To charge or not to charge

Where would cars go on this forecourt to spend 30 minutes charging?

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 .


  1. I could come up with a counter argument for most of this article, however a stand out one… batteries do not simply stop and throw away after 8-10 years. Granted a bit like an old phone the range is somewhat worse, but with less mechanical parts, servicing is far cheaper as well. You can pick up a used 10 yr old Nissan Leaf and it’ll easily cover 60-70 miles. And for years Nissan have been converting old batteries into household storage for solar. Most drivers daily commute is around 10 miles. A full charge? Around £3. Pence per mile? Around 2p compared to the average diesel car @ 18ppm. Electric cars are coming and I for one cannot wait until I can breathe easily walking down new road in the morning. All new houses in the future will come with a charge port. No need to adapt Skinners yet. Or ever.

  2. I cannot understand why there is not one single charge point in Rye. There are what, about 5 car parks in the town? The station and market car parks would be most obvious. Jempsons in the town and Peasmarsh too. There is also the car park on the road out to Tilling green.

    Not everyone will charge their car up to 80%. Most people will just have a quick ‘top up’, so I can’t see their being queues for them, if of course enough are installed.

    I have just bought an electric motorbike and luckily can charge from home, otherwise the nearest charge point is in the high street car park in New Romney. It really is about time we got up to speed and started installing charge points. We have ample places to do so and no excuse not to.

  3. Shaun cannot understand why there is not one single charge point in Rye, this is caused by the ‘ripple effect’. As when a stone is dropped into water the ripples reduce as distance from the point of impact increases, so does the flow of public money.

    It matters not whether it is the County Council at Lewes, which has a by-pass as do Maresfield, Uckfield, East Hoathly and Hailsham, or the District Council at Bexhill where millions have been spent on the promenade, Edgerton Park, an industrial estate at Sidley, with recent proposals to revamp Bexhill town centre.

    Does Rye have a desperately needed by-pass? Are there any proposals to relieve the hugh increase in heavy goods traffic passing through Westfield, Brede, Broad Oak, Udimore and Rye? The answer is a resoundng NO. In fact traffic is encouraged to now use roads through those villages as a by-pass for Hastings.

    Over the years people who live in the eastern end of the county have realised if they want something they have to do it themselves, for instance to resist Rye Hire being ousted from its’ premises. Volunteers keep many local facilities afloat but are unable to build roads.

    We pay the same taxes in this area as they do in Bexhill and Lewes, it is time we received our fair share of improvements, electric vehicle charge points being only one of them.

  4. I’m glad somebody is thinking wholistically about EVs. Should a large percentage of cars become electric the govt. will need to increase the price of electricity or some other tax to replace the enormous revenue that petrol and diesel sales now generate – and where will the 2p per mile have moved to by then?

  5. I’ve had my Nissan Leaf for about 5 years now and have never had to top up at any public charging points. The range is not so good now, but being retired we do not drive far these days, so charging up at home is enough and so convenient. One thing that puzzles me is why electric cars do not pay road tax. If you can afford to buy an electric car, then the road tax is a very small amount to pay. Having no road tax to pay certainly did not persuade me to buy an electric car. I’m not complaining, but I use the roads but don’t understand why I don’t have to pay to use them.

  6. What you need to know about electric car public charging networks. There are more than 30 different charging networks across the UK. Ubitricity, BP Pulse and Pod Point are among the biggest. Having such a large number of separate networks creates perhaps the biggest drawback to electric car charging:  In the majority of cases, you can’t just park up and charge  Only a minority of charging points in the UK allow you to pay directly by credit or debit card. No companies accept cash Depending on the network, you’ll either need to download an app, go to a website or have a pre-registered RFID card Those that like to roam should prepare to have a phone full of apps and a glovebox of RID cards. To get a charge going, you’ll typically need to download a network specific app and follow the instructions to initiate and pay for the charge.  Alternatively, you may need (or can choose) to go to the network’s website to put in your details and start the charge.  Some networks also allow you to register an RFID card (Radio Frequency Identify Card) which will allow you to start a charge by tapping the card against a card reader (not a bank card reader) – but you’ll still need to manage an account online in connection with your RFID card. In most cases you’ll need a different app, website or RFID card for each different network.  Millions of drivers will soon be dependent on the UK’s charging infrastructure. We think that to make it work, a form of universal access needs to be established across all networks.

  7. As a second-hand Leaf owner, cyclist and pedestrian can I say that the elephant in the room not mentioned in this article is air pollution: every time I get a whiff of passing petrol or diesel exhaust I just think – ucch, so last century. I like the fact that my car has no tailpipe emissions: I can easily charge it from my own solar panels or a renewable energy supplier, so my carbon footprint is massively reduced (if you’re an Octoptus customer, they will actually PAY YOU to take electricity in the middle of the night when there is an excess in the North Sea and wholesale price ‘go negative’). There are definitely big issues around exploitation & labour practices in the extraction of battery minerals: this is changing now with better ESG policies and different battery technologies and greener supply chains being developed. I’m not qualified to comment on the life cycle analysis presented, all I can say is that I love that fact that my car is quiet and non-polluting. Trust me, very few EV drivers yearn for combustion cars. And finally, the article is woefully off-beam to suggest that Jempsons filling station would end up with a queue if it went electric. On the contrary, Jempsons would be able to charge dozens of EVs at once (preferably from solar car parking canopies) simply by adding a charge point in every parking bay. Problem solved.

  8. Nick is quite right. One thing I noticed since swapping one of my ICE motorbikes for an electric model is that without the smell and heat from the motorbike engine and exhausts I am acutely aware of the fumes and pollution given out by other non-electric vehicles. I have ridden petrol motorbikes all my life, but now I have gone electric I have seen the light! I have a spare ICE motorbike, but such is the performance and sheer enjoyment of riding my electric model, the other one just sits in the garage unused.

    It’s a shame that so many articles like this one paint such a negative picture, but for those of us that own an electric vehicle the reality is quite the opposite.

  9. At the moment though if you charge at home you will most likely be using electricity produced by power stations – which will be most likely produced by a) fossil fuels – sometimes poor quality coal from Poland (much more polluting than the coal we used to produce) or in the case of the Drax system wood pellets imported (using energy) or b) from our nuclear power stations which are nearly at the end of their life span.

    • OK Marie

      If I use a petrol vehicle the fuel still has to be extracted, refined, distributed and then expelled into the atmosphere as poisonous gasses. What would you have us do then? Sit on our hands and do nothing? At least buying an electric vehicle will help end our roadside pollution and improve the air quality. Fossil fuels, coal from Poland and wood pellets will soon be fazed out. So I can’t see any validity in what you are saying. You also say that you are ‘most’ likely to use fossil fuel to a charge from home. Is that a fact or is it, as you say, most likely, possible or maybe not at all?

  10. Dear Marie, it is extremely easy to choose electricity for your home & car from a renewable supplier: please contact Ecotricity or Good Energy if you’re having a problem. There is absolutely NO reason to choose fossil-fuel generated electicity to power your EV, the solution is one phone call away.

  11. Unless the range of EVs can be increased substantially, or recharge capabilities brought much nearer to those of diesel or petrol, I can see their future role as being for local journeys (up to 100 miles round trip, or thereabouts) and to access alternative modes for longer journeys.

    Perhaps we would all be better served by planning, not simply like for like replacement of ICE by EV, but a much broader view of all transport requirements, and how it is best managed and provided?


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