You’ve probably heard of electric vehicles, or EVs, and how they’re much better for the environment. But did you know that they’re becoming more comfortable, more practical and much more affordable? The days of the ICEV, or internal combustion engine vehicle, are numbered.

If you’re of a certain age, you’ll probably associate electric vehicles with milk floats. Found on suburban roads early in the morning, their short rounds and need to keep quiet among sleeping families meant that battery power was ideal.


The ubiquitous old milk float

But do you know your rapid charging port from your induction plate? How are they different to other cars on the road, and are they worth the investment? If you want answers, you’re in the right place.


Brief History of the EV

You might think that electric vehicles (EVs) are the latest bit of technology to come out of the automotive industry, but they’ve been around for almost as long as there have been cars on the road. The first electric vehicle to carry passengers was invented by Gustave Trouvé back in 1880[i] and they became a common sight on the roads in Britain and France before the internal combustion engine (ICE) took over in popularity.

EVs were considered kings of the road back then, in fact, the first distance and speed records were all broken by cars using electrical power. One of the biggest names in racing, Porsche, started out using electric motors in their C.2 Phaeton[ii], and even designed the first hybrid car with the Porsche Mixte.

As the demands for cars with longer range and higher speeds took off during the 20th Century, EVs were left behind due to their limited battery power – petrol was cheap and produced in vast quantities, especially in the huge car market in the USA, and EVs were pushed out in favour of gas guzzling big block engines.


What were the “drivers” for the introduction of EV’s?

If you think pollution on the roads is bad now, imagine what it used to be like in the days before lead-free petrol and catalytic converters. The stink of petrol and diesel engines has always been unpleasant and unpopular, but when fuel was cheap and we didn’t understand the damage it was doing to the environment, there was no urge for car manufacturers to pour money into EV research.

Everything changed in the 1970’s though. A Middle Eastern oil embargo forced the price of fuel to skyrocket and petrol stations across the West ran dry[iii]. It was this crisis that urged the biggest car companies in the US to start seriously looking for alternative power sources. This eventually led to the first Lithium-Ion battery, which would go on to power the best modern electric cars.

Since global emissions have risen and the evidence of climate change has become harder to ignore, governments worldwide have made promises to shrink their carbon footprint. And seeing as transport counts for nearly a quarter of all global CO2 production it’s a big target to aim for[iv].


Shrinking the carbon footprint

Shrinking the carbon footprint


The EU has pledged to reduce greenhouse gases by 80% in the next 30 years and EVs are a big part of that plan. The UK also says it’s not going to produce ICEVs for much longer either to help cut down on pollution levels in our towns and cities.


When did EVs become feasible?

The main stumbling block for older EVs was the limited performance of their batteries. As you might guess, lead acid batteries like the one in your old ICEV are seriously heavy and bulky. Using this old technology to power your car takes up a lot of room and adds extra weight to be dragged around.

Naturally then, the main thrust of EV research has been towards making batteries that are more powerful and weigh less. In the 1960s a range of different battery types were tested, including silver zinc, but they were expensive to make and might only last for 100-150 charges until they had to be scrapped.

With the advent of personal electronic devices like laptops and smartphones, efficient Lithium-Ion batteries have taken over as the go-to power source for modern EVs. They can be recharged thousands of times and maintain an excellent power to weight ratio. Perfect if you want to go farther and faster.


Where we are today with EV vehicles becoming mainstream

One of the most exciting developments in homegrown battery technology isn’t new. The discovery of deposits of Lithium in Cornwall back in the 19th Century might be the answer to one of EVs biggest problems.

Probably more famous for fishing and surfing, Lithium ore has been found in several places across the county, meaning that the UK can potentially produce most of the raw materials needed for all-important Lithium-Ion batteries.

This discovery isn’t just a win for British business though, it’s also massive step in the right direction for cutting down on one of the biggest problems that EVs have faced so far – transporting their heavy and volatile batteries across the world by ship. By the time older Li-Ion batteries have made it to your EV they’ve helped to produce significant amounts of carbon in their production and transport over thousands of miles[v].

