Electric vehicles, some thoughts

Electric vehicles can be battery or hydrogen fuel-cell powered

Why buy a battery electric vehicle (BEV) when they are far more expensive than a similar internal combustion engine (ICE) powered car?


Changes with the years

When I started on this page in 2018 the range of a BEV was a concern. Since then the range of most BEVs have increased to the point where they are similar to that of ICE vehicles and public charging points have become more common. Prices of BEVs are also gradually coming down.

Hydrogen fuel-cell power

As of 2023 hydrogen fuel-cell electric cars are not a viable option, but what about hydrogen powered ships, trains and planes?
In Australia, where this page was written, it was difficult to justify a BEV on financial grounds in early 2018 (when this page was written), even for those who are environmentally inclined. My wife and I recently bought a new ICE-powered Honda Jazz for $18k rather than spending twice that for a second-hand EV. I had been intending that our next car would be a BEV, but when it came to the time to buy we simply couldn't justify the cost. I also found that the BEVs that looked most competitive couldn't be fitted with a tow-bar, and at that time I needed to be able to tow a trailer.

But buying price is not the only consideration; in what follows I discuss the pros and cons, as far as I know them.

The more I looked into the situation the more it became apparent that BEVs have substantial benefits (and potential for more benefits in the future) to the vehicle owners, to the environment and to the power supply system. And the costs of BEVs are only going to decrease and the benefits increase in the future.

This page written 2018/02/24, last edited 2023/05/22
Contact: David K. Clarke – ©

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Advantages and disadvantages

Summary – the points given in this table are expanded upon in the next table.
Advantages of BEVs
Disadvantages of BEVs
  1. Environmentally friendly (1) – no greenhouse carbon dioxide emissions

  2. Environmentally friendly (2) – no petrochemical emissions, no NOx emissions

  3. Environmentally friendly (3) – no oily carbon emissions, no SO2 emissions

  4. Environmentally friendly (4) – a BEV is quiet

  5. Low running cost if you have your own solar power

  6. Very few moving parts – greatly reduced maintenance costs

  7. Potential to use the battery to reduce your household electricity costs or get income by selling power into the grid in periods of high demand

  8. Government incentives
  1. EV batteries may in theory be recyclable, but are rarely fully recycled? This may change in time

  2. Due to the large batteries, BEVs are heavier than ICE vehicles; this leads to more tire wear.

  3. High initial cost

  4. Limited range

  5. Much slower to recharge than the refuelling time of an ICE car

  6. Limited fast charging sites

  7. The grid electricity available for recharging BEVs is largely generated unsustainably

Discussion – filling-out the points made above
Advantages of BEVs
Disadvantages of BEVs
  1. Environmentally friendly (1) – no greenhouse carbon dioxide. emissions.
    Renewable energy can be used to recharge the battery, either from your own rooftop solar power or you can buy 'green electricity'.

  2. Environmentally friendly (2) – no petrochemical emissions, no NOx emissions.
    The burning of fossil fuels in ICE engines, both petrol and diesel, releases partly burned hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides, both of which are pollutants.

  3. Environmentally friendly (3) – no oily carbon emissions, no SO2 emissions.
    The burning of diesel, and the burning of oil in poorly maintained ICE engines release oily carbon particles, which are particularly damaging to health, into the atmosphere. The burning of poor quality diesel releases sulphur-dioxide, an important environmental pollutant into the atmosphere.

  4. Environmentally friendly (4) – a BEV is quiet.
    Internal combustion engines, particularly diesel engines, can be noisy. Electric motors are almost silent.

  5. Low running cost if you have your own solar power.
    If, like us, you sell solar power to your energy retailer, you will probably be paid no more than $0.12/kWh (while you will probably pay at least twice that for the power that you buy).

  6. Very few moving parts – greatly reduced maintenance costs.
    The electric motor in a BEV has one moving part compared to the hundreds of moving parts in an ICE, and there is no gearbox, transmission or differential.

  7. Potential to use the battery to reduce your household electricity costs or get income by selling power into the grid in periods of high demand.
    At least one BEV newly on the market (the Nissan Leaf) can be used to feed electricity into a home battery. Combined with a roof-top solar PV system and a small (and low-priced) home battery this could give you more independence from expensive grid power than would a large (and expensive) home battery.

    Wikipedia states that vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technology could be worth $4000 per year per car to the utilities; if a substantial proportion of the savings could go to the vehicle owner it would have a big impact of the economics of owning a BEV.

