Electric vehicle

What is an electric vehicle?

An electric vehicle (EV) is a mode of transport which is powered by electricity. Unlike conventional vehicles that use a gasoline (petrol) or diesel-powered engine, electric cars and trucks use an electric motor powered by electricity from batteries or a fuel cell. A key advantage of EVs over other forms of transport is that they hold the potential to significantly reduce pollution by having zero exhaust emissions.

How does an electric vehicle work?

EVs have an electric motor instead of an internal combustion engine (ICE). The vehicle uses a large traction battery pack to power the motor and must be plugged in to a charging station or wall outlet to charge. Most EVs use lithium-ion batteries, which have higher energy density, longer life span and higher power than most other practical batteries.

There are three main types of EVs. Hybrid EVs (HEVs) and plug-in hybrid EVs are both powered by petrol and electricity. The former generates energy through the car’s own braking system to recharge the battery, while the latter can recharge through any external source of electricity. Meanwhile, battery EVs (BEVs) are fully electric, meaning that the vehicle emits no emissions from the exhaust and does not contain the typical liquid fuel components, such as a fuel pump, fuel line, or fuel tank.

What are the benefits of electric vehicles?

EVs are an environmentally friendly alternative to petrol or diesel cars as they generate much less air pollution, releasing no exhaust air pollutants. From wheel to wheel, EVS emit approximately 66% less carbon dioxide (CO2) compared with ICE-powered vehicles. The emissions associated with the electric drivetrain of EVs come from power plants generating electricity to charge the batteries - emissions can therefore be further reduced if renewable energy is used to recharged an EV. Noise pollution is also cut out due to the fact that an EV is nearly silent.

Running costs for fuel, maintenance and car tax are much lower for EVs. As company cars tend to travel further on a daily basis, the payback on the original purchase price is faster, making EVs particularly attractive for fleets.

One of the biggest benefits of introducing EVs to a business is the reduced refuelling costs, with electricity being far cheaper than fuel at the pump. Indeed, fuel costs can be as low as 2p per mile. For an annual mileage of around 10,000 miles per year, switching from a conventional to an electric car or van could save around £800 in fuel costs alone.

EVs are also a lot cheaper to maintain, mainly because they have a lot less moving parts than a conventional fossil-fuel powered car. For instance, there is relatively little servicing and no expensive exhaust systems, starter motors, fuel injection systems or radiators. Recent research has shown that several EV features can improve safety - EVs tend to have a lower centre of gravity that makes them less likely to roll over, for instance.

EV owners can gain additional monetary value from an EV through the implimentation of vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technology, which provides demand-response services to the power grid. EVs can feed electricity into the grid when not in use through batteries during peak hours, and do most of their charging at night when there is unused generating capacity.

What is the market size of electric vehicles?

The number of EVs in the world accelerated past the two million barrier in 2016, as prices fell and manufacturers launched new models. China, the US and Europe accounted for more than 90% of EV sales in 2016, with China the single biggest market, according to research by the International Energy Agency. The UK sold the second highest level of EVs in the EU, with plug-in hybrids dominating sales despite the fact that the purchase incentive offered is decidedly less.

This growth in sales is matched by an increase in choice, with nearly 40 EV and hybrid models now on the market. There have been numerous commitments from automakers to introduce EVs into portfolios, highlighting that the electrification of cars should no longer be seen as a niche market. Most recently, Volvo pledged to introduce an all-electric portfolio by 2019. The world’s top selling plug-in EVs are the Nissan Leaf, followed by the Tesla Model S, the Chevrolet Volt, Mitsubishi Outlander P-HEV and Prius Plug-in.

Experts have suggested that EVs could represent 54% of all new car sales by 2040. The fall in battery prices is an essential component of this growing popularisation of EVs, with a very steep drop in prices to around €250/kWh in 2015 - more than three times the figure for 2009. Global battery production for EVs is expected to increase dramatically in the near future, driven in part by the opening of Tesla’s $5bn ‘Gigafactory’ in the Nevada Desert, which Elon Musk believes could reach $100/KWh by 2020.