The good news is Britshvolt, a UK-based start-up, is planning to build a £2.6 billion electric car battery plant in Northumberland. Once completed it will slash shipping distances and emissions – ensuring that future batteries are being produced as efficiently as possible.

Probably the biggest boost for EVs is in their public perception. Since Tesla have shown that EVs can be desirable, luxury cars and not just underpowered little city run-arounds, the decision to ditch petrol or diesel cars has become much easier.



The luxurious Tesla Model S


What is an EV?

Simply put, an EV is a vehicle that uses electrical power to drive down the road instead of burning liquid fuel. It’s quiet, produces no emissions and even accelerates quicker than a vehicle that has an internal combustion engine.

The most common use for EV technology is in cars. Battery powered motors up until recently were best suited to vehicles that made short journeys, stopped and started a lot, and didn’t have to do a lot of motorway miles.

But as battery technology has improved and EVs become as capable on long journeys as equivalent ICEs, EVs are now competing with all types of vehicles we might see on the road. With big lorry brands like Volvo doubling down on the next generation of fully electric delivery vehicles, and even Harley Davidson producing an electric motorbike, EVs are no longer just little city cars.


Volvo electric lorry

The Volvo electric delivery vehicle


One of the biggest offenders when it comes to CO2 producers are what’s known as those “last mile” deliveries in cities and towns. As more of us shop online and expect to have goods delivered to our homes more often, the nearly four million vans on UK roads that make it happen are joining the zero-emission revolution as well[vi].

The biggest van manufacturers including VW, Mercedes and Ford have all developed types of EVs to cut down on their emissions and offer their customers emission-free vehicles when more cities are looking to ban diesel engines from entering them.


What are the different kinds of EV?

EVs have been around for a long time – they’ve been successful as milk floats and moon rovers, but it’s only recently that their full potential for mass transit has begun to be realised. But EVs aren’t all the same – there are three main types that offer different levels of performance and economy.



An All-Electric Vehicle. It draws 100% of its power from electricity by plugging it into the mains, either in your home or at a fast-charging port. It does not include any type of ICE.

Modern AEVs such as the Nissan Leaf, Renault Zoe, Tesla Model X and the new Porsche Taycan demonstrate that there’s a range of cars available, from city run-arounds to serious luxury vehicles, that are emission-free and completely electric. They use sophisticated Lithium-Ion batteries and clever computer control systems to ensure speed, economy and range when you need it.


Nissan Leaf

Under the bonnet of the Nissan Leaf


Basic lead-acid batteries can be found in a range of AEVs that make short trips and don’t require high speeds. Vehicles like golf buggies and mobility scooters can take advantage of this inexpensive battery type, but if high performance is required, a more elaborate solution is necessary.



The modern Hybrid Electric Vehicle has become a common sight on UK roads, ever since the ubiquitous Toyota Prius left the Takaoka factory back in 1997[vii].

A favourite of minicab drivers and a symbol of a more conscious motorist, the Prius ushered in a new era of ultra-fuel-efficient, cleaner cars.

A hybrid electric vehicle uses a small petrol or diesel engine to charge a large battery bank. The battery bank then powers an electric motor for improved fuel economy and emission-free driving.  The HEV uses regenerative braking to top up the battery and stop-start technology that kills the engine when idling, to make this the most efficient of non plug-in cars.


Hybrid instruments panel

An HEV instruments panel



The Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicle combines a small ICE with an electric motor. The PHEV is the most efficient form of hybrid vehicle because you don’t have to rely on fossil fuels to get going or to charge the battery. Unless you need a sudden burst of speed for overtaking or sustained higher speeds for motorway driving, you can use the electric motor virtually all the time.

Easily the most popular vehicle in this class is the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, an SUV that has sold more than a quarter of a million units since it was released in 2013[viii].

High performance, luxury PHEVs like the BMW i8 supercar and the Mercedes E300 e are available in this class, meaning that you don’t have to go without comfort to get up to 188 mpg.


Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV cross section

A Cross section of the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV showing the ICE and electric motor


How Does an EV work?

To fully understand what happens inside an EV, you need to split it into three main components: the electric motor, the battery and the computer that controls the whole operation. Let’s take a closer look:


The electric motor

If you’re at all familiar with an internal combustion engine (ICE), you’ll know that it’s an immensely complicated beast that harnesses the power of tiny, enclosed explosions that turn fuel into mechanical motion. The unwanted results, of course, are carbon dioxide and other pollutants that are pumped out of the exhaust pipe.

Electrical motors, on the other hand, are much less complicated and have far fewer moving parts. Not only does this make them more efficient but easier to maintain as well. EV owners don’t have to worry about getting their oil or clutch changed, there aren’t any seals that can leak or timing belts that can snap, and because there are fewer moving parts, there’s just less to go wrong.


Electric motor

A typical EV motor


Another benefit of an electric motor is that compared to an internal combustion engine (ICE), it’s cheap to manufacture. Electrical motors are incredibly efficient and have been proven in all sorts of environments around the world for decades.

Another benefit of an electrical motor is that it’s much harder to freeze than an ICE. You won’t have to worry about a non-starting engine, even on the coldest of mornings. In fact an electrical engine runs better in the cold than an ICE – the ICE needs to create sparks and heat to run properly.


The battery

Storing enough potential energy to drive a car at 100 mph or to go up to 290 miles on a single charge is no mean feat. EV batteries need to store an immense amount of power, recharge quickly and repeatedly, and still be light enough to not slow you down too much.

The most common type of EV battery is Lithium-Ion, which is almost identical to the one in your mobile phone or laptop, but just a lot bigger. We know that the technology works well under a wide range of temperatures, and batteries can be recharged thousands of times before they need to be scrapped, so they’re well suited to EV life.

An EV battery isn’t just one big hunk of Lithium, but a complex device made up of a series of cells that are grouped together into modules. One battery cell can’t generate the Voltage required to send a car down the road, but several hundred connected in parallel have more than enough power for modern motoring[ix].


EV battery

Charging an EV battery


The downside of a Li-Ion battery powerful enough to drive a two-tonne car is that it’s big. And heavy. A larger EV battery can weigh in excess of 500 kg and take up a lot of room that might otherwise be used for storage. You might find that the back seats in your EV are a little higher and not as deeply cushioned as normal in order to make way for your battery.


The computer

All modern cars have computers in them – they take care of everything from controlling the amount of power being sent to the driving wheels to monitoring your exhaust gases. But when it comes to EVs, the computer control unit has a lot more work to do.

ICEs work on the principle of contained explosions of fuel inside the engine – the larger the engine is, the higher the power can go. EVs on the other hand have an electric motor that is governed by the control module. This control module adjusts the vehicle’s speed by changing the frequency of AC power coming from the battery to the wheels.

The battery itself stores electricity as DC, so it must be sent through an inverter to become AC before it can be useful. When you step on the accelerator, you’re telling the onboard computer to send power through the single speed transmission and to the wheels.

The computer control unit monitors the speed of your EV using a range of sensors including accelerometers and GPS, and this data is used to control how much power should be sent to the wheels at any given time. This makes sure your ride is smooth and as efficient as possible.

And when you put your foot on the brake, the control unit sends the kinetic energy back through the inverter to help charge your battery in a process called regenerative braking.[x]

This helps your EV to become even more efficient and go further on a single charge.


How much does an EV cost?

Let’s face it, the upfront cost of an electric vehicle is still higher than an equivalent car with an internal combustion engine, but as the technology improves and EV’s become more common, the prices will start to drop off in the coming years.

However, governments around the world are offering juicy incentives to drop your gas guzzler and go emission-free, so there are bargains to be had. And you should also consider the fact that EVs cost less money during their lifetime – less parts to maintain, free road tax and cheaper fuel all add up over the years.


How much do EV’s cost to purchase?

