As regular readers might remember, I have a long term plan to get my household to net zero carbon by 2025. An intermediate step was to get the house to an A rating for efficiency by 2020, which is now done. This year’s challenge was to switch to an electric car.
Left to my own devices, I wouldn’t have a car at all. We chose to live within easy walking distance of the station and the town centre. We walk and cycle, and I get can get a full load of shopping on my Elephant Bike. However, my wife works early shifts at the radio station a couple of times a week, and the buses aren’t running yet. So we have a car, and it’s always been our plan to switch to electric.
This isn’t cheap, and though we’ve been debating it for years, it’s just not been affordable. Choices are limited on the secondhand market, which is where we would need to focus. Every year there are more options, and so we have bided our time. This year we took the return of the Fully Charged Show Live as an opportunity to take a look at every electric car on the market and make a decision. We confirmed our initial preference for the Nissan Leaf and went looking for a slightly older model that we could afford.
Unfortunately, our timing was very bad indeed. The prices of secondhand cars have been higher this year already because of disruptions to the supply of new cars. Then, just as I was bookmarking cars for us to consider, there were petrol shortages in the UK. Anyone who was on the fence about whether to buy electric or not had their minds made up for them, and bought an EV. All the Nissans in our budget range vanished off the market in the space of a week.
Having committed to lose the combustion engine this year, we resorted to plan B and leased an EV instead – something we had investigated in detail and initially ruled out.
There are advantages and disadvantages to leasing a car. Among the advantages are that you can drive a new car, and while I can’t say that’s something I’ve really aspired to do, it opens up a lot more options for EVs. (Why nobody leases older cars, I don’t know.) We paid an up-front fee and then monthly payments, and the car was delivered to our house with 4 miles on the clock.
Another advantage is that as it is leased, the car is never our property. We are paying for the use of it, and the long-term responsibility for the car and its battery remain with the company. This is a recurring theme in discussions around a circular economy, where leasing is often suggested as a way of encouraging better stewardship of resources. If you are very attached to the idea of ownership, this is obviously a disadvantage, but it works for us.
Disadvantages include the fact that, if we like the car, we have to give it back at the end of the contract. And if you are used to selling an older car to offset the price of a newer one, then leasing breaks that chain. Our preference would have been to buy a car and keep it for a long time, whereas the lease will expire and we’ll have to make some decisions – though in three years’ time, perhaps we’ll be able to go car-free.
There is a learning curve to running an EV, with charging being the most important element of that. Different EVs use different charging technologies, so there’s a certain amount of technical information to absorb. It’s not as difficult as it first looks, but it’s not as straightforward as it should be.
The charging network is also more complicated than it should be. As the driver of a plug-in car in Scotland, my brother laments the state of the network once you drive south of the border. In Scotland there’s a government-supported national network that you can rely on, alongside other operators. In England it’s been left entirely to the market, meaning dozens of different companies with slightly different requirements, apps, subscriptions or membership cards. These will consolidate and it will get simpler in the coming years, but the market is fairly chaotic at the moment. We’ve found the Zap-Map app has been invaluable for seeing what’s available and compatible.
The vaguaries of the network aren’t necessarily a obstacle to EV adoption, given that most people can charge at home. Most of us make regular journeys and will soon identify conveniently located chargers, of which there are more all the time. Longer distance journeys are fine as long as you’re organised and can plan around motorway service stations. It’s the middle distance journeys where you want to top up halfway that are trickier. That’s more likely to end up with an unfamiliar charger or on a call to a helpline, as we were doing in the Ikea car park last weekend.
So far, we’re pleased with our decision. For me, reducing our use of fossil fuels is worth some inconvenience at times. For others, there may be no inconvenience at all from running an EV. If it’s a second car or it’s used on predictable journeys, it’ll probably work out far easier than a petrol car – especially if you have a driveway where you can install a charge socket. And with the number of charging stations expanding by the day, and the price of EVs falling, it will only get easier with time.