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Electric Cars: My favourite top three myths

Myth #1: There ecological footprint is as bad as the internal combustion engine (ICE)

In order to make a full and fair comparison we need to take into account the full life cycle of the vehicle, not only the emissions during use, but also the ecological impact of the production process.

There is no doubt that during use the EV is substantially cleaner than the ICE, emitting zero Greenhouse gases, (GHG). The question then is “How clean is Europe’s electricity”, (see ), in short cleaner than it has ever been and getting cleaner. Now the energy used in the production of EV’s is greater than that used for an ICE vehicle. The mining process for the materials required in the manufacturing of the batteries requiring significant amounts of energy hence greater emissions of GHG. Taking everything into account If we take CO2 emissions alone and compare over a one hundred mile journey a recognisable EV would use approximately 30KWh of electricity equalling 7,230grams of CO2. Your standard passenger car/family saloons emissions for the same journey would be in the region of 40,000grams, or some 450% more.

In Europe the EV is already substantially cleaner emitting 66-69% less GHG than an equivalent ICE family saloon.

We can now put to rest the tired argument that electric vehicles aren’t much cleaner than internal combustion vehicles. Over the life cycle of an EV from mining the materials needed to build it to the eventual end of the vehicle’s life, it will release fewer greenhouse gas emissions than a ICE powered car. This holds true globally, whether an EV plugs into a grid in the EU with a larger share of renewables, or a grid in India that still relies mostly on dirty energy like coal.

Myth #2: Electric Vehicles are prone to Exploding. The EV bomb on wheels theory!

What is the truth behind this particular myth? I have been looking into electric car fires for a while now and have read much scientific research on this issue which I will endeavour to shorten and share here. I can state my initial overview clearly, such occurrences are very rare.

Battery electric vehicles are as safe as internal combustion vehicles is a regulated fact. All vehicles including EV’s must meet strict safety standards and back in 2010 the United Nations adopted Regulation 100 ensuring that vehicles with a high-voltage power train, such as hybrid and fully electric, are as safe as conventional ICE vehicles.

All production vehicles, regardless of manufacturer, have unique safety systems to prevent the risk of fire and electric shock. In the event of a car crash, the electricity flow from the battery is immediately terminated. Configuration and positioning of batteries in crash-proof blocks in the underbody of the vehicle further protects them from damage or distortion. German motor vehicle inspection Association “DEKRA”, have repeatedly shown that the risk of fire is far lower with an EV than with internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles. The charging process is completely safe at all times and yes even in the rain.

The dangers of lithium-ion batteries catching fire or exploding has been a hot topic in the media for reasons I cannot explain, but such negative publicity has led to further public uncertainty. The true impact of an EV battery catching fire and the dangers that could result aren’t known on a wide scale, remaing an unanswered question as EV’s become more widely adopted. So to find out scientist in Switzerland purposely started setting fire to EV Lithium-ion batteries.

Researchers tested electric vehicle fires in three controlled scenarios: a fire in an enclosed space, a fire in a room with a sprinkler system, and a fire in a tunnel with ventilation to see what the effects would be. The flammable electrolytes of an electric car battery produce flash fires that can’t be extinguished; instead, the modules must be cooled with large quantities of water to contain the fire.

What they discovered is that while in some cases, electric vehicle battery fires are no more dangerous than other types of car fires, the smoke and soot they give off contains toxic metal oxides creating a hazardous environment in which to carryout a messy clean-up operation by experts in protective gear.

In all it was concluded that in terms of heat development, a burning EV is no more hazardous than a burning car that uses traditional fossil fuels, adding that fire brigades do not have to learn anything new to handle EV fires. However, there were some hazardous results unique to EV fires, the research found, in the case of a situation in which a sprinkler system or extinguishing water is used to put out the fire, that water becomes toxic and must be prevented from entering the local sewage system.

What is an electric vehicle explosion?