With so many automotive brands looking to compete in the EV market and cater for all types of drivers, the sky’s the limit if you want luxury or high performance in an electric vehicle. On the other hand, the price of a small electric car has dropped a lot in recent years, making it within the reach of a lot more drivers.


Electric driving on a budget

The more affordable end of the EV class is becoming increasingly competitive in recent years, putting zero-emission motoring into the hands of anyone who would normally drive a new car.

If you’re desperate to drive an EV and you don’t care about having much space to put shopping or more than one extra passenger, you can get a Renault TWIZY for less than £12,000[xi].

It’s a fun little car that zips around in the city, but you’ll pay more if you want extras. And the extras include things like doors or a radio.


Renault Twizy

The Renault Twizy


Getting yourself an EV that doesn’t feel like a go-kart for around £23,000 is possible though. The excellent little Volkswagen e-up! is small and nimble but feels like a proper car, with grown up features like air conditioning and DAB digital radio. Plus, you can take three friends with you[xii].


Mid-range electric motoring

If your budget can stretch a little further, and you’re concerned about getting the best range without spending too much money, you can pick up a brilliant Renault Zoe for just under £27,000. Named Affordable Electric Car of the Year 2020 by Auto Express[xiii], you get an awesome 245 miles of driving per charge and even a free wall box for charging at home. It’s a bold and reliable car that is set up for the latest 50 kW rapid chargers that could fully charge the battery in just over an hour.

Renault Zoe

The Renault Zoe


Premium zero-emission vehicles

EVs, up until recently anyway, have always cost a bit more than cars with internal combustion engines. But if you want luxury as well as performance, the prices can be eye-wateringly high. Take the Porsche Taycan Turbo S- 0 to 62 mph in 2.8 seconds, a top speed of 162 mph and an impressive range of nearly 300 miles on a single charge, but with a price tag of nearly £140,000[xiv].


Porsche Taycan

The Porsche Taycan Turbo


How much do EV’s cost to run?

The first thing to get excited about is that most all-electric vehicles qualify for the government’s Plug-In Car Grant. You’re entitled to up to £2,500 off the purchase price of a new EV, which makes one of the lower priced cars or vans even more tempting[xv].

Running an EV isn’t free, but there are plenty of savings to be made compared to running traditional ICE powered vehicles. Premium price tag aside, there are plenty of reasons to favour an EV in terms of running costs:



With petrol and diesel prices increasing year-on-year, switching to electric is a savvy choice. Electric is simply cheaper to buy than diesel that currently costs around 125-135 pence per litre. The average price for a full battery charge at home is under £8.50, with the charge taking between nine and 10 hours, perfect for overnight. If you use a public charging point, you might pay around £6.50 for a 100-mile charge that typically takes less than minutes[xvi].

In terms of fuel cost, it’s a no brainer.



As with any new technology, the insurance costs are relatively higher. Insurers use historical data, amongst other things, to determine premiums based on a car’s reliability and handling. Without much of this data to go on, insurers have been cautious when it comes to insuring EVs. As more EVs hit the road and there’s more historical repair data for insurers to work with, the prices are bound to come down.


Cost of repairs

Most garages and mechanics are still playing catch up with EV technology, so repair costs are considerably higher than for traditional ICE cars. The technology inside EVs uses special parts and needs skilled technicians to work with them, but the more EVs are on the road, the cheaper these parts will become, and more mechanics will be able to fit them.

The brilliant thing about electric vehicles is that they’re much simpler machines than traditional cars. You don’t have to worry about maintaining a clutch, there’s no transmission or oil system to go wrong either. Because there’s less to go wrong, an EV should be more reliable over its lifetime than an ICEV.



Probably one of the most attractive features of buying into EVs is that you can wave goodbye to road tax. Seeing as vehicles in the UK are taxed based on their CO2 emissions, you could save anything up to £2070 per year if you make the switch to an emission-free vehicle.