What are the challenges to adopting electric vehicles?

EVs are generally more expensive to buy than their petrol or diesel equivalents for outright purchases. Battery technology is expensive, and because batteries in electric cars need to be able to hold vast amounts of charge to make the cars practical for most drivers, they have to be built using expensive materials, most of which are tough to procure.

EVs also often have long recharge times compared to the relatively fast process of refuelling a tank. While it takes a couple of minutes to fuel a petrol-powered car, an EV can take four to six hours to become fully charged (although this is now improving with the development of 'rapid-charge' systems).

Many EVs have a limited range due to the low energy density of batteries compared to the fuel of ICE vehicles. Most EVs have a relatively short driving range of between 100-150km. However, the ranges of electric cars are increasing as newer models hit the market. The next-gen Nissan Leaf is expected to be able to handle 300km on a single charge and the latest Tesla Model S has a range of 500km.

Batteries do wear out so replacement batteries will eventually be needed. Most car manufacturers warrant EV batteries for around eight years. But it should be noted that, when an EV battery reaches the end of its vehicle life, it may still have secondary value - by storing electricity from solar PV panels, for example.

The rise of EVs is yet to be matched at pace by charging infrastructure. In the UK, Uber has rolled out its own London-based charging initiative to combat a lack of charging systems in the city, but other new innovations are generally slow to arrive to the market.

What policies and regulations impact the electric vehicle market?

Many governments offer incentives to promote the use of EVs to reduce air pollution and oil consumption. Some incentives intend to increase purchases of EVs by offsetting the purchase price with a grant. Other incentives include lower tax rates or exemption from certain taxes, and investment in charging infrastructure.

In the UK, the Government has backed an overarching plan for all new cars and vans to be zero-emission by 2040 with various funding streams. The UK Government moved to incentivise the low-carbon vehicle market in 2011 through the launch of the plug-in car grant, which gives buyers up to £4,500 towards the cleanest new cars. More than 100,000 electric cars have been sold in the UK under the grant scheme. Under new rules which came in April 2017, zero-emission vehicles that cost less than £40,000 new are exempt from Vehicle Excise Duty (road tax).

Chancellor Philip Hammond confirmed in the 2017 Spring Budget that EVs would benefit from a new £270m fund. This followed the 2016 Autumn Statement which outlined £390m of new funding for low-carbon transport, including testing infrastructure for driverless cars and charging points for Ultra Low Emission Vehicles (ULEVs). There are also plans to create an Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) in London by 2019.

Elsewhere in Europe, Emmanuel Macron’s French Government announced the country will stop selling petrol and diesel vehicles by 2040. Norway accounts for the highest percentage of purchased EVs globally, and has a target in place to only sell all-electric or plug-in hybrid vehicles by 2025. And in the Netherlands, EV sales represent by far the largest share of total new cars sales at nearly 10%, thanks largely to generous subsidies.

UPDATE: On 26 July, Environment Secretary Michael Gove unveiled the Government's long-awaited Air Quality Plan, which includes a ban on all new petrol and diesel cars. The Plan is effectively the start of the end of the internal combustion engine, with consumers and businesses being encouraged to switch to electric vehicles. It puts £1bn towards the development of ultra-low-emission vehicles, as well as almost £100m to support the UK's electric vehicle charging infrastructure and to fund the 'plug-in car' and 'plug-in grant' subsidy schemes. Read the full story here.

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The Government must consider how it will recover a forecasted £170bn hole in lost fuel duty tax receipts if the UK remains on course to hit the energy targets set out in the Fifth Carbon Budget, a new report from think tank Policy Exchange has warned.

New consumer products like Tesla’s grid-connected home battery, along with small-scale solar, are becoming more popular, and are tipped to revolutionise the way power is stored

Storage 'not fundamentally needed' for future power grid, scientists say

The emergence of household batteries, along with small-scale solar photovoltaic and plug-in electric cars, is tipped to transform electricity storage, according to a new state-of-the-art report by European science academies. But experts claim storage is not actually fundamentally needed.

