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Electric vehicles: should you get one and how will it affect your energy bills?

The UK government recently announced its intention to phase out sales of diesel and petrol cars by 2030, bringing forward the previous deadline by ten years as it attempts to help the country towards a zero-emissions future. Electric and hybrid cars are becoming increasingly popular, so read on to find out what makes them an attractive alternative to your current vehicle.

Electric vehicle charging on the street

What are the different types of electric car?

There are three principal types:

AcronymTypePower sourceExample
BEV Battery Electric Vehicle Battery onlyRenault Zoe; Nissan Leaf
PHEV Plug-in Hybrid Battery (up to 70 miles) and Petrol/DieselToyota Prius; Mitsubishi Outlander
HEV Hybrid Electric Vehicle Petrol/Diesel with battery support to boost efficiencyToyota Corolla Hybrid

Electric-powered cars are nothing new – there were 3,500 of them on UK roads in 2013 – but it wasn’t until last year that they finally hit the mainstream. In 2019, the combined market share for BEV, PHEV and HEV vehicles totalled 7.4% (4.3% HEV), but while 2020 was a difficult year for the automobile industry, EVs represented one of the few success stories.

According to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), almost 300,000 electric vehicles were sold, pushing its market share up to 17.5%:

Type Sales 2020 (Sales 2019) % changeOverall market share 2020 (change from 2019)
BEV 108,205 (37,850) +186% 6.6% (+5%)
PHEV 66,877 (34,984) +91% 4.1% (+2.6%)
HEV 110,117 (98,237) +12% 6.8% (+2.5%)

The growth in popularity shouldn’t be too surprising – given the government’s announcement that it’s banning sales of all diesel and petrol cars by 2030, and the sheer number of adverts for EVs that have bombarded our screens during the pandemic.

What are the top five EV models?

In terms of individual models, Mitsubishi’s Outlander PHEV has been the most popular EV for the past five years, with Nissan’s Leaf a distant second. In third place is the BMW 330e, and in fourth is Tesla’s Model 3. BMW makes a second appearance in fifth spot, with its i3 model.

How many EV charging points are there in the UK?

As for March 2021, there are around 22,500 charging points across the UK. Of these, the vast bulk are fast (7-22kW) charging points. Other types include slow (3-5kW), rapid (25-99kW) and ultra-rapid (100kW+).

Government grants are being cut

In March 2021, the UK government reduced the maximum grant available to those purchasing an EV to £2,500 – a reduction of £500 on the previous year. The price cap for this subsidy has also been lowered to cover cars with a maximum purchase price of £35,000 – down from £50,000. 

How serious are car manufacturers about EV?

In the past, EVs were largely the preserve of niche manufacturers like Tesla and Lexus, but have since moved firmly into the mainstream, with well-known brands such as BMW, Jaguar, Renault, Nissan, and Hyundai leading the charge with models available across all three EV types.

The 2030 cut-off date announced by the UK government has been mirrored by other world governments, which led to a flurry of announcements in early 2021 from car manufacturers signalling their intent to switch to all-electric models by the end of the decade. In the first quarter of 2021 alone, the following announcements were made:

  • Ford

All models to be available as electric or hybrid by 2026; completely electric across Europe by 2030.

  • Jaguar Land Rover

Jaguar to be all-electric by 2025; Land Rover to offer electric versions from 2024.

  • Mini

Targeting 50% electric sales by 2027; all-electric by 2030.

  • Peugeot

“100 per cent electrified fleet” by 2023 (including hybrids).

  • Volvo

Targeting 50% all-electric sales by 2025, rising to 100% by 2030.

  • Volkswagen

More than 70% European sales to be EV by 2030 (50% in US/China)

  • General Motors

Aiming for zero-emissions lineup by 2035.

What are the benefits of buying an electric vehicle?

There are several reasons – over and above the environmental benefits. The government’s recent decision to bring forward the ban on petrol and diesel models to 2030 should drive up demand for affordable, green alternative models like EVs. As prices fall, the underlying benefits of EV ownership appear ever-more attractive:

  • Reduced fuel consumption in hybrid models, saving money on petrol and diesel.

  • Lower running costs – an overnight charge for the Nissan Leaf takes six hours, costing around £5.60 (enough to run it for 140 miles). Over 10,000 miles this would cost £410, or 4.1p/mile travelled, compared to £1,300 (13p/mile) when travelling the same distance in a Nissan Pulsar that filled up on unleaded fuel at £1.22/litre.