As more places in the UK are pushing for cleaner air for their residents, you can expect to see more congestion and emissions charges coming into effect in the future. Driving into central London’s congestion zone in an ICEV will currently cost you £15 per day. The Ultra Low Emissions Zone covers the same area but will be increasing to include a much larger portion of the capital city by the end of 2021. If you’re in a car manufactured before 2006, you can expect to pay another £12.50 per day for the privilege. Electric Vehicles are happily exempt from all these charges[xvii].


A typical ULEZ Zone in London


The EV Infrastructure

Pulling into a petrol station and filling up your car or van is a familiar feeling to anyone who drives, so it takes a bit of getting used to when you make the switch to an electric vehicle. You can’t just fill up and drive off, even with the fastest rapid charging points.

The majority of EV owners will charge overnight at their own home using a dedicated charging point, but if you’re on the road and you need to juice up, more options are appearing almost every day.


What changes to the transport infrastructure are required?

The transport infrastructure in the UK has been built over decades to accommodate ICEVs, but if the UK government wants to hit their 2030 target of stopping the sale of diesel- and petrol-powered cars[xviii], they’re going to have to reinvent the way we store and refuel our vehicles.

There are now more charging points in the UK than there are petrol stations. There are 30,000 charging points in more than 11,000 locations, but because the way we charge EVs is closer to how we might recharge a laptop or smartphone, it’s no real comparison.


EV Charging Points

Typical EV Charging Points


There are three broad speeds for charging EVs – slow, fast and rapid.

  • Slow – 3 – 6 kW – this can take up to 12 hours to charge to 100%
  • Fast – 7 – 22 kW – this takes 1 – 7 hours for a full charge
  • Rapid – 50 kW – this can charge some model EVs to 100% in less than 30 minutes

Even with ultra-fast rapid charging of 150 – 350 kW in the future, EV drivers will have to do more planning if they want to drive long distances.

If the forty million cars on UK roads are to change over to electric within the next couple of decades, the UKs energy infrastructure will have to supply vast amounts of electricity to vehicles across the country, often at the same time if we all charge up overnight.

Some of the biggest energy companies think we’ll be generating a lot of energy ourselves in the future though, at home or at work through renewables like solar or wind power. And we’ll be using home storage batteries to hold on to this power to keep our vehicles topped up rather than dragging everything from the national grid[xix].


How does the electric charging grid system work?

The current public charging system in the UK consists of a frankly bewildering array of EV charging networks. The biggest are major ones like POLAR, owned by BP, and ChargePoint who own more than 20,000 charging points throughout the world. There are also tens of minor networks run by some big names like energy company E.ON and local operations that only support certain counties.

Typically found in car parks, outside leisure centres or public buildings, they’re usually very recognisable machines that look like petrol pumps, but there are plenty of inventive solutions to on-street charging as well. One of the most impressive must be lamppost and bollard mounted charging points that don’t take up extra room – these feel like the future of EV charging.


Lamppost Charging Point

Lamppost charging point


The best solution to the question of how we’re going to keep millions of EVs charged in the future must be that you can charge your EV anywhere you park – having charging points on every street and in every lamppost would be convenient and allow drivers to stay topped up all the time.

The most exciting development in EV charging is going to be making the system wireless. Inductive charging is already being used successfully to charge modern mobile phones, so getting rid of cable-based charging is going to open a whole new world of ways to easily charge EVs. Charging pads that you just drive over can top up batteries quickly and easily, which could lead to cars needing smaller, lighter batteries that can be topped up whenever you drive[xx].


Benefits of an EV

Buying into the electric vehicle revolution isn’t cheap, but the benefits are substantial and far-reaching.



Before we get into the benefits of EVs, we must understand the huge damage inflicted by internal combustion engines on our environment.

ICEs produce greenhouse gases like CO2 and chlorofluorocarbons that trap heat and work to warm the earth’s atmosphere to dangerous levels, causing climate change[xxi].

The release of these greenhouse gases by nations, industries and even individuals can be measured by what is known as a carbon footprint. It calculates the weight of CO2 and other nasty emissions used to support a particular activity or lifestyle.

