By Neil Kitching
Exciting news. I bought a second-hand electric vehicle (EV). A big expense. Was it worth it?
I finally took the plunge and splashed out on a 2019 second-hand all electric Nissan Leaf. My head was spinning. Will it work? Where do I charge it? How do I charge it? How do I drive an automatic? Will the range be enough?
My first impression was a bit scary. I had not driven an automatic car, nor an electric car before. Where are the gears? Of course, that is one of the benefits, there are far fewer moving parts, and hopefully fewer breakdowns and repairs.
The Nissan has clearly been designed by engineers. There is a P for parking mode, an N for neutral, R for reverse and D for drive. So far so good. Then there is a B mode standing for goodness knows what. Apparently, it maximises battery recharge when freewheeling down steep hills. Then there is an eco-mode which simply prevents you from accelerating too fast, and an e-pedal mode which maximises regenerative breaking every time you take your foot off the accelerator. Finally, there was cruise control to master. Note that these enhancements are designed to maximise the driving range but are not essential for everyday driving.
My son drove to his work in Edinburgh on the half charge the garage had generously left us! He limped home at 55mph with seven miles left on the range. We slung a charging cable from the bonnet through our bedroom window to charge slowly (2.3kw) through a normal 3 pin socket. To charge the 40kwh battery from empty would take up to 17 hours. However, he then drove it to our local Tesco’s store which, lucky for us, is on the A9 electric corridor. There you can charge for free at present, saving us 40kw x 26p unit of electricity = £10.
Public charging takes a bit of time to get used to. There are the standard type 2 chargers, usually 7kw, now favoured by the EU. Our Nissan uses the ‘CHAdeMO’ rapid charger (42kw) which will fully charge our car in an hour. But the CHAdeMO plug is not favoured by the EU and the UK so fewer of these chargers will be built in future. I also read that frequent rapid charging can damage the battery over the long term and that it is best to charge the battery to around 80%. Of course, that will reduce the (summer) range of our battery from 150 miles to 120, which might reduce by another 20% in the winter to under 100 miles.
Still, it is ideal for my son’s commute which is what we bought the car for. And there is no road tax (Vehicle Excise Duty) on electric cars in the UK.
The same day (a lot was happening) I ordered a 7kw home charger. I had done my homework and got two quotes, both more expensive than I expected. I ordered a ‘tethered’ one for £1,300 meaning it comes with a charging cable which sounds more convenient to use rather than getting a cable out of the car boot every time you want to charge. I checked for government grants, too late, recently withdrawn (in Scotland I could have got £250 if I had taken out a loan to buy the car - too late, too complicated). Just as well I have alternative charging possibilities as the soonest installation date for my home charger is in 5 weeks.
In future I am hoping to charge at home using my solar pv. However, it has a maximum capacity of 2.1kw power so it won’t go far towards a 7kw charger. Should I have ordered the slower 3.6kw home charger? An alternative is to buy a battery to store any ‘surplus’ pv during the day to charge my electric car at night. However, I was quoted £6,000 for a battery with a capacity of 6kwh but it will still have a maximum discharge rate of 3kw. That won’t help too much.
So, to electricity tariffs. The theory is that you can charge your car overnight at home using a timer to access cheap off-peak electricity. It is, or should be, possible to access even cheaper flexible tariffs that promise to fully charge your battery by the morning using demand management software. However, the reality is a bit murkier given the current turmoil in the electricity market. My supplier has withdrawn their overnight tariffs. The two I could find were Octopus and EDF. They offer very cheap overnight tariffs of 7.5p and 4.5p respectively. Of course, this is offset by higher daytime tariffs, so you need to do some complicated maths to work out the best option for you. I then discover that you can only access these tariffs if you have a smart meter. Unfortunately, my energy company had previously taken one look at my meter board and decided it was too difficult to install a smart meter. I choose to do nothing for the time being.
Back to public chargers. Now I start spotting them. There are lots, but not in the best places. Stirling has dozens at their park and ride car parks, but I never use these. I am lucky in Scotland, there is an app, Chargeplace Scotland which has a map of most of the charge points, telling you if they are vacant and what the price per unit is. You buy their card for £10 and set up a direct debit to pay at the end of each month for the electricity you have used. There are many other apps and payment methods to access chargers across the UK. I have heard that Zap Map is a good app and helps you to plan your longer journeys.
However, I have already come across the dreaded ‘out of order’ signs. Luckily, I had chosen to drive a petrol car when I went hillwalking, as the only charger in that remote rural location was out of order. I also visited the RSPB reserve at Vane Farm and was delighted to see a signpost in the car park pointing to EV chargers. I drove round and round the car park and couldn’t find them. They are struggling to get an electrician to install the new chargers. Then I visited Natural Power in Stirling (on bike) and noticed a skip parked in front of the EV chargers, blocking access to them! No wonder most people currently charge at home. But if EV’s are to spread into dense city centres where most people don’t own private driveways then public charging is going to have to improve.
EV’s now come with a green stripe on their number plates to raise awareness of them. I truly think that seeing these green stripes on the road did make me think about buying an EV. If others can do it, why not me?
You certainly notice EV’s at low speed from the gentle hum designed to reduce the risk of pedestrians walking out in front of you. On the main roads, it is fun to look out for how many green stripes you can see. This will increase rapidly. In a few years, we will be looking for the few remaining vehicles without a green stripe and frowning about the pollution they generate!
The weak link common to all EV’s is the battery. It is expensive, but more importantly it is environmentally damaging to source the raw materials including rare earth minerals and lithium. Many say that there is a shortage, which is true, and China controls much of the world’s supply. But I remember when the experts said there wasn’t enough platinum to manufacture all the new catalytic converters required. Magically, new sources were ‘discovered’. Perhaps the same will happen with lithium? New finds have been found in Turkey, or we will master the art of recycling batteries, and scientists are developing new batteries that don’t require any lithium. It is a problem, but not insurmountable.
So, overall, I am delighted with our EV. It is quiet, smooth and it feels good to drive. Perhaps, that is a problem, as I could be tempted to drive more. And, of course, we should design our towns and cities to avoid the need to drive - easy access to services, better public transport and good walking and cycling facilities. In that case we wouldn’t need to own a car, perhaps hiring one for occasional use. However, I still see new houses being built on farmland, with no access to public transport. That must change.
All images were produced by Neil Kitching and used with his permission.