How To Not COP It - Part 1: Advice On Electric Vehicle Ownership A Year In

It’s been a while since I last posted but don’t worry, I’m still here. Life can be pretty challenging but as COP26 is almost upon us I thought I’d write a short series of positive stories on how you can take action and do your bit to be more eco-friendly.

If COP26 was a long-running tired movie franchise then this latest instalment might have the following tagline (imagine it spoken as a clichéd deep dramatic voice-over):

The most important fortnight in the history of humanity

We’re in desperate need of a reboot and it’s time for some decent action.

Time will tell if it is to be a good COP or a bad COP. Will it be a COP out and will we all COP it? I hope for the best but history has shown that we can’t rely on leaders to do the right thing, so as citizens we must take action.

I don’t typically like showcasing my eco actions too much as I do them for their intrinsic value, not to look good. However, network effects are powerful and there is a lot of value in sharing positive stories to inspire others to take action. When the stakes are this high it would be unreasonable to not try.

QUANTUM LEAF

Last summer we bought a second-hand Nissan LEAF (40 kWh version) and we sold our old car not long after. It has been our only vehicle for about a year and it has been mostly fantastic.

Almost everything is better with a pure Electric Vehicle (EV) compared to cars that burn stuff. I’ll get on to those benefits but there are one or maybe two things that are worse. These are (primarily) charging on the go and (to a lesser extent) the often high upfront cost.

Charging On The Go

Charging on the road when away from home is getting better but it still often sucks. This isn’t an intrinsic problem with the time it takes (we usually find we would be stopping anyway and fill the time with something we would already be doing). It is a problem with reliability, but at least that means it is solvable. This post would get very long if I went into all the issues, so I won’t go into too much detail.

You quickly learn what networks are the most dependable and always factor-in a backup. Tools like A Better Route Planner and Zap-Map are invaluable. You can see if a charger is broken or in use before you get there but sometimes they are broken when they show as working (e.g. the touchscreen is dead) or are shown as available but are blocked by a lazy legacy vehicle driver/rider.

The best solution to the charging on-the-go problem is to avoid it completely. If you can charge at home and potentially at your destination then this is cheaper and far more convenient.

We moved home after getting our EV and high up the list of requirements was off-street parking where we could install a charger. It’s also worth having a look at the electricity supply to check the fuse rating (100A is good) and the earthing system in use.

When choosing an EV it is useful to try and find one with a range that can cover the longest trip that you regularly do. Make sure you look at the real-world range and take the type of driving into account (e.g. motorway driving reduces range) then add a generous error margin. A Better Route Planner is a great tool for modelling this.

If you need to top up a little and are spending a long time somewhere then you can always use a standard 13A socket (ours only charges at 10A in this mode). It’s worth carrying an IP rated extension lead in your boot.

Cost

New EVs cost more to buy than legacy cars, even though the running costs are low and the total cost of ownership is lower. This presents a barrier to many people but there are solutions to this. The obvious one is leasing, which if you can do it through your employer has the added incentive of a very low Benefit-in-Kind rate, making it cost even less.

You can also buy second-hand if you don’t need a very modern EV. We did this and also got a second-hand charger. The used EV market is growing as people upgrade and you can get an old LEAF for a reasonable price. Second-hand EVs hold their value well and it looks like I could sell our car now for only a couple of hundred pounds less than what we bought it for.

Benefits

This brings me on to the many benefits of driving an EV, including how they are outrageously cheap to run.

Fuel

Charging an EV is significantly cheaper (even on standard rates) than fuelling a combustion car and you don’t need to worry about finding any to buy. There was recently a fuel shortage in the UK due to the logistics impact of a badly implemented terrible idea (but I won’t say any more on that here). We were feeling pretty smug charging the car from the solar panels on the roof. It’s so much easier and more convenient, even when there is fuel available.

We are with Octopus Energy and on their “Go” off-peak tariff with these rates (inc. VAT):

  • 00:30 - 04:30: 5.00p/kWh
  • 04:30 - 00:30: 14.40p/kWh1

Combined with our solar and home storage system (more details in another post) this makes the car incredibly cheap to run (about 1-2p/mile) and a full charge is only a few pounds. If you would like an Octopus Energy switching bonus of £50 credit then you can use our referral link.

The car has a built-in charge timer and I have this set to charge during the off-peak window when at home (away from home it charges immediately). This can be overridden with a button or remotely.

It really doesn’t need to get any more complicated than this. A simple onboard location-aware timer is all that is required for most people. Newer EVs also have a target charge percentage that is useful for looking after the battery. You shouldn’t leave it fully charged for long periods.