Why do emissions negatively impact the planet though? When carbon is released through burning fossil fuels, the emissions directly contribute to global warming, smog, acid rain and health problems for people, especially in cities.

Scientists have been measuring the impact of greenhouse gases for decades, and the ways they measure the damage are varied. Probably the most straightforward way is by using the global temperature record. Accurate thermometer-based readings have been taken since 1850, giving us a good picture of how emissions affect climate change.

Emissions themselves can be grouped into two main types –

direct emissions relate to the gases and deposits that are spat out of a car’s exhaust pipe directly into the atmosphere when an internal combustion engine runs

lifecycle emissions are the cumulative effects of producing the fuel, manufacturing the vehicle and even disposing of it at the end of its life

When you compare the direct emissions between EVs and ICEVs, there’s no competition. Fully electric vehicles don’t emit any greenhouse gases – they don’t even have an exhaust pipe. Hybrids and PHEVs have small ICEs that do create direct emissions, but on a much smaller scale than traditional cars.

Lifecycle emissions are considerably harder to calculate. One of the biggest criticisms of EVs has been the construction of batteries and their shipment across the world by container ship. The emissions from that activity alone are enormous but this is slowly changing. With battery factories being constructed here in the UK and across Europe[xxii], construction and delivery is much more efficient.

Another criticism of electric vehicles has been that although they themselves produce no direct emissions, the electricity needed to run them might be produced by so-called “dirty power” like coal fired power stations. As more of our global power comes from renewable energy sources like solar and wind, this should become less of a problem.


Solar and wind renewable energy sources

Solar and Wind Renewable Energy Sources


The extraction of petroleum from the ground in the form of oil is incredibly labour intensive. All the power used to refine it and ship it to petrol stations in huge lorries adds considerably to the lifecycle emissions of ICEVs. EVs can be charged from home without the need for this costly infrastructure.

The overall effect of making the switch to electric vehicles on a large scale is huge. The reduction of direct emissions into our towns and cities will rapidly improve air quality and cut down on harmful smog. On a global scale, a reduction in direct and lifecycle emissions will help to slow climate change[xxiii].

The ecological damage caused by increasingly harmful and desperate ways of extracting fossil fuels like fracking can also be greatly reduced. A decreased reliance on a finite power source like crude oil will reduce the chance of spills and ecological contamination as well.

Electric vehicles have a massive part to play in the future of our shared environment. There’s a good reason why the biggest polluting countries in the world, such as China, are pouring money into renewable energy sources and EVs. Greatly reducing emissions will make an instant and lasting change to the environment, effectively reversing hundreds of years of damage caused by greenhouse gases.


Energy sources

It’s already clear that the lifecycle emissions caused by ICEVs are incredibly damaging to the environment. Probably the biggest benefit then of making the switch to EVs is that they can be powered directly by renewable energy such as solar or wind power[xxiv].

Charging points powered by locally generated electricity have a far smaller carbon footprint, making EVs even more economical and less impactful to run. The less fossil fuels need to be extracted to power and lubricate traditional engines, the better.

Electric vehicles have a handy trick up their sleeve when it comes to generating power as well – regenerative braking technology is improving to the level that up to 70% of the kinetic energy lost by braking can be turned back into acceleration later.

But that’s not all – the shift towards mass EV use offers up particular benefits to the overall consumption of electricity and requires a new way of looking at how we consume it and even give it back to the grid. Vehicle-to-grid technology[xxv] is a game changing concept that turns electric vehicles into batteries that store and share their power with each other and the national grid.



You might still be concerned about buying into EV technology, and it is still in its infancy, but the future holds some incredibly exciting prospects for affordable and, crucially, much more environmentally friendly motoring for everyone.

Electric vehicles are no longer boxy little city cars but enjoyable and even luxury vehicles that are packed with the latest tech and safety features to keep you secure.

If you’re thinking about what car to buy next, you should consider the impact that you can have on your carbon footprint by joining the electric revolution. It’s here to stay.






























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