  8. Government incentives.
    A number of states and nations offer financial incentives to BEV owners.
  1. Battery recycling
    At the time of writing BEV batteries were not easily recyclable, rarely fully recycled and not often recycled at all.
    It is cheaper to obtain the lithium and cobalt required for lithium-based batteries by mining them than by recycling them; this seems unlikely to change in the near future, but may in the more distant future.

  2. Tire wear
    Tire manufacture is costly economically and to the environment, and micro-particles from tire wear is a major source of pollution.

  3. High initial cost
    As discussed below, the cost of BEV will decline as production rates increase.

  4. Limited range
    The range has increased and will continue to increase.

  5. Much slower to recharge than the refuelling time of an ICE car.
    Fast recharging options will increase with time. Charging times at home will probably remain substantial, but is this important?

  6. Limited fast-charging sites.
    These are increasing.

  7. The grid electricity available for recharging BEVs is largely generated unsustainably.
    National power grids will gradually be decarbonised.
An early experimental EV
Trev (Two-seat Renewable Energy Vehicle) – image credit University of SA. Trev was developed around 2008-10.

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How is the situation likely to change in the future?

Almost all of the ways in which BEVs compare unfavourably to ICE-powered vehicles in 2018 will change in future in ways advantageous to BEVs; prices will decline, fast recharging options will become more readily available, ranges have increased and will continue to increase. It seems unlikely that the future will bring any advantages to ICE vehicles.

Lithium based batteries seem likely to remain non-recyclable because mined lithium will remain cheaper than recycled lithium at least for a number of years.

The electricity available to recharge BEVs will gradually become more sustainable as fossil-fuelled generation is phased out.

The number of BEVs built has increased at the exponential rate of around 70% per year from 2011 to 2017; the figures below are extracted from a graph on www.ev-volumes.com:


The tire-wear problem

As mentioned above, BEVs are heavier than ICE vehicles because of the weight of the batteries. In turn, BEV users demand high ranges for their vehicles.

If BEV batteries were more quickly recharged and if recharging stations were more numerous, the presently demanded long ranges would not be so necessary. (Most BEV journeys are well under 100km yet ranges of 300km plus are often being provided in many BEVs.)

Answers to this problem that may come in time...

  • New battery technology producing batteries with higher energy density?
  • Modular batteries that can be added when a long trip is planned?
  • Quick recharging at more numerous recharging stations?
YearApprox. number built

While it is doubtful that this huge rate of growth will continue for very many years (if it continued to 2025 the number being built each year would be eighty million) there can be little doubt that a high rate of growth will continue.

The problems with air pollution, particularly in India and China but in big cities everywhere, will continue to incentivise the change from ICE-vehicles to BEVs.

As BEV technology advances, as designs become more settled and as the numbers of BEVs built increase prices will come down substantially.

Fast-charging stations are becoming more common all the time.

As the integration of BEV batteries with home electricity supply and vehicle-to-grid (V2G) services develop the advantage of having a BEV battery available at home will increase. For more information on vehicle-to-grid ability see Wikipedia. This could easily become one of the main economic incentives to own a BEV in the future.

As the need for action to reduce climate changing emissions and emissions causing ill-health and death becomes more recognised and urgent government incentives for owning BEVs will increase.

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In early 2023 there were many features that could be incorporated into BEVs that were not yet in place. There should be:
  • Standardisation in charging leads, power outlets and vehicle input plugs between all brands of BEVs;
  • A widely available ability of coordinating BEV charging and discharging with:
    • Household PV systems;
    • Household batteries;
    • The power grid, depending on buying and selling prices and the degree of need for generation or consumption on the grid;
In summery there should be an availability for all BEV users to make the most of their possibilities in combining the charging or discharging of their BEVs in order to receive the greatest advantages that are available to them now, and will become available to them in future.

What is needed is the full and flexible integration of:

  • generation
    • from home solar;
    • from private BEV batteries;
    • from community scale solar and batteries;
    • from utility scale solar and wind installations;
  • and consumption
    • in households;
    • in commerce;
    • in industry;
    • in government services.
This will be to the advantage of all parties involved, including government.

There are huge opportunities in the integration of BEVs and home power, BEVs, the power grid, microgrids, etc.

See Solar Integration for thoughts on integration of solar power with homes, BEVs and the power grid.

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Hydrogen fuel-cell electric vehicles (HFCEVs)
Particularly for busses, ships, trains and aircraft

This is a subject on which I have very limited knowledge. I am expressing an opinion based on what little knowledge I have. It is also a field that is very much in flux.

The batteries used in BEVs have a limited life. They are structurally and chemically complex and therefore difficult to fully recycle. I can't imagine this changing greatly in the future. On the other hand hydrogen can be stored in lined steel cylinders that have a long life and can easily be fully recycled. It can also be stored in containers of metal hydrides that should also be easily recycled at the end of their useful lives.


