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Ditching the diesel

How electric vehicles are taking over the market

With more people committed to sustainable measures and using less fossil fuels, making the move to an electric vehicle would be a smart — and easy — decision, but while purchases are on the rise in Ireland, there are barriers preventing people from switching.

Doing the maths

An electric motor is more efficient at converting energy to movement than one that burns fuel, says Connor Barry, CEO of Fiach, a specialist zero carbon advisory and investment firm. “To travel 20km in an average internal combustion engine (ICE) car needs the same energy as boiling 60 kettles; to travel 20km in an average EV needs the energy of boiling 15 kettles.

“That fundamental energy efficiency gives it a huge head start when it comes to carbon emissions per kilometre driven, even if mainly dirty coal or gas is burned to make the electricity required to drive an EV. From a running, and ultimately total life cycle perspective, EVs can be part of a zero carbon world in a way that ICEs can never be.”


A growing trend

When we look at the registration figures, Ireland has experienced year-on-year growth in demand for electric vehicles, which is fantastic, says Rodolfo Calixto, Volkswagen Ireland brand director. “When we look at January to August this year, 21 per cent of all new car registrations are EV, which is an increase on the same period last year.”

While the sales of EVs are growing, there is a reason why Ireland’s EV numbers may not be quite on par with the rest of Europe. “In a relatively small right-hand-drive economy many of the options available to other countries are harder to achieve in Ireland at the same rate as in the rest of Europe,” says Kevin Davidson, managing director, BMW Group Ireland.

“Ireland has a slower and smaller supply chain with around 120,000 new car sales annually (pre-Covid) and an average car fleet age of 9 years. With currently three times as many used vehicles being sold, there is an insignificant second-hand electric vehicle market.”

However, we are still in the early stages of the electric vehicle project, and we have a long way to go to meet the challenging targets in the Government’s Climate Action Plan (945,000 EV vehicles on the road by 2030), Davidson says. “It is essential that Government supports both consumers and businesses by extending EV incentives at current levels in the forthcoming Budget. By doing this we can help secure a greater supply of EVs for the Irish market, increase new EV sales in the short term and create an active used EV market, which will make an electric vehicle affordable to a wider constituency of motorists.

“In addition, if we want to speed up the removal of the oldest [and] highest emitting vehicles from the national fleet, Government should refrain from any further taxation increases. This would encourage activity in both the new and used car markets, allowing motorists to trade up to a cleaner new or newer more fuel-efficient cars.”

A sustainable plan

The Irish Government seems to believe in the effectiveness of EVs as a tool to aid with climate change and has committed to significant funding for low emitting vehicles through the National Development Plan, with €100 million allocated in 2022 to assist the continued transition to electric vehicles — almost double what was available in 2021. This funding is to aid the switch to electric vehicles (EVs) as well as to enable the expansion of a fast and rapid electric vehicle charging network.

A key element to the transition to consumers to EV purchases is consumer confidence, says Davidson. “Empowering consumers with knowledge and confidence in different technologies and ensuring charging services are available is key to this transition.”

Barrier to entry

However, even with all this support, there are barriers to entry — primarily cost, and the concern of finding somewhere to charge when needed.

“The upfront cost of a battery electric vehicle (BEV) can be a barrier as they can be more expensive than an internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle. However paired with the right financial product and when fuel costs are considered, an electric vehicle can be as affordable as an internal combustion engine,” says Calixto.

The challenge for many who want to jump on board the energy transition is the upfront cost of owning an EV, agrees Barry. “The main reason EVs are so popular in the past few years is that the prices of batteries have fallen exponentially as volume scales up, and for many segments when you balance the upfront cost of an EV with the relatively tiny refuelling cost, the total cost of ownership of an EV is already lower.

“While the second-hand market for EVs is still reasonably limited, as time passes, and cheaper EVs become available, it’s unlikely that second-hand buyers will choose ICEs with their high running costs and engine troubles when EVs have no engines to repair and low refuelling costs. There is a real risk of price collapses for resale of second-hand ICEs, particularly inefficient models at some point later this decade.”

Road range

Kieran Campbell, head of sales and business operations, Polestar Ireland, believes the perception of “range anxiety” has been addressed, but that the important factor to remember is that “an EV is not for everyone right now”.

He says the main national roads are well serviced and “as everyone now can get a home charger that you can leave home with 100 per cent range” this will get most people to most locations in Ireland.

Electricity costs are EVs loss

With rising electricity prices globally a point of concern, switching to an EV may not seem quite as good an idea as it did in recent times.

Campbell says with inflation running at 9.1 per cent, cost is a factor but even with the recent increases running an EV is still better value than ICE. “On average it costs €5 to get 100km range in an EV, the same distance in an ICE (diesel car) costs €10.”

A big part of the electric vehicle appeal has always been the lower running costs, but the latest price hikes could jeopardise more people making the switch to electric cars and diminish the price advantage, says Davidson. “While the electricity bills continue to soar, this may slow down growth but it certainly won’t stop demand for EVs as consumers become more conscious about the choices they make and the impact on the environment.”

The other challenge for the Government is ensuring that there is enough capacity with the energy grid for electric vehicle charging at home and with public charging infrastructure, he says. “If people arrive at work and plug in, or come home from work and do the same, there will be surges of demand for electricity at a time when we’re trying to wean ourselves off fossil-fuel energy and on to renewable energy.”

Edel Corrigan

Edel Corrigan is a contributor to The Irish Times