With households worldwide seeking a more sustainable future, electric vehicle (EV) demand is on the rise. Sure, the transition to electric vehicle from petrol is not seamless, and getting used to charging rather than refueling takes some adaptation. See our article, What is Charge Anxiety? for more on that topic.
Despite these headlines and concerns, the global EV market doubled globally year-on-year from 2020 to 2021, rising to 6.6 million vehicles sold.
It is probably no surprise that the Nordics lead the world in EV penetration rates. Norway, Iceland, Sweden, Denmark, and Finland have the highest penetration rates of EV sales. Norway is way out in front with 86% of new vehicle sales coming from EVs.
In the UK last year, over 190,000 electric vehicles were sold in (up 76 %), reaching 11% of total vehicle sales. In the US, over 200,000 electric vehicles were sold in the three months ending in October 2022. The US barely made it into the top 20 countries, with between 5 and 6% of total new vehicle sales, about half the penetration rate of the UK.
Government action will keep demand for electric vehicles rising in the coming years. The UK government is pursuing a complete ban of new petrol and diesel vehicle sales from 2030, and the US has announced its target to reach 50% sales of new EVs by that same year.
1) Reducing Air Pollution
In our article, Why Does Sustainability Cost More?, we look at the concept of economic externalities. Driving an electric vehicle is a classic example of a positive externality. Switching from an Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) car to an EV or Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) reduces air pollution associated with petrol or diesel car exhaust. Conversely, the air pollution caused by petrol and diesel car exhaust is a negative externality associated with the ICE automotive market.
The cost of air pollution to the government here in the UK is in part measured by the impact on the National Health Service (NHS). The total NHS and social care cost due to PM2.5 and NO2 combined in 2017 was estimated to be between £42.88 million and £157 million, depending on what level of association between disease and pollution is considered, according to Public Health England.
3) Reducing emissions with more sustainable fuel sources
Choosing an EV means that the car is powered by electricity, rather than petrol or diesel fuel. Both petrol and diesel fuels are derivatives of oil. Diesel fuel is associated with higher mileage per gallon as compared to petrol, but also has more dangerous particulates associated with exhaust. Both petrol and diesel vehicles require fossil fuels to run, and release emissions and particulates into the air when the fuel is burned to power the vehicle.
Electric vehicles are powered by electricity that is delivered to a large battery in the car from either your household supply or an electricity seller via a publicly accessible charge point. Electricity has the potential to provide a more sustainable fuel source over time than oil, but the electricity sector globally is still one of the largest contributors to global emissions (at 28.4%) at this point in time.
In the UK, the emissions associated with the production of electricity is improving, but there is still a long way to go to reach sustainability. Today, 43% percent of electricity generated in the UK comes from renewable sources: wind, solar, bioenergy and hydroelectric.
However, the single largest source of electricity generation in the UK is from burning gas, which has CO2 emissions associated with it. Natural gas is a fossil fuel, which is, by definition, unsustainable. That being said, burning natural gas emits 50-60 percent less CO2 than burning coal (when comparing a new gas-based electricity plant to a new coal based one).
So, while the UK electricity supply is making improvements, investment in renewable sources will need to continue at pace to replace the current reliance on fossil fuel based generation.
4) Lower Cost
The biggest argument against electric cars in the past was that they were so much more expensive to buy than traditional ICE vehicles. This is no longer the case. New EVs are extremely cost competitive, with Volkswagen, Nissan, Hyundai, Citroen, and Fiat swiftly gaining market share.
The main thing keeping the overall cost of electric vehicles high is the thin used market. As these newer models haven’t been around that long, that leaves short supplies for used vehicles more than 1-2 years old. Compounding that is the swift advances in battery range. Not only will those looking to buy a used EV struggle to find inventory, in many cases, they will find that older EVs have smaller ranges.
That being said, I did buy a used EV because my daddy taught me never to buy a new car. “It loses half its value the moment you drive it off the lot….” he used to say. While the real figure is more like 25-30% of value lost when you drive off the lot, his point was sound, and I never forgot it.
