Although most of us probably think of EVs as a relatively new development in motoring, in fact the electric car has been around for a long, long time.
Electricity was often used to power early cars, with the first Porsche-designed car being electric and built in 1898.
Electric cars have come a long way since 1898, but the principle remains the same; store electricity in a battery and then use the stored electrical energy to drive a motor for propulsion.
Now, many fleet operators will be familiar with how a petrol or diesel engine works, you may be wondering how an EV moves. It's a lot different to an internal combustion engine (or 'ICE'), so let's start with the basics of how electric vehicles work.
(In this article we'll talk about electric cars, but vans use the same principles, so the concepts apply equally to them too.)
If you lift the bonnet (or hood) of an ICE powered car you'll see a mass of plastic, rubber and metal components all inter-twined and full of oils and fluids.
Do the same on an electric car and you'll probably see storage space and little else.
That's because electric cars typically only have around 80-90% of the components of an ICE powered car and most are hidden from view.
What drives an electric car typically comprises:
Here's what you usually get instead:
With an internal combustion engine you:
In an electric vehicle the concept is broadly the same - fill it with fuel, discharge the fuel to a motor and use the spinning of the motor to drive the wheels.
However, with an ICE vehicle a lot of the fuel energy is wasted generating heat during the explosion, discharging the heat through a cooling system and transmitting the engine power through linkages to the wheels.
As a result, the overall efficiency of the engine isn't great.
In addition, a lot of harmful gases are discharged when the fuel is burned, such as carbon monoxide ('CO'), carbon dioxide ('CO2') and oxides of nitrogen ('NOx').
With electric cars the power stored in the fuel (in other words, electricity in the batteries) is sent straight to the motors.
Because the motors are typically attached directly to the wheels (electric cars don't usually have gearboxes) there's far less energy lost transmitting power to move the vehicle.
Not only that, electric motors develop their maximum power the moment they begin to spin.
As a result, EVs have proportionately faster acceleration than equivalent ICE powered vehicles.
However, all that electricity still has to get to the batteries in the first place and to do this many power stations burn fossil fuels such as coal and gas with harmful emissions like those of petrol and diesel engines.
Electric cars do, though, have a way of regenerating some of the battery energy 'lost' when moving. The braking systems in EVs are designed to recapture some of the energy applied in braking in order to recharge the batteries.
In addition, solar power is now being harnessed to recharge electric cars.
At the moment the jury is still out on the comparative environmental efficiency of ICE and electric vehicles, in other words the total energy used and the emissions produced to travel the same distance in each vehicle.
For the moment though, there are advantages to users of electric cars due mainly to the way that electricity is priced and taxed.
As a result of the low level of taxation of electricity production, when an electric car is recharged the cost of fuel per mile travelled is much less than that for fossil fuels such as petrol or diesel, where high taxes (in the UK) mean that the cost of a litre of fuel is predominantly tax rather than the cost of production and distribution.
However, against this must be set the comparatively higher purchase price of electric cars and vans which tends to rebalance the total running costs over the entire vehicle lifecycle compared to ICE vehicles.
There's a completely different cost model for running an electric car compared to ICE and your mileage patterns and vehicle use play a big part in making the economics work for or against you.
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