Europe is facing an energy crisis thanks to low wind generation, disrupted connections that allow electricity to be distributed across borders, and shrinking nuclear power sources. The UK has responded by burning more gas to produce electricity – but gas prices are at record highs. The result is that wholesale electricity costs are at their highest level in years, affecting everything that uses electricity.
One benefit of owning an electric vehicle (often abbreviated as EV) is that it is usually cheaper, even if the initial cost is higher. Driving an EV 100 miles costs an average of around £ 4-6 ($ 5.50-8) compared to £ 13-16 in a gasoline or diesel car.
In the first half of the past decade, almost all public chargers in the UK were free. When I drove my first EV in 2013, I was traveling between public charging stations, frustrated with the car’s modest range of under 160 miles on a full battery. I stuck with it, however, because not only was my sacrifice better for the environment, but my fuel was free too. And even if it wasn’t free, it was still significantly cheaper than my old diesel car.
The prices for fossil fuels are also rising, but drivers need good reasons to dispose of their old vehicles and switch to electric ones. But when the price of electricity – and with it the running costs of the average electric vehicle – increases, where are electric car owners and those contemplating becoming one?
What does it cost to charge an electric vehicle?
In 2019 and 2020, the average price per kilowatt hour (kWh) of electricity in the UK was around 18p. The data for 2021 has not yet been published, but an online quote from one of the big six UK energy providers shows average costs of around 24 pence per kWh for September 2021.
A car with a 50 kWh battery would cost around £ 9.50 at the average price of 2020 (taking into account some energy loss while charging). At the September 2021 tariff of 24p per kWh, charging the same car would cost around £ 13, and that charge would be enough for 200 miles. Refueling your electric vehicle will still cost you half what it costs to fill up a gasoline or diesel car. However, public charging rates vary widely, from around 24p per kWh for some fast chargers to 69p for other units at motorway service stations that offer super-fast charging.
At 69p, the full fee is £ 34.50, which is the same or in some cases more than using fossil fuels. Of course, you are unlikely to go from completely empty to fully charging your EV, so some of that energy will be available at a cheaper price. Even so, the financial benefits of switching to an electric vehicle don’t look as great when the cost of electricity is high.
Where are electric cars?
Although electricity prices are rising, one lasting benefit of electric vehicles is that they are described by researchers as “energy source independent”. Internal combustion engine vehicles typically require fuel refined from oil and have been designed to run on fossil fuels for over 100 years. Electric vehicles run on energy that is stored in batteries, and those batteries are practically indifferent to where the energy comes from.
It can be nuclear, hydropower, or solar power generated by photovoltaic panels on the roof of a house. Again, they cost money to install (although prices are falling every year), but once they’re installed and the sun is shining, you can charge your car while it’s on your drive. When you consider that the average car is not used 95 percent of the time, there is plenty of time to recharge from the sun for free.
Let us also think of the times when national power generation networks produce too much electricity. It seems incredible in the midst of an energy crisis, but there are times when the national grid produces so much electricity that operators don’t know what to do with it.
This phenomenon was more common during the height of the COVID lockdown when some energy companies even paid customers to use renewable energy sources instead of turning them off. Electric vehicle batteries were the perfect sponges to soak up this excess energy.
Many countries are building more resilient power grids based on generating electricity when it makes sense – catching the sun when it shines and the wind when it blows – and storing it in giant grid-scale batteries called megapacks to help them to be used when renewable electricity is consumed. t is generated.
Electric cars could also be part of this storage, and trials are currently being carried out to assess the feasibility of vehicle-to-grid technologies that will allow car batteries to transfer their electricity to the local grid when there is a bottleneck.
If you charge your car at energy tariffs that apply to your home (and remember that the price of electricity is based on a house’s electricity needs and does not charge more than 50 kWh of car battery per day), your costs will almost certainly increase. However, if you know when and how to charge your electric vehicle, you can enjoy very cheap, if not free, fuel bills for years to come. Electric vehicles can even become an important part of balancing supply and demand in energy networks, controlling costs for the benefit of all.
Instead of being more expensive to refuel in an energy crisis, electric vehicles and their giant grid-connected batteries could actually help prevent future crises and high prices.
By Tom Stacey, Senior Lecturer in Operations and Supply Chain Management, Anglia Ruskin University
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