Proterra’s latest model, the Catalyst E2, can cover 350 miles on one charge

Al Gore and BMW back electric bus start-up

The corporate venture arm of BMW and the investment firm led by former US Vice President Al Gore have funnelled $55m towards Proterra, a company attempting to bring electric buses with a 350-mile range to the North American market.

The National Clean Air Day will see local schools, hospitals and communities across UK cities run events and inspire other local residents to act for their own health and the health of local children

Report: Britons willing to pay £1bn to tackle air pollution

Coinciding with the UK's first ever National Clean Air Day (15 June), new research has shown that the general public want to ringfence £1bn a year to tackle air pollution.

Decreasing costs, longer battery ranges and an increasing number of charging points are driving demand for electric vehicles

Electric cars accelerate past 2 million mark globally

The number of electric cars in the world accelerated past the two million barrier last year, as prices fell and manufacturers launched new models.

Many businesses already utilising fleet management and telematics technology have reported fuel savings of as much as two gallons per vehicle per day

Driving change: How can businesses increase efficiency for a greener fleet?

Whether it's the rollout of electric vehicles (EVs), the use of telematics, or the strategic positioning of distribution centres, there is now a multitude of options available to businesses looking to reduce fleet emissions. But which is the best route to take? edie's George Ogleby investigates.

Google has collected almost three million measurements across 14,000 miles of road over the course of the year

Google unveils first air quality mapping system

As more urban areas succumb to increased exposure to air pollution, Google has released its first block-by-block data set in California to enable residents to make different travel route decisions and help improve air quality in the area.

Through the Powervault system, the batteries are given an estimated 10 years of additional life use

Renault enters UK energy storage market with Powervault and M&S trials

Renault has become the latest carmaker to venture into the energy storage market, after partnering with energy equipment suppliers Powervault and Marks & Spencer (M&S) to trial used electric vehicle (EV) batteries in home energy storage units in the UK.

UPS has already trialled similar schemes in Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy and other parts of the UK

UPS unveils Dublin 'eco package hub' to reduce delivery van journeys

An "urban eco package hub" has been launched by package delivery firm UPS that will limit the amount of delivery vehicles operating in the city centre to ease congestion and pollution concerns.

Last year, Nissan partnered with Italian energy company Enel to develop 100 new vehicle-to-grid (V2G) energy storage units in London

Northern Powergrid and Nissan join forces on energy network research

Northern Powergrid has signed a memorandum of understanding with Nissan to look at how electric vehicles (EVs) can support energy networks.

The central London branch offers universal charging points to accommodate the rising number of electric vehicles (EVs)

London EV drivers rewarded with car parking discount

Plug-in vehicle drivers in the capital are set to be rewarded by a new parking tariff scheme at a central London car park which discounts parking for low-emission cars.

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Nissan's Francisco Carranza was speaking at the launch of a new energy storage partnership between Eaton and Manchester City Football Club

Nissan and REA warn of regulatory inaction ahead of energy storage boon

The UK can deliver a "vibrant and healthy" energy storage industry that can create one of the world's most efficient grids, but only if the approaching General Election doesn't "rip up" progress to date.

Car club operators can regularly renew fleets to respond to emerging technologies and car club vehicles are now emitting 29% less CO2 than private ownership cars

Sharing economy makes inroads to combat London's air pollution

A rise in car club members in London is reducing the number of diesel vehicles on the roads, leading to less air pollution and a reduction in vehicle carbon emissions.

The Licensed Taxi Drivers’ Association expects the first electric black cabs on London’s roads in September

TfL to spend £18m on preparing London for new electric black cabs

Transport for London is spending £18m on upgrading the capital's power grids to charge the first generation of battery-powered black cabs.

Daimler has suggested that the systems are scalable, meaning that the units could be employed in large-scale industry systems as well as private homes

Mercedes-Benz brings energy storage units to the UK

Mercedes-Benz wants to introduce a "private energy revolution" to UK, after commencing deliveries of energy storage units that can connect with renewable energy sources.