I’ve been really happy with my EV purchase: the battery range is still fine; the maintenance has been minimal compared to my previous ICE and Hybrid vehicles, and the value of it has held up incredibly well. In fact, having owned it for nearly two years, I could resell it at 90% the value for which I bought it, thanks to high demand and supply chain disruptions affecting new vehicle production.
In the last 12 months, I spent just over £700 charging my electric vehicle. I travelled approximately 12,000 miles in that time, giving me a cost to travel of 17p per mile. In a petrol car with average mileage per gallon (36), that same distance would cost £2,450 or £2,300 in a diesel car with average mpg. My hybrid used to get 45 miles to the gallon on average, so it would have cost me £1,900 in petrol per year. So, overall, compared to my hybrid, going fully electric is saving me £1,200 year in petrol, at a time when electricity prices are at historic highs.
According to a survey carried out by electric fleet company, Mina, from June to August 2022, the average pence per mile (ppm) to charge an electric vehicle in the UK was 9ppm at home or 20ppm at home. So, it is worth putting into context that my charging at home is higher than average – which will be a result of my tariff (mostly the fact that my renewable energy company went bankrupt and I was put on a standard tariff with British Gas), and my location.
The cost savings that I experienced in going electric are actually wildly conservative in this context – many others should expect to see much higher savings when exchanging a petrol or hybrid for electric.
In addition to avoiding petrol cost and emissions, I also pay nothing for road tax or congestion charges. This saves me £15 for every trip into London, or £8-10 to head into Birmingham, Bristol, or Oxford. More cities are on the cusp of introducing similar charges – for more information, check out UK Clean Air Zones.
But, it is also worth noting that I invested in an at home rapid charger, which, after the OZEV government grant, cost me just over £700. I look at this additional investment, however, as a home investment that will likely increase the value of our home when we come to sell it, given the plans for electrification of the vehicle fleet, but of course I accept that point of view comes with risk.
5) Reduced road noise
Ok, I admit it, I secretly love the sound of an electric vehicle – it still sounds like something out of a science fiction movie to me – probably because I grew up around 4×4 trucks that rumble and grumble along.
Equally, as I coast into middle age, it is embarrassing to admit that I am slightly losing my tolerance for petrol-head racers with modified exhaust that is loud as anything. I totally get they are fun to drive – and I won’t begrudge that of those who love it. I used to be a thrill seeker, too. But, for where I am in my life, I like a nice, quiet car.
While electric vehicles won’t solve all road noise issues, as wind resistance alone on a motorway will still make noise- estimates suggest they could reduce road noise by up to 40%. The average ICE car emits 80 dB. The average lorry (truck) or motorbike emits 93 dB. The average electric vehicle emits 40 dB. So why only 40% reduction you ask? Good question.
For health and safety reasons, electric vehicles across the world are coming under greater requirements and regulations to emit a minimum decibel level (usually around 54-60dB) to alert pedestrians of their presence. Even with this requirement, however, electrification of the vehicle fleet is set to dramatically reduce road noise, especially in crowded cities.
Between this minimum requirement, and noise associated with wind and tires, the best educated guesses suggest road noise reduction on the order of 40% if all vehicles went electric. Please do bear in mind, though, that electric heavy good vehicles (HGVs) are not yet viable, though, so there is still considerable work to do to achieve those declines. HGVs will still make quite a racket for the foreseeable future.
If you are considering switching to an electric vehicle, there are lots of good reasons to do so, not the least of which, if you live in the UK, is a very near future ban on petrol and diesel car sales, coming into effect in 2030.
Electric cars are only more sustainable when they are powered by clean electricity, and very few electricity supplies are fully renewable today.
The cost to run an electric vehicle is definitely lower than petrol and diesel cars.
Electric Vehicle Sales Statistics
US Government Electric Vehicle Purchases
COP27 Declaration on Accelerating the Transition to ZEVs
Gas versus coal power plant emissions