family charging electric car
How do electric vehicles work?

We’ve been hearing about electric vehicles (EVs) for a while now and with the UK government banning the sale of all diesel and petrol cars by 2030, EVs need to be the ‘now’ rather than the future. But as far as a tipping point goes, we’re not there yet. 

The lowdown on EVs 

Our latest Future Energy Scenarios (FES 2021) says we’ll have up to 37.4 million electric vehicles on the road by 2050 – that’s when the UK aims to be net zero. 

Reducing the energy demand from transport is key to achieving these goals. 

So what’s the hold up? It could be down to consumer confidence. Price and ‘range anxiety’ are sited as concerns for potential EV buyers. 

To help you understand a bit more and bring you up-to-speed with the here and now, let’s take a look at some of the common questions around EVs. 

Are EVs much cleaner than a petrol or diesel alternatives?

EVs are much more fuel efficient than petrol or diesel cars, so that’s a tick. They use a third less energy compared to traditional vehicles and don’t produce harmful CO2 emissions. 

It's true that producing an EV currently has higher carbon emissions but studies show that this is paid back relatively quickly. At around 16k to 19k miles, which is less than three years usage at the current average annual car mileage.

Electric cars also have an important part to play in building a greener electricity system. 

As more of our electricity from renewable sources, the battery inside an electric car can be used to store this green energy, rather than letting it go to waste. 

New vehicle to grid technology can also see electric cars give electricity back to the grid in times of high demand, so that we don't have to turn on power plants that burn fossil fuels. Read more about this in our EVs and electricity explainer. 

EVs are only reliable for shorter distances aren’t they?

One of the main concerns around EV ownership is what’s called ‘range anxiety’. 

Early electric cars couldn’t travel too far without needing to recharge, but the battery technology has evolved a lot since then. 

Some electric cars can now do well over 200 miles before needing to plug in. If you have to do more miles than that in a day, you will need to plan your journey to allow for recharging time. But this may take less than ½ hour – and the RAC and safety organisations advise that you should take a break anyway if driving for such a long period anyway. 

Most motorway service stations now have public charging points, so you should be able to find somewhere to top up along the way (while you grab a coffee). 

I can’t afford an EV, aren’t they really expensive?

The initial cost of buying an electric car may be a little higher compared to buying a fossil fuelled car, however they can work out much cheaper over time. 

The cost of recharging the battery is lower than refuelling using petrol or diesel, and if you are smart about when you plug in, you can make the most of cheaper electricity. 

If you have solar panels at home to produce your own electricity, it's even cheaper and greener to top up your battery. 

The running costs of an electric car are lower too as the road tax is currently zero and the cars can need less repairs and servicing, because there are fewer mechanical parts to go wrong. 

How can I charge my EV when I don’t have a drive or parking space outside of my house?

You don’t need to have a charging point installed in your house to own an electric car. 

The charging network is growing all the time and there may be lots of local options available to you. 

Some councils are adding charging points to lampposts, so your car could charge while it was parked on your street. Many more workplaces are including electric car charging points in their staff parking areas too. 

If you need further information, you can find out the locations of all your nearest charging points online, on websites such as Zap Map. You may be surprised how many charge points are in your locale. 

The battery doesn’t last long does it?

Most manufacturers warranty the battery for 8 years so you have a level of comfort if you’re buying new, or leasing. 

It’s true that the battery for an electric car loses some of its capacity each year and this can put people off buying one. But most vehicle parts erode or age over time. 

If you’re buying a second-hand EV, the battery is something you’ll look to consider – as would other main parts you’d look into when making any vehicle purchase, EV, hybrid, petrol or diesel. 

How can I charge it when I’m out and about?

The recharge network is flourishing, as sales of electric cars continue to rise. 

There are currently around 42,000 charge point connectors across the UK in over 15,500 locations. 

There are a few types of recharging stations to look out for - first there’s fast chargers. 

These take around four hours to fully recharge an electric car and are widely called ‘destination chargers’ as they are found in places where you would typically park for a longer period of time, such as at the supermarket or at a train station. 

Secondly there are rapid chargers, which can top an electric car’s battery up in 30 minutes. These are mainly installed at motorway service stations. 

But it will depend on what type of EV you own. And often, you won’t need to fully charge your car (just like you may not always put a whole tank of fuel in your vehicle), so an EV top-up of around 100 miles could be done in 20 minutes. 

Check online charging point maps to find details of your nearest fast or rapid chargers. 

EVs aren’t as nice to drive are they?

Ask any electric car driver and they will tell you how much they enjoy driving their electric car! 

As they’re battery powered and don’t rely on mechanical parts, the power is instant when you accelerate and there are no gears to change, as they are all automatics. 

The lack of gears means that some people find them a more relaxed drive – you just need to worry about accelerating and braking. 

But an electric car might not be the right choice for everyone yet, such as people who do a lot of miles per day or those who don’t currently have any charging infrastructure near them. Overall though they are a stylish (some of the latest models use the latest and best tech and look and drive fantastic) and a clean alternative to petrol and diesel cars. 

Fact: Electric cars do not have gearboxes! 

One way to find out If they are right for you is to try one. The Electric Vehicle Experience Centre in Milton Keynes allows you to do just that 

Aren’t they too quiet?

Electric cars make almost no noise and this can cause issues for other road users – such as pedestrians and cyclists – who use the sound of the engine to know if a car is nearby. 

To prevent accidents, electric car drivers need to be wary of other road users and especially vigilant around pedestrians. 

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Driving our zero-carbon plan forward

For us at National Grid ESO, one of the most exciting things about electric cars is how they might be able help us reduce carbon emissions in the future by making the most of our renewable electricity supplies. 

Currently, we can’t store renewable energy, so on a windy night or sunny day, we might have a lot of clean electricity which has nowhere to go. 

However new 'Vehicle to Grid' technology is being developed which would help us to use car batteries to take in or give back power to the grid. 

Read more about this in our article EVs and electricity

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Future of Energy podcast series

Our new podcast series explores key themes from Future Energy Scenarios 2021, assessing the energy Britain needs, examining where it could come from, how it needs to change and what this means for consumers, society and the energy system itself. 

In our latest episode, host Samantha Simmonds talks with National Grid ESO experts Marcus Stewart and Sagar Depala, on how Great Britain's electricity system is changing to accommodate more electric vehicles, what it means for consumers, and how it could help us meet net zero.

Listen and subscribe

You can hear the podcast series on Spotify or Apple.