The hydrogen economy

In 2023, especially in places like South Australia where there is a very high percentage of renewable energy, there is a need for energy intensive industries that can take up the electricity that is in excess to normal demand. The production of hydrogen is one strong option.
We must, with urgency, phase out ICE powered vehicles because of their climate impacts, air pollution, and their use of a finite resource. But we must replace them with something that is sustainable, and to be sustainable it must be fully recyclable. As of 2023 it doesn't look like the batteries used in BEVs will be fully recyclable at a reasonable cost any time soon. If future people are to have a world that is not greatly inferior to the one we enjoy we must be careful to not replace one unsustainable technology with another unsustainable technology.

As of 2023 HFCEVs are not viable for private cars, mostly because there are very few hydrogen refuelling stations, although this will gradually change in the future. But hydrogen fuel-cells may well be viable for ships, trains and aircraft very soon, if not right now; these would need far fewer refuelling stations. Shipping would only require one refuelling station at each major deep-sea port, trains only at each terminal station, and aircraft only at major airports. Busses too could easily be run of hydrogen, with a refuelling station at the bus terminal.

While the mass of a hydrogen tank (or, for that matter, a battery) makes up a very significant part of the mass of a car, it would make up a far smaller proportion of the weight of a ship or train.

The recyclability of the fuel-cell power supply of HFCEVs seems to be problematic. Platinum is used as a catalyst in most (all?) fuel cells and is classed as a critical element; it must be recovered of fuel-cell power supplies are to be sustainable. This could be a major hurdle to overcome in the sustainability of fuel-cell electric vehicles.

Useful links:

The following are just a very few of the many articles available on the Internet on this subject.


Full clean ahead: can shipping finally steer away from fossil fuels?; The Guardian, 2023/08/07, written by Anna Turns.

Hydrogen: The Key to Decarbonizing the Global Shipping Industry?; Cnter for Strategic and International Studies, 2021/04/13, written by William Alan Reinsch and Will O’Neil


Next stop, hydrogen-powered trains; BBC, 2020/02/27, written by Allison Hirschlag


Hydrogen power: where we’ve been and where we’re going; Intelligent Transport, 2021/02/26, written by Ian Warr


Hydrogen-powered planes almost ready for takeoff; ars Technical's, 2023/08/10, written by Dhananjay Khadilkar

Is this the start of an aviation revolution?; BBC, 2020/02/12, written by Diane Selkirk

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Electric bikes and other small EVs are cutting emissions more than electric cars

On 2023/11/17 The Conversation published an article titled The world’s 280 million electric bikes and mopeds are cutting demand for oil far more than electric cars written by Muhammad Rizwan Azhar, Lecturer, Edith Cowan University and Waqas Uzair, Research associate, Edith Cowan University.

There seems no point in me paraphrasing the article, instead I'll quote a section of it. Please go to the article itself for more:

"We hop in the car to get groceries or drop kids at school. But while the car is convenient, these short trips add up in terms of emissions, pollution and petrol cost.

Close to half (44%) of all Australian commuter trips are by car – and under 10km. Of Perth’s 4.2 million daily car trips, 2.8 million are for distances of less than 2km.

This is common in wealthier countries. In the United States, a staggering 60% of all car trips cover less than 10km.

So what’s the best solution? You might think switching to an electric vehicle is the natural step. In fact, for short trips, an electric bike or moped might be better for you – and for the planet. That’s because these forms of transport – collectively known as electric micromobility – are cheaper to buy and run.

But it’s more than that – they are actually displacing four times as much demand for oil as all the world’s electric cars at present, due to their staggering uptake in China and other nations where mopeds are a common form of transport."

Azhar and Uzair make the very strong point that electric mopeds, scooters and bicycles are much lighter than electric cars and therefore use far less electricity to power and contain far less embodied energy and use far less resources to build.

They point out that while over 20 million electric vehicles are on the roads, there are also "over 280 million electric mopeds, scooters, motorcycles and three-wheelers on the road last year".

One wonders, though, how many of the small electric vehicles are taking the place of cars, and how many are simply replacing peddle powered bicycles. If they are replacing ICE powered mopeds and motorcycles that is good, but not so good as if they were replacing ICE powered cars.

Related pages

Related pages - external

A good article on selecting the right BEV charger.

Related external pages regarding hydrogen fuel-cell electric transport are in the section on that subject on this page.

Related pages - on this site

Australia's energy future
The great opportunity
Integration of solar power with homes, BEVs and the power grid
Off-grid or not?
End of coal
Killer coal
Elec. generating methods
Sustainable energy in Oz
SA renewables success