where you live.
Other benefits of electric cars are they are quieter and, more often than not, come laden with the latest gadgetry and safety features. They are also (currently) exempt from Clean Air Zone charges.
However, it’s my opinion that this will be trumped by another form of charging which will come into force in the future; exactly what, I don’t know at this time.
The other benefits I can see with an electric car are likely increased reliability, coupled with lower maintenance, and they will (currently) have a decent resale value. However, should manufacturers start producing hydrogen-cell-powered cars in number, this will change.
Hydrogen-powered cars are cheaper to purchase, are less damaging to the environment and have a greater distance range. Selling a used electric car with its reduced range will be like trying to sell a Betamax video recorder in a VHS-dominated world. For younger readers unfamiliar with the 1980s video technology battle, imagine trying to sell a dedicated MP3 player for a decent price in a world where almost everyone has a mobile phone.
What the CEBR feels about the UK’s move to Electric vehicles
The Centre for Economics & Business Research (CEBR) is one of the UK’s most respected think tanks. It recently conducted a study which has had surprisingly little exposure titled “Economic impacts of the 2030-2040 bans on the sale of fossil fuel vehicles” the link to the report is here. In its conclusion, it stated:
“This report has assessed the economic impacts of the government’s stated plans of banning the sale of fossil fuel vehicles from 2030 onwards. The clear message deriving from the analysis is that this decision represents ‘poor’ value for money as associated costs are five times the estimated benefits. The analysis implies that even when the full benefits of the contribution of the ban to achieving the goal of Net Zero are priced in, the costs still far outweigh these benefits.”
“The central benefit-cost ratio estimate is 0.19, meaning that the costs of the forthcoming bans on internal combustion engine vehicles are estimated to be just over five times higher than the benefits. The net present value is negative £226 billion, with this representing an estimated net cost per household of £14,700 (£27,400 in undiscounted figures).”
“This social cost-benefit analysis indicates that the key costs to society include significantly increased waiting times as charging electric vehicles will take a lot more time than refuelling ICE vehicles at petrol pumps. Moreover, it is likely that drivers will have to pay a lot more for new vehicles, especially given the expectation of shortages of key raw materials that are essential for building EVs. There will also be huge costs required to rapidly reorient the National Grid to generate sufficient renewable energy, in a smart way, to supply energy for EVs.”
“The more rapidly these demands increase, the more costly it is likely to the economy. The government itself will face a significant fall in tax revenue, and the average household will face significant personal costs, both in terms of direct monetary outgoings but also in much more lost time.”
“Even without a ban, there will be significant falls in carbon emissions as EVs are likely to gain significant traction over time without significant regulation, and petrol and diesel vehicles will become more fuel-efficient. As such, this report focuses on the marginal costs and benefits of the increased speed of the transition caused by the forthcoming regulatory change.”
Is hydrogen the way forward?
One significant problem facing the UK’s move towards fully electric-powered vehicles is the cost of implementing an adequate electric charging infrastructure. As detailed in the CEBR report, this would be hugely expensive and is not value for money for UK taxpayers. This is where hydrogen-powered vehicles can save the day, and the addition of hydrogen fuel pumps in the country’s existing forecourts would be a far simpler and cheaper solution.
As well-meaning as environmentalists are, they do need to start singing from the same hymn sheet. In the UK, fracking was brought to a halt by environmental protestors as they were worried about the processes needed to obtain the gas, which included injecting water into the earth, the risks of chemical leakage, contamination and the potential for hydraulic fracturing.
The same risks can be found in some form or another with lithium mining, yet many environmentalists insist the world needs to move to electric-powered cars. They should be lobbying their local politicians and automotive manufacturers to focus on hydrogen-powered vehicles, which are far more environmentally friendly to produce and will not harm the planet.
Fortunately, companies such as Toyota are developing hydrogen fuel cell cars, and I hope they come to market before the UK government digs itself further into a financial hole that it will find difficult to escape. If you want to read more about hydrogen cells, please click here.
If I needed any other proof of why electrical power isn’t the ‘Holy Grail’, I suffered multiple power cuts while writing this article, some lasting in excess of twenty minutes. Fortunately, our regional electricity company ENWL, fingers-crossed, have now fixed the problem.
The environmentally-friendly dilemma
Everyone wants energy production that causes the least possible damage to the planet. Sadly, it’s not only the mining of lithium that causes environmental problems. Many of the same people singing from the electric car hymnsheet are also championing wind and solar power.
What people are yet to see is the vast problems disposing of wind turbines and solar panels will bring in the coming decades. I’ll start with solar panels. Most solar panels have a lifespan of 20-30 years, and they contain toxic materials such as lead and arsenic. The way they are constructed makes them difficult and expensive to fully recycle, which currently leaves the option of burying them in a landfill, risking toxic leakage. It would be another case of out of sight, out of mind.
With regards to wind turbines, the problem lies with their blades which can be 100s feet in length. The blades are made from a mixture of resin and fibreglass and have pretty much no scrap value making them of little use to anyone. Even if cut up, the parts will still be challenging to bury, causing major problems for countries where land is at a premium.
Too many people, as well-meaning as they are, think switching to 100% renewable energy will result in a world with the freshest air, singing birds, colourful butterflies, pretty flowers and blue skies, and they will do whatever is possible to achieve it without considering the bigger picture.
I want the same as them, but the only way to make it happen is through common sense and not blind faith or following the opinions of those after a quick profit. I understand the arguments for banning the use of fossil fuels; however, using solar and wind to produce electricity will not solve the problem, leaving everyone to choose between the lesser of two evils.
Answering the question
Finally, in answer to the question posed in the title “Is Running an Electric Car About to Become More Expensive than a Petrol Car?” I believe it is, and in this day and age, I can see little benefit in investing one’s hard-earned money into one.
This opinion piece was written by Paul Godbold and doesn’t reflect the opinions of others writing for Luxurious Magazine.
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