28 November 2019

According to the plan outlined by the Government in the document titled ‘Road to Zero’, all vehicles on UK roads will be zero-emission by 2040. While the plan is quite detailed, there are still some challenges we could face in electric vehicle (EV) adoption.


Roadblocks in user perception

While there are some roadblocks in EV uptake, some of the biggest ones are in the minds of the end-users. Here are the factors that prevent some people from adopting electric vehicles.

Car prices

Electric car prices are higher than petrol or diesel-fuelled cars. The reason for this is the cost of the battery, which needs to be more powerful in order to increase the driving distance.

If there were a greater demand for EVs, battery sales volumes would drive down the price, but since the price is high, the demand remains low.

Having said that, there is a good chance that technology will allow future batteries to be cheaper, bringing the price of battery-powered vehicles down. Also, the cost of refuelling an electric car is much lower than running a car on petrol or diesel. These savings do offset the initial cost of the vehicle.

Battery expense

As we mentioned, the battery price is a big roadblock in electric car adoption. What makes it even more daunting is that this expensive (and integral) part of the EV currently needs to be replaced at around eight years.

In contrast, people don’t need to replace their (relatively inexpensive) fuel tanks in petrol or diesel cars every few years.

However, this is quite likely to change in the future, with the advent of cheaper batteries that are lighter and more powerful. As of now, the battery remains one of the biggest expenses for these vehicles.

Range anxiety

As evidenced by Chris Salmon’s Tesla EV test drive, an electric car’s range remains the biggest concern of users.

EV range has gone up, with the Tesla Model S promising 375 miles, Model 3 offering 348 miles, and many others giving over 200 miles. This, however, is the ‘official’ range and consumers know that in real-world usage, the range is generally lesser. People are concerned about how far their car will go, especially if they have an emergency that is not accounted for in their ‘overnight charging’ plan.

Nevertheless, for short commutes, this range should be more than enough without needing any additional charge. he car can then be home-charged overnight.

Recharge time

In addition to range anxiety, the fact that EVs take hours to fully recharge is another challenge facing electric vehicle adoption. If you were to fill up the petrol tank in your car, it would take you a minute or two. To refuel a drained electric car, on the other hand, you would need 4-6 hours, possibly even 8.

This means that if people were going on a long journey, they’d need to factor in time to stop and recharge, thereby extending the time on the road by several hours.

The good news is, there are technologies being developed that could allow EVs to charge while on the move. These could mean a longer range, with fewer stops. As things stand now, however, people do need to stop during longer journeys to recharge their electric vehicle.

 

Technical challenges

 

Charging infrastructure

In July 2019, the number of electric charge points in the country numbered around 13,000 and this number is constantly growing. However, they are not evenly distributed.

The average distance between two electric car charge points is about 3.8 miles, which is almost four times the distance between petrol and diesel filling stations (1 mile). What makes it worse is the fact that this is the ‘average’, and some places have a gap of up to 47 miles.

But, as we said, the numbers are constantly growing so the distances between public charge points should decrease.

While most users rely on home charging, this is also a problem. People living in flats or without off-road parking cannot feasibly rely on home charging.

However, efforts are being made to work around this problem with lampposts being converted into chargers, induction chargers, solar panels, and pop-up chargers on pavements.

Some employees could look to workplace charging schemes. Currently, this isn’t practical for every business, but government schemes should incentivise workplace charging soon.

With the Government pushing EVs, there is a good chance that the infrastructure for charging will improve radically. This should mean that EV ownership would be easier.

Investors

The assumption was that the EV charging infrastructure would be the responsibility of private companies. However, some companies are reluctant to invest just yet as the profit margins aren’t high enough. It’s the same problem with EV prices, where the uptake relies on the profits but the profits depend on higher uptake.

Whilst this is a slow process, companies are starting to get more involved as there is a chance that in areas where there is low profit, the Government might decide to step in.

Not completely zero-carbon

There is an argument that, while EVs are being promoted as being zero-carbon, that’s not quite true. They do produce non-exhaust emissions and are fuelled using electricity, which is not yet completely from renewable sources.

Even if it were, there are still environmental factors to be considered. The batteries are made using minerals, which need to be mined. Deteriorated batteries need to be dismantled.

All of these processes have a significant carbon footprint, which means electric vehicles aren’t completely zero-carbon.

However, there is no denying that EVs significantly reduce the amount of exhaust emissions, making urban air safer to breathe.

To summarise, it seems there are still a few challenges facing EV adoption. However, some of the biggest problems are based on customer perception, and others are chicken-or-egg type problems. This is bound to change in the future, making EV ownership much easier for everyone.

 

Further reading

 

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