Analysis: from range anxiety to towing a trailer, a look at some of the key areas to consider if you're going electric

(1) Is range a reason to be anxious?

The infamous range anxiety is a much talked-about topic for electric vehicles. Let's do the numbers. First, the kilowatt-hour (kWh) is the unit of measure of battery size. Each unit can result in up to 8 km of driving for the most efficient battery-electric vehicles (BEV) on the market.

The typical BEV on sale in Ireland in 2022 comes with a battery pack sized from 50 to 80 kWh. For example, the 60 kWh Hyundai Kona BEV has a published range of about 484 km. The Irish driver travels about 50 km a day on average so the battery provides almost 10 days of driving for the average driver.

This range drops as the battery ages over the years for which it is guaranteed and beyond. A further drop in range can be expected due to the use of heating, air-conditioning or defrosting on cold, hot or damp days. As a result, the range will be lower in several years' time in adverse weather conditions, but will still have several days of driving for the typical driver. Even better, many vehicles now use heat pump technology to heat up the vehicle. These heat pumps require less energy than the traditional heaters so the range is less impacted in poor weather.

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From RTÉ Radio 1's Brendan O'Connor show, motoring journalist Geraldine Herbert on how to avoid "range anxiety"

(2) How long will the batteries last?

Battery life is improving as we learn more about the battery science. The typical car manufacturer guarantees the battery for seven or eight years. We can expect to see battery guarantees of up to 10 years coming soon for some BEV models. Some batteries for hybrid-electric vehicle (HEV) come with a 15-year guarantee.

The key for battery life is not to overcharge or over-discharge the battery. Remember too that the Irish climate doesn’t have the extremes of temperature that would further reduce the life of the battery.

(3) Are battery-electric vehicles more expensive to buy?

In general, BEVs are more expensive than the equivalent conventional petrol or diesel vehicle. The BEVs are made more relatively affordable in Ireland with government grants of up to €5,000 for vehicles priced up to €60,000. Vehicle registration tax (VRT) relief is additionally available on BEVs, but with limits kicking in at €40,000. A €600 grant is available towards the charger. VAT at 23 % is additionally part of the price of all new cars in Ireland.

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From RTÉ Radio 1's Today With Claire Byrne, motoring journalist Michael Sheridan on the ins and outs of electric cars

(4) Are battery-electric vehicles more expensive to run?

A typical BEV driver can save about €100 every month compared to a conventional diesel or petrol car by charging the vehicle with cheaper night-time electricity. While the electricity can be relatively pricy at high-power public chargers, the cheap-rate night-time electricity at home enables serious savings to be made on fuel.

Depending on how much you drive, the increased cost to purchase the BEV will likely be offset by the cost savings to fuel the vehicle over the decade or longer that the vehicle is in operation. Additionally, electric cars carry the lowest rate of road tax.

(5) Do I need a special mechanic if something goes wrong?

Yes, you must go to trained mechanics for service and repairs as battery and hybrid cars have powertrains which are quite different from a conventional car. The garage will have the highly-trained mechanics and technicians which your car requires. Maintenance is less of a factor for the BEV as it has fewer moving parts than a conventional vehicle, making it easier to service.

One of the wonders of electric cars is regenerative braking. When you hit the brakes in an electric car, the computers on the car actually tell the electric motors to capture the energy of the car as it slows down and recharge the battery. It’s quite likely that you don’t use the actual brakes at all, which saves a lot in term of wear and tear on brakes, and creates free energy for the battery!

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From RTÉ 1's Claire Byrne Live, Fiachra Cooke explains how he converted his old petrol car to an electric one

(6) Can electric cars pull my horsebox or trailer?

One of the great things about an electric car is the acceleration. The zero to 60 mph can be unreally fast and is thrilling for many drivers, while being terrifying for others. While electric vehicles are not designed for towing, some are so be sure to check on whether you can tow or not, and how much can be towed.

(7) What's the story with hybrid-electric versus mild hybrid?

The hybrid-electric vehicle (HEV) features two energy sources on the car: a battery with an electric motor and a high-efficiency petrol engine. The battery and the electrical system enable the engine to run in the most efficient mode, thus maximizing the range and minimizing the carbon emissions. The electric system can propel the car, and so, the car can drive quietly in electric mode for up to several km when it is inefficient to use the engine.

Mild-hybrid vehicles are similar to conventional diesel and petrol vehicles in using an engine to propel the vehicle. The conventional vehicle has a 12 V lead-acid battery, whereas the typical mild hybrid operates with a lithium-ion battery at 48 V. This technology enables the car to operate more efficiently and emit less carbon than a conventional vehicle, but does not propel the car.

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From RTÉ Radio 1's Drivetime, transport expert Gerry Duggan on the Government's commitment to increase the number of electric cars on Irish roads in the coming years

(8) What’s a plug-in hybrid?

A plug-in hybrid-electric vehicle (PHEV) is a hybrid vehicle with a relatively large battery which can be plugged in, just like a BEV. The battery is typically sized such that the driver can travel that 50 km average daily drive completely on the battery, such that the engine does not run. The vehicle can use the engine for longer drives while staying electric-only for shorter drives. Drivers need to charge the vehicle daily in order to get the full environmental and financial benefit. That should be easy: no driver wants to pay a fortune for petrol when they can use cheaper electricity. The cost per kilometre when driving using night-time electricity is about 2 cents, while the cost per kilometre when driving using petrol is almost 9 cents.

(9) Are electric cars really better for the environment?

Fuelling a vehicle using electricity in Ireland results in much lower carbon emissions when compared to combusting a fossil fuel. On the other hand, the manufacturing of the vehicle internationally results in much higher carbon emissions. Overall, when the global emissions of manufacturing and fuelling are considered, electric vehicles emit less carbon for the typical driver.

BEVs with smaller batteries have lower global emissions than BEVs with large batteries. BEVs with large batteries have similar global emissions to PHEVs. HEVs have higher global emissions, with conventional petrol and diesel cars being higher again. Diesel cars struggle additionally with toxic emissions in urban environments.

These large manufacturers will need a number of years to develop full supply chains and drive down the cost of the vehicles

Other environmental concerns are the material sourcing, manufacturing emissions, sustainability, and recyclability and, in more recent times, the ability of the grid to supply electricity. These problems are complex, but are all being addressed and we can expect to see significant progress in all these areas in the next decade.

(10) When will I be able to afford an electric car?

As you can likely see on the road today, many people in Ireland can afford a used or new electric car. However, the market is not yet at the level of being able to present affordable options across all sectors of the car market. Covid has played havoc with supply chains and many dealers are struggling to meet demand for new and used vehicles, irrespective of the type of vehicle.

Many of the largest car manufacturers have only introduced electric cars very recently. These large manufacturers will need a number of years to develop full supply chains and drive down the cost of the vehicles. There are a lot of moving parts here (if you pardon the pun), but we are likely to see significant progress in the next decade.


The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