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What happens when your EV battery finally runs out of power?

Pricewatch: Availability, cost, range and obsolescence – all you need to know about electric cars

Last year there were 15,462 new EV registrations in the Republic, according to the Central Statistics Office data. Photograph: PA

In the middle of last month an Irish Times reader called John Russell wrote a letter to the Editor which sparked something that veered between mild concern and outright consternation among many owners, would-be owners and never-will-be owners of electric vehicles.

“We have been driving a Nissan Leaf for the past seven years and have travelled a total distance of 155,000km,” he wrote. “Over those years, myself and my wife have become EV champions. Nissan just quoted me for a replacement battery: €19,000, plus VAT, excluding labour! We are now reconsidering our position as EV champions!”

The idea that someone might buy a new car only to be hit with such a shocking cost seven years down the road left some people flabbergasted and others unsurprised.

“It has been obvious for some time that EVs ought to be regarded as more like domestic appliances than traditional cars – that is, used until they are defunct and then replaced, as with a fridge or cooker,” wrote one reader who said the idea of a replacement battery made no economic sense.

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Others suggested that only the dead battery cells in the Leaf needed replacing which would cut the cost.

“Factoring in a five-figure sum for replacement batteries after the warranty expires [usually after seven or eight years], radically alters the economics of purchasing a used EV for many motorists,” wrote another correspondent.

Pricewatch took an interest in the debate – not least because the writer is a proud owner of a relatively new EV – so decided to make contact with the man who started the debate to find out more.

“Until the Nissan Leaf I had never bought a new car, my life,” he says.

He was prompted to buy it for environmental reasons and to save money on fuel and maintenance costs. Russell is also an engineer and the make-up of such vehicles appeals to him. “The average diesel car has something like 30,000 moving parts and an electric car has about 3,000 moving parts. That’s huge, from an engineering point of view. You have less metal rubbing up against metal, something which is never very good.”

He says that when he took the plunge, there was some chatter about the cost of replacement batteries with the figure being bandied about coming in at about €10,000. “I had done the sums and was thinking the cost of batteries would probably come down in price so if the battery wore out eventually it would be no problem.”

That made the news from his garage more difficult to take.

He says the range of his EV has fallen to about 75 per cent of what it once was which means he and his wife can get little more than 100km out of a full charge. They live in Kildare so can usually get to and from Dublin city without difficulty. “But driving to and from the airport, you have to take it easy and range anxiety kicks in.”

The idea of driving to Kerry in the car, meanwhile, is pretty much off the table.

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Russell has long been driven by environmentalism and eked 400,000km out of his previous car. “What’s the most environmentally friendly car you can have?” he asks. “The one in your driveway.”

He is still unsure what to do next. Apart from the battery issues, “the thing is perfect. It’s an electric motor so it’s basically a forklift truck. I have the same brake pads as when I bought it and all it has cost is the €120 we pay for a service each year.”

He might be able to get a battery extender which will swallow up his boot but getting a second-hand battery is proving tricky because the supply isn’t there.

He says if he doesn’t have to fork out 19 grand he will be “quids in” on his purchase. “But if I end up paying €19,000 plus VAT, there is no way I will be quids in but in terms of how I feel, I feel better, I’ve done something for the environment and that is good but this charge is just a sting in the tail.”

Last month EV sales outstripped diesel sales for the first month ever

—  Blake Boland, AA

Blake Boland is the AA’s in-house EV specialist and was an advocate of electric cars long before he joined the AA and has been talking about and writing about electric cars for years. He has owned a Nissan Leaf since 2017 and is very up to speed with the pros and cons of EVs and where we are and where we need to be.

“We’re not anywhere near where we need to be but sales are increasing,” he says. “Last year was up 83 per cent on the year before and last month EV sales outstripped diesel sales for the first month ever.”

He points to big barriers that are still in the way of the mass adoption by Irish motorists of EVs. “First off we simply don’t have the supply so if everybody in Ireland said: ‘you know what, EVs are great. I want one,’ we could only get a fraction of them supplied.”

He points to someone who ordered an MG4 last November and is expecting delivery next month with waiting lists for other models stretching out beyond a year.

Then there is the charging infrastructure. “We’re a long way away from being able to cater for people living in apartments and those who don’t have off-street parking. That comes down to the public charging net and there simply isn’t enough chargers. But it is not even about having more chargers, it is about having the right chargers in the right places.”

The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland has begun a consultation process on how best to roll out EV charging points for those living in apartments or other high-density housing

He says multiple fast charging points in fuel stations are needed so that motorists who need extra juice will be reasonably confident about being able to get a charging point without having to wait too long.

