A friend of mine has just bought an electric car. It is not a very large car and he proudly declared it had a range of nearly 300 miles on one charge and that he was doing his bit for the environment. But is he?
Electric vehicles (EV) are significantly more carbon-intensive to produce than those powered by an internal combustion engine. They are also, at the present time a lot more expensive. Both these factors are due mainly to the battery that provides the power. Lithium, cobalt and nickel are used in every battery and all these have to be recovered from the earth by mining or other power-related activities. It is estimated, for example, that lithium extraction from brine requires 500,000 gallons of water to produce one ton of lithium and in certain areas this can have an effect on the local environment and farming.
To this must be added the fact that a significant amount of these components come from politically unstable areas of the world, for example the Democratic Republic of Congo (and any country that has to include the word ‘democratic’ in its name is usually anything but that) where investigations are already being made into the use of children in the production of lithium by mining. Afghanistan is another lithium-rich country, but since its handover to a bunch of murderous religious fanatics supported by the Chinese Communist Party, Western-based manufacturers should probably not expect to obtain supplies from this source. China already has 55% or the world’s lithium supply under contract.
Material supplies, therefore, are both complicated and in many cases expensive, but how long will the batteries last? Currently, manufacturers are guaranteeing around 8-10 years before a replacement is needed. Depending on how the electricity used to regularly recharge the batteries is produced, from climate-unfriendly coal to carbon-neutral hydro-power, it will take approximately the same period for an EV to equal the carbon emissions of the manufacture and running of a combustion-engine vehicle.
After 8-10 years, many vehicles will have reached the end of the useful life. The remainder will now require a new battery. The cost of batteries has decreased dramatically since they were first introduced but a replacement is still likely to be priced in the £1,000s – the cost, in many cases, equalling or even exceeding the value of the rest of the vehicle. And then, when a replacement is bought, the issue of carbon neutrality starts all over again.
All this brings us to the next problem. Batteries have to be regularly recharged. The government has promised that there will be a complete network of charging points around the country and, indeed, the major petrol companies are already installing them at many of their filling stations. All very well, but it takes up to 30 minutes on a super-fast charger to recharge a battery up to about 80% of capacity (this figure does vary depending on type of car, battery, power availability etc.) against a typical five minutes or so for a petrol or diesel refill.
Think now of somewhere such as Jempson’s filling station in Peasmarsh. At busy times there can be a short queue for a pump and even at other times there are usually at least two or three vehicles filling up. The increased time to recharge batteries is equivalent to six times the number of cars currently at the pumps. So even if it proved possible to install the same number of recharging points as there are now petrol pumps, there would, most of the time, be a wait before a charging point became available. So to bring a battery up to full charge could well take and hour to an hour-and-a-half out of the day.
But we can charge from home, can’t we? Yes, of course we can. For most home charging arrangements it will take between 12 and 24 hours to fully recharge. An overnight charge, therefore, would keep the battery topped up for the sort of short journeys that the majority of us do on a daily basis.
But, and this is the biggest problem, how many of us in Rye can park our car close enough to our home to make home charging a practical proposition? Some, of course, have a drive or garage, so no difficulty in charging, but the majority, particularly in the centre of the town, do not. Rother District Council are, I believe, proposing to install charging points in their car parks, but these will hardly accommodate the 2,000 or so (my estimate) cars owned by the permanent population. Unless someone comes up with either a bright idea or the money to put charging points every few yards in the pavement, the ‘green revolution’ in motoring is beginning to look neither very green, nor very practical.
I, for one, will be sticking to my petrol-powered transport for some time yet.
Image Credits: John Minter .