Stephen Wellstead, and his wife, Anne-Marie, swapped their petrol-guzzling BMW for a compact electric BMW. It has involved quite a lot of adjustment but it's been well worth the effort. His motoring diary looks at the pros and cons of life with an EV.
My wife, Anne-Marie, and I live close to Arklow in County Wicklow. Although my job is Dublin based. I'm lucky that I can work from home, so the daily commute isn't a requirement for me, although usually, it is at least once a week.
My wife has her own Play Therapy practice in Wicklow - about 30km away and commutes regularly. We're both Dublin-born and bred, with family and friends there so we spend quite a bit of time in Dublin as a result.
In 2015 we wanted to get a new car but we were very conscious of fuel prices. At the time we had a large petrol BMW and were spending around €300 per month on fuel, lots on tax and repairs were starting to become regular. Diesel made sense with our mileage but we were both loathe to go with noisy, unrefined and polluting vehicle.
As a result we looked into EV's (electric vehicles). My wife really needed convincing and I was sceptical of manufacturers' claims. So, we decided to take a Nissan Leaf for a one week test and a BMW i3 for a weekend. We quickly realised the manufacturer's stated claims were not real world figures, but that both cars would easily suit our pattern of use - once we adjusted to a few changes in thinking.
Our typical pattern goes something like this; Three to four weekly round trips from Arklow to Wicklow, 60km, one weekly trip to either Greystones in Wicklow (90km) or Booterstown Dart in South County Dublin (130km). One weekly trip to visit family and friends in Dublin (150km). Then lots of local driving and trips with our dogs for hikes and so on. Overall, we do roughly 30,000km a year. The vast majority of our driving is at motorway speeds but with lots of short local trips also.
We decided to go with a new BMW i3 as we preferred it to the Leaf in terms of look, finish and performance. The i3 has a 22kWh battery but only 19.5kWh of that is usable. This means the car will never let you damage the battery by emptying to zero %. The car will show 0% but still has ~2.5kWh hidden. We drive the i3 very hard and being economical is not something which we care about.
To us, we needed to have a car that performed like our old BMW or better and not have to compromise. As a result, we possibly have one of the worst kWh/100km of any EV driver. Our typical MPGe is 19.5kWh/100km, meaning we use up 19.5 units to travel 100km.
Yoshi looking content in his well-equipped BMW i3 boot space.
With 19.5 units usable that means our range is typically 100km per charge. That seems low when you hear it at first but, when looking at our usage pattern, we never do more than 70-80km before being able to charge again and so we are well within the i3's limits. Most other users you speak to range between an MPGe of 15 and 19 so would be able to achieve 105-140 km per charge easily enough, more without heavy motorway use.
We have three 32a chargers installed. One at our own home and one each at both parents' homes. When we visit we usually do for a couple of hours or even overnight so this means when in Dublin we don't need to use any public chargers.
So what does a 32a charger mean?
Roughly speaking you can charge at ~7kWh. This gives 7 units for every hour. So in under 3 hours, our i3 would be charged fully. Generally we're never at 0% either when starting, so usually a little over 2 hours is enough.
We also have what's called a 'granny' charger and this uses the familiar 3 pin plug that everybody understands and can be used anywhere really. It's a bit slower and only charges at 10a so takes about 3 times the time but if staying anywhere unusual overnight it would be plenty of time to charge. We've used this on visits to Kerry and renting a cottage for example.
Currently public charging is free. There are two types of chargers; an SCP(slow charge point) or an FCP(fast charge point). The SCPs are usually on-street chargers located all over the country in towns. You need your own cable to plug in. Usually parking charges still apply but some County Councils and also train stations allow free parking while charging. SCPs can charge at up to 22kWh but my car is limited to 7.2kWh. So the 2-3 hour rule still applies to me on an SCP.
We tend to think of these chargers as destination chargers and we wouldn't sit and wait with the car. With work, I leave the car at a Dart station and come back to a fully charged EV. We can go shopping, visit or to see a movie or whatever.
There are different types of chargers.
FCPs are very different, these are like getting a petrol top off. Generally they are located away from congested areas and are in services stops or just off motorways. They are designed to keep you going on a longer journey than your range can typically manage. They charge at 43kWh at their peak currently and are technically capable of much more, just not yet here in Ireland.
Again, there are limits based on your car and my i3 is limited to 50kWh anyway. With an FCP I pull up and stay with my car, charging for 20-30 mins. This usually gives me around 70-80% of range. I do what I would be doing at home - reading a book, browsing the internet or listening to music.
In terms of performance, when most people think of EVs we usually think back to milk floats like Dougal in Father Ted. Reality is far different.
Most EVs will outperform even really powerful cars from a standing start or when acceleration is needed. The electric motor is fantastic due to being able to deliver 100% torque immediately. It's extremely quiet.
Regenerative braking in an EV means that energy is recuperated when braking instead of simply being lost. This, in turn, reduces brake and tyre wear. Generally, EVs have more tech features, which I love.
So I can turn on my heat before I enter my car or have it set to depart and leave home with a warmed up and frost -free car all while finishing work or eating breakfast.
So to the downsides. I'm conscious that I'm quite pro-EV but there are issues. My range is fine 99% of the time but, occasionally, we need to travel outside of this. This means we're not able to use our own home chargers and need to rely on the public infrastructure, usually FCPs.
For my car there are about 30 points in the Republic with another eight in Northern Ireland.
There's a lot more available for the Leaf and in time all FCPs will be able to charge my car. Of those 30 they only have one available at each location and only one car can charge at a time.
There are large geographic black spots in the country, where none are available. Then there is the issue of uptime. Chargers require maintenance and won't be available 100% of the time.
My recommendation to anyone thinking of an EV is simple: if you require regular daily use of public chargers then don't buy an EV.
If your commute and regular use is within the range, then definitely think about it. I know my car really well now and have experience in all weather,so I understand its limitations. This means I don't suffer range -anxiety. I keep an eye on my in built sat-nav and can be confident in reaching a destination.
The only exception is when I need to use an FCP if travelling somewhere else. eCars have online maps which show if an FCP is working and also if in use but, unfortunately, it's still not 100% accurate. There have been times when the infrastructure has failed me and spoiled my plans - but it's new technology and will get better. I really hope the between the government and eCars that we see a lot of investment here.
Finally, some highlight figures. My previous car was a petrol and would use roughly 9.4 litres of petrol per 100 km. In one year of my driving this would be around €2800 in petrol. Tax was €1080. Repairs in the last year of ownership totalled €1500 and a service of €300 - a total of €5680.
With my i3 there is tax of €120 and an electricity cost of €450/annum. EVs are low-maintenance and only need servicing every second year. We usually charge our car on the night rate saver, which is about 8c per unit, meaning a full charge is about €1.60. I factor in a mix of public, night and day rates as I don't charge 100% of my time at home. This means I can drive 1km for 1.5c compared to my old car, which cost roughly 9c per km.
In terms of total cost, I've saved over €5,000 this year by moving to an EV. This pretty much covers my monthly payments on a new car. I'm really happy with my decision and I never intend to go back to petrol or diesel again.