The only other thing you might want a charger to do is solar matching so that it can use just excess exported power. I may get a charger that supports this in the future and I would also go for a tethered unit next time, as that would be slightly easier than getting the cable out of the boot for a socketed charger.

One thing to check is that your bill actually aligns with your charging schedule. The clock on your electricity meter may be off so you might have to adjust your start or end time by 10 mins or so. It is also worth checking things behave as expected after the clocks change, as they do on Sunday.

You can also often find free charging such as Tesla destination chargers (with the grey rather than red signs) or Pod-Points in Tesco car parks (you need to visit a website to confirm the charge or it will stop after 15 mins).

Tax and Servicing

EVs pay no road tax and are much easier to service. I occasionally pump up the tyres and fill the screenwash. The MOT test is the same apart from obviously excluding the emissions test part.

Our LEAF just passed its MOT test and the only advisory was some slightly corroded disc brakes. The mechanic said they see this a lot with EVs, as they don’t use the traditional brakes much (they use the motor for regenerative braking most of the time).

Performance

Most people appear to think that EVs are slow but even our low end one has surprisingly good performance if you want it. The acceleration is great, you get large amounts of instant torque from the motor and it just seems to keep on going linearly (all EVs are automatic, you don’t even need a manual license).

The handling is also great, as the centre of gravity is low and doesn’t move around. It’s incredibly fun to drive (when the family is not in the car) but it’s pretty easy to spin the wheels if you take it out of eco mode. It does all this while remaining peacefully quiet and not making any stupid noises.

Remote Control

One of the nice things about EVs is that you can warm them up or cool them down remotely or on a timer, otherwise known as preconditioning. It’s not that this isn’t technically possible with legacy vehicles it’s just that it would be highly irresponsible to start or leave an engine running unattended. You don’t know where all the toxic gases are going and it could be inside a locked garage.

It’s great getting into a cool car on a hot day or not having to bother de-icing a windscreen on a cold morning. If you are plugged in then this won’t even drain your battery.

Pollution

Not only are EVs better as vehicles than legacy ones in most ways, they also emit significantly less pollution. How much carbon-containing gases end up in the atmosphere causing climate breakdown will depend on where you get your electricity from but even in the worst case this is better than legacy vehicles. This is because EVs are far more efficient at turning stored energy into motion. Just think how hot and noisy legacy vehicles are, that is all wasted energy. That’s not even considering the huge energy costs of extracting, refining and transporting legacy fuels.

In addition, EVs create far less localised air pollution that damages our health and also smells terrible. There are no toxic gases and less particulate pollution, none from the exhaust (what ugly exhaust?), far less from the brakes (due to regeneration) but still some from tyre wear (there are devices in development to capture shed tyre particles before they escape). This means they are allowed in Ultra Low Emission Zones such as the recently expanded one in London.

EVs are also quieter and create much less noise pollution, especially at low speeds (i.e. in residential areas). I think people have just gotten used to the din legacy vehicles make and had to put up with it. Once you have experienced the blissful calm of an EV you won’t go back.

However, EVs are not a panacea. They won’t solve problems with traffic jams or lack of exercise harming people’s health. We still need more people walking and cycling (active travel) but EVs are a big step in the right direction.

FAQs

Here are some questions I’ve been asked and their answers.

How heavy is it?

Just under 2 metric tons. This is less than a 2018 Ford Focus (with no fuel).

I guess when people think of car batteries they think of the traditional lead-acid batteries, which are pretty heavy. Lithium ion batteries used in EVs, phones and laptops are much lighter (lithium is one of the lightest elements and lead one of the heaviest stable ones). Our EV also has a lead-acid battery to power the electronics and this is recharged from the main battery.

Does it work in the rain?

Yes, it works in the rain and you can charge it in the rain too. The connections are IP rated for use in rain. Although I wouldn’t try it (but have seen it done), EVs are better at fording water as there is no engine to flood.

I guess people think water and electricity don’t mix but legacy cars have lots of electrics in them. Most of the problems I’ve had with previous cars have been electrics related. Flat batteries are more common in legacy vehicles.

Keep an eye on this blog for the imminent next posts in this series covering our solar/storage system, heat pumps, insulation, diet, flights and planting trees!


  1. This peak rate isn’t currently available but off-peak it’s still 5p and that is when you want to be charging. Although the peak rate has gone up the standing charge has gone down, so this might actually be cheaper for our usage profile.

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