The Government has worked with businesses and academics to identify core industrial challenges that can be overcome through additional funding

EV batteries and robotics first in line for BEIS £1bn innovation fund

The UK Government has unveiled a £1bn investment fund for cutting-edge technologies such as self-driving vehicles, artificial intelligence (AI) and batteries for clean and flexible energy storage.

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The thinktank insists that low-cost batteries, including those in EVs, mean many individual households and commercial buildings could operate off grid for months at a time by 2025

Green Alliance: UK energy system unprepared for EV and solar growth

The UK could suffer from an overloaded grid at peak times unless rapid action is taken to design a smarter power system, a new report from thinktank Green Alliance has found.

The REA's latest recruit sees opportunities in the convergence of renewable energy generation with the move towards greater numbers of plug-in vehicles, especially the longer-range, affordable EVs now coming to market

Electric vehicle energy storage provides 'perfect opportunity' for UK

EXCLUSIVE: The UK's expanding low-carbon vehicle market offers the "perfect opportunity" for businesses to export surplus energy to the grid, according to the new head of electric vehicles (EVs) at the Renewable Energy Association (REA).

Ministers need to produce a draft plan by 24 April after a successful legal challenge from environmental law firm ClientEarth

Friends of the Earth launches air quality proposals ahead of impending Government plan

The Government has today (11 April) been called upon to commit to clean air quality measures by climate change campaign group Friends of the Earth (FoE), as a new survey shows that almost half of UK citizens support restriction on polluting vehicles.

The Government has also announced the first set of winners for the second round of its connected autonomous vehicles competition

Greg Clark announces £109m fund into 'cutting-edge' transport research

Business Secretary Greg Clark has awarded more than £109m of government funding to develop driverless and low-carbon vehicles.

Uber will spend the next five to 10 years looking to increase the share of low-emission vehicles in its fleet

Uber expands London EV plans, despite 'woeful' charging infrastructure

EXCLUSIVE: Uber is taking steps to overcome the "economic disincentive" of using electric vehicles (EVs) in its fleet, by unveiling a new partnership with Nissan and beginning the construction of a network of chargers to combat London's "woefully inadequate" infrastructure.

The consultation is expected to feed into a broader innovation inquiry due to be launched in the next month

MPs to inspect role of electric vehicles in UK Industrial Strategy

MPs from the Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Select Committee have today (16 March) launched a consultation into the role of electric vehicles (EVs) in the UK's low-carbon transition.

Chancellor Philip Hammond delivered his first Spring Budget speech this afternoon, but it contained little for sustainability professionals to get excited about

Budget 2017: Chancellor confirms electric vehicle funding, announces new recycling targets

BREAKING: Key proposals on the future of carbon pricing, renewable energy subsidies and air quality remain on the UK Government's 'to-do' list as Chancellor Philip Hammond offered relatively little for the green economy to get excited about in his 2017 Budget this afternoon.

Once the extreme testing has been completed, and the product is deemed ready for sale, production could start at the new Coventry facility

Zero-emission London taxis road tested in the Arctic Circle

London Taxis have swapped the busy streets of England's capital for the icy conditions of the Arctic Circle, in order to monitor performance of new electric-engine versions of the vehicle.

Transport operator RATP Dev already runs 243 hybrid buses in London, along with 630 similar models on the streets of Paris

London bus routes set to go 100% electric

A full electric operation of two London bus routes will be in place by 2018 thanks to a new partnership between Transport for London (TfL) and a French public transport operator.

There have been 85,581 eligible cars registered since the 2011 launch of the Plug-In car grant, according to statistics

Low-carbon vehicles claim record UK market share

Low-carbon vehicles secured a record share of the UK new car market last month, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) has claimed.

The study predicts solar PV will become “materially cheaper than alternative power options globally” between 2030 and 2040

Low-carbon boom to stall fossil fuel demand by 2020, say researchers

The demand for coal and oil will peak in 2020 as low-carbon technology prices continue to tumble, a new report which examines the energy sector has claimed.