  • Reduced taxes – including exemptions from Clean Air Zones and reduced (or zero) road tax. Londoners are exempt from the London Congestion Charge and Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ), at savings of up to £12.50 per day.

  • Lower maintenance – with fewer moving parts, electric vehicles are simpler and cheaper to maintain.

  • Government grants are on hand to encourage drivers to make the switch.

It’s not all one-way, however. Car insurance is more expensive than it is for conventional vehicles because EVs are heavier, which leads to more damage during impact. Also, although overall maintenance is cheaper, repairs can be costly when things do go wrong. Fewer parts means that if the powertrain is knocked out, it costs more to replace.

How do I charge my electric car?

Electric cars require access to charging points, which can be inside or outside your home. Here’s what you need to look for.

Charging at home

This will require you to invest in a home charging point, into which your car is plugged to recharge the battery. The government currently offers an OLEV grant of up to £500 to mitigate the costs of installing a home charger, which will need to be fitted by a professional. 

An increasing number of energy suppliers are offering special EV tariffs for owners of electric cars (see below), and these will often come with a discounted or even free charging point. Charging your vehicle overnight will give you enough of a range for the daily commute, as well as other short to medium-length journeys, without having to find or use public chargers.

Top tip: your car’s Lithium-ion battery can get damaged from excessive heat, so protect your car from direct sunlight where you can. Look for charging points in the shade and store your EV in a shaded spot or garage when possible.

Charging away from home

As revealed earlier, there are currently around 22,500 charging points that can be used outside of your home. You may be able to avoid using these if you never travel far from your home, but on longer trips you’ll need to top up your vehicle along the way. Use a website like Zap Map to locate suitable charging points along your route – each charging point is colour-coded according to its type: slow (yellow), fast (blue), and purple (rapid). Click an entry on the map for more details and to see its status.

How much does it cost to charge my car?

Charging from home is by far the cheapest option, and if you choose a suitable EV-friendly tariff, you can gain access to discounted electricity by charging overnight. If you have solar panels, you should be able to offset some of the cost when charging during the day.

Away from home, charging points can be found at petrol stations, hotels, car parks, and major shopping centres. How much you pay depends on where you are and the type of charger you use – some, as found in shopping centres, hotels, and selected workplaces – may even be free to use. Elsewhere, A typical fast charger will cost around £1.50 for each hour of use, but a rapid charger will cost more.

Two types of pricing model are used: one charges a simple flat rate for each kWh of electricity you use, while others charge a connection fee that covers a specific length of time, plus charge extra for each kWh electricity you use on top.

Some charging networks offer discounts – for example, Ecotricity charges regular customers 30p per kWh used, but this is halved (15p/kWh) for Ecotricity energy customers. You can estimate the costs for your specific model of car by using Zap Map’s Public Charging Calculator.

Other operators, such as the Polar network, offer subscriptions for regular users – it speeds up access and works out much cheaper than for pay-as-you-go customers. It’s usually best value for those looking for more than one rapid charge a month, or a standard top-up more than once a week.

Top tip: don’t run your battery below the 20% mark as it takes more energy to recharge, which will obviously increase costs as well as charging times.

Where can I find the best EV tariff?

Major suppliers like British Gas, ScottishPower, OVO Energy, and Octopus Energy all offer specialised EV electricity tariffs. Many are Economy 7-based to encourage charging overnight when demand for electricity is less. At present, all specialist EV tariffs offer 100% renewable electricity to properly ‘green’ your usage and look out for other benefits like discounted home charge points too.

Two further considerations: most will require you to have a smart meter (these can be fitted as part of your switch), and that you pay by monthly direct debit. Specialist tariffs for prepayment meters are not yet available.

Like all tariffs, these will be reviewed and updated regularly, so the best deal for you may vary. Use a comparison site like Money.co.uk to seek out the best deals. But remember that these deals won’t be as cheap as standard fixed-rate deals, so weigh in the extra cost and think about how often you’ll need to top up as to whether they represent better value for money.

One other thing to look out for: some energy suppliers allow you to sell excess car battery charge back to the National Grid by effectively turning your car into a form of grid storage, which over time will put even more money back into your pocket.