Electric Car FAQ

Let’s try to understand more about the mysterious electric car by revealing the main numbers behind its operation and comparing it with a “normal” car. For more juicy facts go to pros and cons of electric cars.

Q: How much energy does an electric car use?
A: A modern AC system consumes 0.25 kWh per mile. It is really not that much if you compare it with any household appliance. However, if the car uses DC (many golf carts and tractors do) it rises to 0.4 kWh.

Q: How much does it cost to run an electric car?
A: Depends on your energy supplier. Let’s try to pick an industry median and work with that figure. In the UK the average retail price for electricity is 10p (16.5c) whereas in USA it is 7p (12c) per kWh. As you see, the price is very friendly. So, in the UK driving an electric car will cost 2.5p (4.1c) per mile. In USA – a bit cheaper – 1.75p (3c) per mile. See the table for comparison.

Cost per mileElectric CarPetrol CarSavings
UK2.5p (4.1c)17p (28c)85%
USA1.75p (3c)6p (10c)70%

Comparison: Driving a petrol car you will spend roughly 17p (28c) per mile in the UK and 6p (10c) in USA. So, as you see, it is a whopping 70 – 85% savings if you switch to an electric car now. As you can see, it makes more sense switching in the UK because petrol is so cheap in America (turning green with envy) That is for now. Very soon the price of electricity will go up but even then, I would estimate that in 10 years it would still make at least 50% saving to drive an electric car.

Q: Is electric car a zero emission vehicle?
A: No, no and no! Although, no nasties come out of its exhaust (it doesn’t even have one), it will never be zero emission. Don’t forget that it takes energy to produce electricity. Your electric car is as green as the energy it consumes. See the graphs for the electricity sources in the UK and USA. The data is based on stats provided by the IEA. As you see, fossil fuels, such as coal and natural gas, still dominate. In the process of generating one kWh of electricity by burning fossil fuel, around 800 grams of CO2 is emitted.

Electricity Generation UK
Electricity Generation UK
Electricity Generation USA
Electricity Generation USA

Therefore if your energy supplier only used coal to produce energy, your “zero emission” electric car would emit 200g CO2 per mile, which is at around the same figure as the “normal” car. Any car-maker who says an electric car is zero-emission, is either an idiot or a cheat!

Q: How much CO2 an electric car really generates
A: Technically CO2 is generated by the power plant that produces electricity for your electric car. In an unlikely event your energy supplier uses only coal and oil, your car will be responsible for 200 g CO2 per mile.

If we assume that the energy supplier diversifies its energy sources and take the pie-charts to do some calculations, we can roughly conclude that electric car generates 130 g CO2 per mile in Britain and 126 g in USA.

A pretty decent result but nothing to brag about. That is a little bit less than a petrol car but as it is technically possible to build a petrol car that goes 100 g CO2 per mile, consider an electric car as a motoring alternative and a way to save money, not as green transport.

Q: Why do you think it is not possible to keep the current electricity price?
A: Because the demand will increase and because we will have to abolish the coal plants eventually (or we will all die). Generating green energy is extremely expensive, the governments will soon get fed up with subsidizing wind-farms and the burden will be tossed on our backs.

Q: Assume I am interested. Can I buy an electric car and drive it now?
A: Yes you can. Although the vast majority of electric cars are still in “pre-production”, “coming soon” or “send us your deposit” stage, there are cars that you can go and buy now. Most spoilt for choice are people here in the UK and in China and India too.

Q: Are electric cars cheap?
A: No, they are nowhere near cheap. You cannot really blame the manufacturers because small-scale production is far more resource-consuming than mass production. Expect to pay at least £15,000 for a two-seater city car.

Blue Whale Gives no Hoot
Blue Whale Gives no Hoot

Q: Do I need one?
A: It is up to you. If you live in a large city and you are a frequent driver, you will actually save lots of money (on fuel, maintenance, parking, congestion charges and insurance) even despite the high initial buying cost. Theoretically, you will also keep your city cleaner by not emitting CO2, however, your CO2 will be still emitted somewhere else – by the company that generates electricity for your car. So, don’t go there if your only goal is to save the blue whale from extinction. He doesn’t give a hoot whether your CO2 “contribution” comes out of your exhaust or the power-plant’s chimney.

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For more energetic insights please visit pros and cons of electric cars.

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