Put simply, if you had two cans of diesel, used one in a diesel generator to charge up an EV (not that I would recommend this!) and used the other to fill up an ICE, the EV would travel further . Happily though, a diesel generator is not a current reflection of the UK grid. In 2018 on average, renewable energy provided about 30% of the UK grid, and sometimes over 50%. In Scotland, renewable energy (mainly from wind) produced over 100% of Scotland’s electrical energy demand in November 2018 . At home we charge the van from our solar PV and a green electricity provider.
It is even true that EVs are still the lower carbon option when you take into account the embodied energy required to create the battery. Unlike diesel or petrol, which can only be burnt once, EV batteries can be repurposed for energy storage solutions, and then finally at end-of-life the lithium and cobalt can be recycled . Over its lifetime, taking into account production, an EV will emit 6x less CO2 than a comparable ICE car .
A separate but equally compelling argument for EVs is that they have zero tailpipe emissions. Having enjoyed breathing in the fresh forest air earlier today, I’m now painfully aware of a diesel car idling nearby. Many areas of the UK regularly have illegal poor air quality levels which is linked to serious health issues.
Back to more immediate concerns, dinner. We have kitted the van out with an induction hob, a mini fridge and a 12v thermos kettle we can use to boil water. The kettle takes about 10 mins to boil, but with a bit of forethought with switching on, it can be ready to make cups of tea or an AeroPress coffee as soon as you stop at your destination (or on the move if you have an obliging passenger). It’s also handy for making pasta (on the menu tonight) and washing up. With a huge battery already on-board we didn't have to worry about installing a leisure battery.
We can even keep the van’s heating on all night with only a moderate impact on range. If plugged into a campsite hook-up or EV charge point we wake up the following morning fully charged. However, since on this occasion we’re ‘wild’ van camping, we can swing by a nearby EV ‘rapid charger’ to top-up before starting the drive back to Llanberis. It takes 20 mins to top up the van’s battery to 80% and in this instance will cost us nothing because EV chargers are currently free in Scotland and powered by low carbon renewable energy.
So all good in theory but are they practical?
How far will they go? Our van is a second hand 2015 model with a 24kWh battery with 57,000 miles on the clock and is still showing 100% battery capacity. We get 60-80 miles of range, depending on temperature, weather conditions and our driving style.
We travelled home from Scotland to Llanberis (approx 400 miles) with 7 x 20min-30min stops in motorway services. With a coffee addiction and an overly excited spaniel who loves his exercise, this is something that actually works fine for us. It is a more leisurely way of travelling, though we would probably have stopped at least 3-4 times in my old diesel van anyway.
Admittedly, our 2015 EV is not suited for all e.g the keen Londoner who wants to leave late on Friday to be in Scotland ready for a Scottish winter alpine day on Saturday. However, the technology for these use cases is already here; the new version of our van with a 40kWh battery can do 100-150 miles and new EV cars such as the Hyundai Kona, Kia e-Niro, Renault Zoe and and Tesla Model 3 have 200-300 miles of range, considerably more than most people’s bladder range. Like most people we only make these longer journeys a handful of times per year. Day-to-day around home in north Wales: going to work, climbing in the Pass, Orme or the local indoor wall the range of our van is more than sufficient to never have to worry about it.