For three years we drove an electric car. We negotiated with many other electric car drivers during a period of sparse infrastructure. And we pioneered extreme range driving, by carting a tent and extra leads for long journeys. We also worked in industries to support electric vehicles and a greener culture. Regularly we zoomed past petrol stations only to sit and wait in a queue to charge slowly at remote charging stations. Now, we have waved the car goodbye…..
And we replaced it with another electric car with longer range. Here is a detailed comparison of electric and petrol cars showing efficiency and pollution levels.
The True Cost Of Electric Cars
How do electric cars differ from petrol or diesel cars?
The first thing you will notice is you use the brake a lot less in the electric car. When you take your foot off the accelerator of an electric car, it slows down. So, you only use the brake to stop faster than planned. Also, you drive differently, slowing down before you stop. Sometimes this frustrates the petrol/diesel drivers because in a petrol car we tend to drive until we have to brake.
The second major difference is the braking system. As you brake in the electric car, the engine recovers some of the electricity. Think of it like a spring rewinding, ready to be sprung again.
However, there is a third difference which is not so great for the environment. Because the electric car is more powerful it could cause more accidents (and subsequent social and environmental waste). It accelerates much, much faster.
These simple differences of braking and engine power make it possible, albeit costly, to convert a classic car to electric. In 2023 it costs about $60 thousand AUD for the basic kit to convert a classic car to electric. So, after paying specialised technicians, it is likely to cost about $100 thousand to convert your favourite car. This is a fast emerging business opportunity for mechanics and electricians.
Classic cars can be electrified
What to Compare
There is a lot to compare between Battery electric vehicles and petrol or diesel vehicles. We need to study the embodied energy. And the life cycle of all the parts. And examine the each of the spare parts. Do they get reused or can they be useful for something else? [For instance, the old batteries from Electric vehicles can be used as house battery and there are some vehicles that not only charge from the house, but send charge back to the home]
Then we look at the parts, some are reusable parts. But when it comes to the fuel, fossil fuel as an energy source is combusted and lost forever and there is often residual waste such as leakage from the oil lubricant and leakage from petrol stations.
There are hidden costs in electricity generation and distribution. Total fuel costs include extraction and distribution and waste. Despite there being less subsidies for fossil fuel than renewable energy sources, renewables are leading.
Next we would look at lost and wasted energy in conversion to movement. This is called the energy to wheels comparison.
Comparison of the number of parts plus how much wear and tear they get, extracted raw materials, Noise and air pollution, Social damage due to extraction and control of supply, Efficiency of energy extraction to energy applied to the road.
Those Boring Maintenance Costs
A fair comparison on vehicles also needs to include the cost of car repairs and fuel supply. Electric cars have less repairs because there are less moving parts and less wear and tear. However, there is cost in the generation and distribution of all fuels including electricity. Unlike fossil fuels from remote under-regulated regions, many communities can develop local capacity to generate their own electricity.
And even if the electricity is imported, it is more likely to be generated with renewable technology because renewables are cheaper than non-renewables. Next in the comparison, we would consider the losses in distribution system and here we see the benefit from generating clean fuel locally. Gone are the risks associated with transporting dirty fuel.
Even today, the supply of fossil fuel is causing huge environmental and social degradation. And it is often a driving force behind wars. But there is also a cost involved in establishing electricity infrastructure beyond the home, to enable us to travel further than the range of one full tank. Fortunately, most communities that have cars, also have electricity. So, there is an established network of low-speed delivery points worldwide. However, as more and more people move to electric cars, the pressure on grid will cause noticeable problems. One solution is to lower the voltage of the grid.
The expense incurred by the network of high-speed chargers is an additional, yet purely optional running, cost. Our old electric car doesn’t use high speed charging. It didn’t have the capacity for high speed intake. That’s not why we sold it. Speed of charge is an occasional inconvenience we can live with. Total range between recharging stops was the deal-breaker for us. 220km range was challenging when travelling interstate and through rural areas. But as you are reading this, more chargers are being installed.
Better World Businesses
All these demands create good business opportunities. Anyone who can afford to buy an electric car, will have left over cash from not buying fossil fuels. This is more sufficient to pay for fuel at high speed charging stations. We know this because the electric vehicle charging industry has grown despite a lack of government subsidies. Research and development costs have been funded by the pioneering consumers.
Everyone likes blue skies. And we all benefit from clean air. And governments like less health costs and take pride in their cities. Because the efficiency of Battery Electric Vehicles is more than double than of Petrol/Diesel, cars will become even more computerized and more electrified. People also like cheaper cars. Over time, the cars will become cheaper. The running costs already pay for the vehicle within 8 years due to cheaper fuel. The social inequity comes from high upfront costs and lack of public transport alternatives in poorer communities. Even the technology for the recovery and reuse of the lithium in the batteries will become streamlined.
Lithium is reusable whereas fossil fuel is lost forever.
Permaculture Mindset of Enough
Each of us has the power to cut consumption drastically and value what we have. Even if you cannot afford an electric car yet, lobby governments and public transport companies to go electric.
When we stop using non-renewable energy sources, we can create a circular economy. We stop giving money to companies that engage in harmful extraction and storage of raw materials. And, future generations can use these declining reserves of fossil fuels for important industries such as medicines.
The ultimate goal is to drive less, walk more, support public transport and build great local communities that grow a lot of their own food and generate their own fuel.