The Pros and Cons of Electric Cars

The Pros and Cons of Electric Cars

The vast majority of individuals are all for green solutions for our planet. If it is possible, I would like to believe that most people would make choices that are best for the earth. It simply makes sense. There is one caveat – those solutions need to be accessible, convenient and cost-effective for the vast majority. In a nutshell, everyone is simply trying to survive – primarily in the short-term. To get buy-in to “green” solutions, they must fit into this model. It would likely be only the extremely affluent who would choose vastly more expensive options to ‘save the earth’.

Also of importance are the real issues inherent in the concept of electric vehicles (EVs). It’s all well and good to buy into a technology touted to save the planet – but unless it really is a solution, you may as well stick with what you have. At the moment in South Africa, with our current electricity challenges, it would be unreasonable to expect people to migrate to electric cars. So, in order to get a balanced view on the subject, let’s assume that we do have a stable electricity supply.

On the positive side, electric cars are obviously energy efficient, and you would definitely save money on fuel (overseas, many supermarkets, carparks and workplaces allow you to recharge for free). Home charging points can make electric vehicles more convenient (as you no longer have to visit fuels stations). These vehicles emit no DIRECT emissions and generally require lower maintenance. Electric cars are fast, usually feeling more responsive as the torque is almost instant once the vehicle is in motion. In the top-of-the-range models, acceleration is spectacular. They only have one gear, and they don’t stall, making them easier to drive. They also vastly reduce noise pollution (although one disadvantage of this is that pedestrians are unaware of their approach, which could lead to increased pedestrian fatalities).

There are, unfortunately, a number of downsides to electric cars. The first, and probably most significant, issue is that their batteries require rare metals, particularly lithium (the wonder metal at the heart of the batteries which could enable the global shift to electric cars).  Lithium is also used in the batteries of laptops and cell phones, as well as in the glass and ceramics industry. Demand long ago outstripped supply, resulting in an untenable 500% price increase in one year. Global investment in EVs has grown faster than any other ‘green’ option – and the issues around lithium have halted what appeared to be an ever-decreasing cost of EVs. Battery makers’ woes have been compounded by the pandemic and Russia’s war in Ukraine, which have created even further issues around the supply of other components required, including nickel, graphite and cobalt. To top it all, many criticise the way in which lithium is mined as it is seldom considered a ‘green’ process.

Making electric cars creates more emissions. Say what? Well, one needs to look at how its components are sourced and made. Raw materials need to be mined, which creates literally tons of greenhouse gases. Those materials then require refining and only then does manufacture take place – both processes add to the emission of greenhouse gasses. Which is obviously also true of cars using fuel. Both processes release roughly the same amount of CO2, until you add the battery production for EVs into the equation. Some estimates suggest that 150kg of CO2 are released for every one Kilowatt hour (kWh) of battery capacity, ultimately resulting in a further 9 tonnes of CO2. So, at this point, an electric car appears worse for the environment than a fossil fuel one – in term of manufacture.

It is also important to remember that an electric vehicle is only as green as its power source, and in South Africa, electricity is produced primarily by coal-fired power stations! These vehicles are also currently far more expensive than fuel-driven models. Ownership over time, however, tends to be far cheaper.

Another disadvantage of electric vehicles is that the best of these vehicles have a range of about 485 km before requiring recharging. Many, however, only have a range of around 160 km. In a country as vast as ours, this represents a challenge – particularly as towns are so far apart. Recharging can take around 30 minutes – at a dedicated, high voltage charging point (much more time than it takes to refuel with petrol or diesel). Using the heater or aircon also impacts their range, and batteries hold less charge when it is cold. 

There definitely aren’t enough charging points in South Africa at the moment, and it is expensive to install a charging station in your home (which is a huge challenge if you happen to reside in an apartment). The issue of overloading the grid also presents a challenge as people are likely to all put their cars on charge on their return from work.

The issues discussed above are in no way a comprehensive analysis of the industry, but simply provide food for thought. I am in no way suggesting that the concept of electric vehicles is not a green solution, but merely highlighting that, as with most things in life, there is no one perfect solution and there is a long way to go. Many issues remain on the table, and they need resolving – particularly for EVs in Africa. As they say, knowledge is power and enables you to make informed decisions and purchasing choices. In our next column, we explore some alternative green solutions in the motoring industry.

#electriccar #fuelefficiency #evcar #electricvehicle

Jacqui Ikin & The Cross Country Team

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