Electric cars and how they affect your energy bill

How do electric cars affect your energy bill?

As the auto industry becomes increasingly efficient, electric cars have become a popular alternative to the traditional diesel and petrol-powered models. You can save money on fuel costs with an electric vehicle (EV), but how will this impact your energy bill at home? Here’s a look at the costs of charging EVs. 

What are the benefits of buying an electric vehicle?

There are several reasons to consider purchasing an electric car, not least of which is its eco-friendly benefits. The government has proposed a ban on diesel and petrol engines by 2040, which should drive up the demand for affordable, green alternatives like EVs. Apart from the reduced fuel consumption, running costs can be lower too. The amount you save will depend on the type of vehicle you choose, but recent research from EDF Energy found that you can save as much as £41,000 on fuel over your lifetime by switching to an electric car. 

Government grants are on hand to encourage drivers to make the switch. You’ll be able to save up to £3,500 in grant money after purchasing an EV. In addition to the fuel savings and grant money, you can save on road tax – fully electric vehicles are exempt, provided they’re worth under £40,000. And if you live in London, you’ll also be exempt from the London Congestion Charge and Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ), at savings of up to £12.50 per day. 

The electric vehicle market is expanding rapidly due to financial incentives and a growing awareness of environmental issues. While there were only 3,500 plug-in electric cars and vans registered within the UK in 2013, by February 2019 this number had grown to over 200,000. The number of public charging points has likewise grown, with 19,375 public charging points registered in February 2019. 

Types of electric cars

Manufacturers can create an electric version of most types of road vehicles, from motorbikes to freight lorries. The most common types include the following:

  • Battery electric vehicles (BEVs)

This category includes popular models like the Renault Zoe and Nissan Leaf. A BEV operates using a battery-powered motor and is also called an all-electric or fully electric vehicle. In the latest models, you’ll be able to travel up to 200 miles on a single charge. 

  • Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs)

Cars that run using a combination of a petrol or diesel-powered engine with a battery-powered motor are called plug-in hybrids. The car is capable of travelling on its battery power for up to 70 miles, after which time the internal combustion engine kicks in as a backup for added range. The Toyota Prius, Mitsubishi Outlander and Volvo XC60 are all examples of a PHEV. 

  • Hybrid electric vehicle (HEVs)

A third type of electric vehicle is an HEV or hybrid electric vehicle. These are capable of ‘self-charging’ by using the car’s braking system to power the battery. They work slightly differently to the models mentioned above, because you don’t need to plug them in. Instead, you fill them up with fuel and allow the regenerative braking system to boost efficiency. 

Charging your car at home

Although you will certainly save on fuel costs no matter what type of EV you choose, how will it impact your energy bill?  This will depend on the size of your car’s battery, as well as how much you pay for each unit of electricity. 

To begin calculating these costs, you’ll need to factor in the price of a home charging point. The government offers an OLEV grant of up to £500 to mitigate the costs of installing a home charger, and some energy suppliers will offer free charging points as part of a specialist EV tariff. As you can see, it’s well worth shopping around to find the best deal. 

Charging your car outside of the home

Charging your vehicle overnight will give you enough of a range for the daily commute, as well as other short to medium-length journeys. However, when you’re planning a longer road trip you’ll need to top up your vehicle along the way. There are more public charging points than ever, with over 9,000 locations spread across the country as of 2019. You’ll find these at petrol stations, car parks, and major shopping centres. 

Like petrol or diesel, the cost will depend on your location. Generally, you can expect to pay about £6-7 for each 30-minute charging session. This will keep you going for up to 100 miles. Some public charge networks operate using a subscription basis, and some will even be free of charge. 

How to find the best EV tariff

Because you’ll do most of your charging at home, it’s important to choose an energy plan that’s suited to your EV needs. One of the best options is a specialist plan with cheaper rates during off-peak hours, allowing you to charge up your vehicle overnight at a lower price. Economy 7 plans are one example of an option providing cheaper overnight rates. 

Suppliers like British Gas, ScottishPower, OVO Energy, and Octopus Energy all offer specialty EV electricity tariffs. Compare your options using an energy comparison site to find the best fit, not only in terms of price but also in terms of convenience. In some cases, even the best EV tariff won’t be as cheap as a standard fixed-rate deal, so do weigh these costs and think about how often you drive. 

At the moment, all of the specialist EV tariffs provide 100% renewable electricity, and many also offer benefits like discounts on home charge points. Most require that you sign up for monthly direct debit, and that you have a smart meter. Apart from these general requirements, you’ll need to weigh in your household usage, the hours that you charge your EV, and other important features to find the best fit. 

It’s also important to note that there aren’t any EV tariffs available for those on prepayment meters just yet. 

Are electric cars worth the cost?

If you’re in the market for a new car, you’ll probably notice that electric cars tend to have a higher price tag than petrol or diesel-powered models. You’ll pay higher up-front costs for an EV, but it’s important to consider the big picture when you’re weighing up whether or not it’s worth it. Now is a great time to take advantage of incentives like the government’s plug-in car grant, because this may not always be available as electric cars become increasingly common. After factoring in this grant of up to £3,500, you can already see that EVs can save money. This is compounded by the savings in fuel costs, as well as tax exemptions and EV energy tariffs. Some energy suppliers allow you to sell excess car battery charge back to the National Grid, which adds up to even more money in your pocket over time. 

Maintenance costs for BEVs are far lower, because electric cars involve fewer moving parts and don’t require oil changes. Their gearboxes are simpler, requiring less money spent on wear and tear. As the technology continues to improve, we’ll see even greater savings in the future. 

However, there are other areas where it costs more to run an electric vehicle. One example is car insurance, which is more expensive than it is for conventional vehicles. Premiums tend to be higher because EVs are heavier than traditional cars, which can cause additional damage during impact. And although maintenance is cheaper, when something does go wrong repairs can be costly. Fewer parts means that if the powertrain is knocked out, it costs more to replace. 

Tips to save money on electric vehicles

In addition to taking advantage of government incentives and comparing prices to find the best EV tariff, here are a few handy tips for cheaper charging:

  • Find free charging points

Some car parks, supermarkets and shopping centres offer free charging points to customers. Try planning your journeys to take advantage of these, making you less reliant on your home charger. More places of business are installing free access points in corporate car parks as an incentive to employees. 

  • Use a companion app

Monitor your battery’s life and condition with a smart charging app designed to keep track of your usage. Because the best EV energy tariffs also require a smart meter within the home, you can also download the corresponding app to gain greater insight into your household energy use. 

  • Don’t run your battery down

It takes more energy to recharge the battery once it’s been run down to the lower limits. A good rule of thumb is to avoid letting it get to the 20% mark, or you’ll end up spending more on energy. 

  • Avoid overheating your battery

Lithium-ion batteries can be damaged if they get too hot, so to save money on repair and maintenance it’s important to protect your car from direct sunlight. Look for charging points in the shade and store your EV in a garage when possible. 

By doing a bit of research into your EV electricity tariff and charging options, you could potentially save a bundle over time.

Bjorn GriffithDec 9th 2019