An electric vehicle explosion, leading to a battery fire, is very rare. While the terminology 'electric car explosion' is great for search engine clicks, the correct term used by professionals is “vapour cloud explosion” (VCE). If a Lithium-ion battery over heats and goes into thermal runaway, toxic and flammable gases are vented from the battery cells, beginning in enclosed spaces the gases expand forming a large vapour cloud. Approximately 700L of gases are released for every 1KWh of battery capacity, you can do the math yourself. When there is an ignition point, an overheating cell would do it, one of two things will happen. Around 90% of the time the gases ignite quickly but not explosively, sucking back the vapours as they burn or in around 10% the gases explode! Obviously designers have been aware of thermal runaway in lithium-ion batteries for a long time with all manufactures seeking ways to mitigate this potentially dangerous occurrence, and if the stats are to be believed they have done a great job.

It is said a Tesla driver should worry less about catching fire than if driving a petrol or diesel vehicle. With that said and regardless of what make of EV you are driving the chance of VCE or fire is extremely low. I would suggest all should be aware of the possibility of it happening and stay vigilant regarding battery health and maintenance. The studies show safety, EV fires get the media attention even when it is not an EV vehicle, (Luton Airport Car Park 10/10/2023). Research shows EV’s are no more likely to catch fire than ICE vehicles. Last word from Tesla who claim ICE’s are eleven times more likely to go up in flames than a Tesla!

Myth 3: The grid cannot support an increase in electric vehicle charging

A global answer to the above is not easy unless I decide to make it so by simply saying, yes of course it can cope. But I doubt many readers would find that satisfactory. Fact is all countries have the same question to answer and yes all are saying in one way or another, “Yes of course it will cope!”

The UK’s National Grid estimates show that if everyone switched from petrol or diesel vehicles to electric overnight, they, the National Grid, would experience only a 10% increase in demand, fitting comfortably within the grid’s capacity. They go on to say; “You may be surprised but our peak time electrical demand is now 16% less than 18 years ago”. Phones, computers even washing machines have become increasingly energy efficient, reducing demand on the grid. Fortunately an overnight transition is not on the agenda so capacity demands will not be tested.

The growth in electric vehicle adoption is steady, allowing time for all National Grids to understand charging patterns and plan ahead. A strategy in use by all countries worldwide. So the future scenario where millions of EV owners plug in at the same time, no matter how likely, will be managed as it is today, second by second in the UK, by the electricity systems operator, (ESO). Same in the USA by the many utility companies across the land, and in the EU by the Distribution System Operators, (DSO’s), of which there are some 2,500 through-out Europe and the Union. What is this magic I here you ask, it is here today and for tomorrow… Smart Charging.

Smart charging allows charging point owners and grid operators to manage their charging points remotely. When a vehicle is smart charging the charging point is essentially in communication with the vehicle, the charging operator and the utility provider. EV’s it is believed will help to balance the grids-systems, assisting consumers to use green power when it’s plentiful, (and frequently cheaper) and to avoid times when there’s more load on the network. It is also suggested that Vehicle-to-grid technology could even send power back to the grid when needed! New laws and Regulation are being introduced around the world to ensure all EV charge points have the smart charging functionality.

The question remains, will more electric cars cause the grid to crash? In the USA Mr Matteo Muratori of the National Renewable Energy Lab pondered this question and decided the answer is no. Current research suggests the existing grid can cope just fine even if 25% of the cars on the road were electric. After that system upgrades will be necessary but we are a long way from that number right now and will be for quite some years to come.

There can be no doubt that further investment in infrastructure will be required globally. A recent European study conducted by Eurelectric and E.DSO1, (the 35 leadings DSO’s), and carried out by Monitor Deloitte, revealed that even with 70 million EV’s on Europe’s roads by 2030, the triggered grid build outs will be marginal compared to other investment drivers. It was concluded that European distribution grids will need investment of €25-€35 billion until 2030 to support the development of greater e-mobility and integrated EV charging infrastructure. Sounds like a lot but surprisingly represents only 8% of grid total investment needed by 2030.

Change is the only constant dependable and yes if everything was to stay the same the doubting Thomases and preachers of doom and gloom would be right. But that is not how it works. Facts are there is no chance that the worlds electricity grids will not be capable of managing this change. They will be Improving infrastructure for the better, effectively, efficiently and in sustainable ways with fewer emissions, further decarbonising this sector. In short such changes will benefit everyone EV drivers or not.

Thanks for reading



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