If a fuel station has just two chargers, you might have to wait up to an hour before you can even get your car on charge. “What we’d like to see is 15-20 charging points in the one location so if you do turn up, you won’t have to wait too long until you can plug your car in.”

The obstacle to that is cost and power. Installing a charging point can cost anything up to €50,000 and relies on a decent stream of power from the national grid as well – in some instances – as planning permission.

Then there is the price of the cars. Boland says that “as a general rule of thumb you can definitely say that it’s more expensive to buy an EV although the price gap is closing”. However, he argues, it needs to close faster and should do as more of the legacy providers covert production lines to EVs.

What will happen to the second-hand market is also very much up in the air as John Russell’s story suggests.

“The numbers just aren’t there to have a fully fleshed out second-hand market yet,” Boland says. “But we have seen their values holding very well.”

Apart from the fact that EVs require so little maintenance, the batteries are getting better so even if they degrade, they will still allow motorists to cover significant distances. “If you buy a car with a 100kWh battery and in 10 or 15 years’ time, you’ve done 300,000km and that battery is degraded to 50 per cent, that’s still 50 kilowatt hours of usable energy. That is a great asset for a factory that wants to do a little bit of energy arbitrage or store solar PV overnight so the battery material there is always going to be worth a lot of money,” he says.

One company set up by a former Tesla executive to repurpose EV batteries was able to restore them to more than 90 per cent of their original charging capacity. The only issue the company has is it can’t get batteries because the batteries are still in cars.

Boland’s own Nissan Leaf is six years old and has 120,000km on the clock. The battery is still going strong. “I can get 200km on a good day so I’m down 15-20 per cent but it’s still a perfectly good car and I’ve done nothing to it apart from replace a few wiper blades.”

As for the money that can be saved, a person can probably run their car for a full year – if they are charging at home and on a decent energy plan – for about €500 compared with the €2,000 or so a petrol or diesel car might cost. Someone relying on fast charging public chargers might end up paying much the same as a person driving a petrol or diesel car but are generating far fewer pollutants.

Some of your questions answered

How many EVs are there in Ireland?

More now than there were this time last month, that’s for sure. Last year there were 15,462 new EV registrations in the Republic, according to the Central Statistics Office (CSO) data. In 2021 the number was 8,554. In the first two months of the year, there were 5,893 new EVs registered. That might sound like a lot but it is still less than the 2.9 million of diesel and petrol cars being driven.

How many EVs will there be?

That depends on how closely we stick to the Government’s plans for us. It has said that close to one million cars will be electric by 2030. Now, it is worth bearing in mind that 2030 might sound like a long way away but it is less than seven years from now so if that plan is to be realised, we’d need to get our skates on pretty sharpish.

And what about the charging network?

There are about 2,000 EV chargers installed at 800 sites across the island. Last year the Society of the Irish Motor Industry (SIMI) said about 4,700 were needed. The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) does not agree. It has said 80 per cent of charging will take place at home, and public chargers are needed for “just a splash for a couple of minutes” to allow people to get home where they will do most of the charging while they sleep.

What are the most popular EVs in Ireland?

There was a time when the Nissan Leaf had the playing field almost all to itself. In recent years, the pioneering maker has been overtaken by the likes of the Volkswagen ID4, the Hyundai Ioniq5 and various Teslas.

And how much do EVs cost?

The cheapest EVs sell for about €25,000 rising to well in excess of €70,000 for the fancier – but still relatively accessible – models. A new Nissan Leaf with a 40KwH battery is priced at about €30,000 while a highly regarded MG4 – which has a 51KwH battery – costs about €27,500. A Tesla will set you back from about €45,000 – the same price as an entry level VW. One of the top of the range EQB series from Mercedes will set you back more than €70,000.

How much do they cost to run?

That depends. If you are on a decent home energy package and can avail of free night time or weekend electricity and don’t use your car all that much, you might be able to keep the car on the road for almost nothing. A typical user who charges their car at home will spend less than €400 a year on charging. Someone who charges their car on the considerably more expensive fast chargers that are dotted sporadically (very sporadically) around the country will spend about €1,600. A person who drives a petrol or diesel car, meanwhile, might spend about €2,000 on fuel.

And is fuel the only place savings are to be made?

Nope. There aren’t that many moving parts in an EV so there isn’t as much that can go wrong with it. Typically all an EV driver will spend is an annual service of about €120 and maybe replacement tyres the odd time. The motor tax on all EVs is set at €120.

What kind of grants are available?

An SEAI grant of up to €5,000 is available for cars which cost in excess of €20,000 although the grant is being reduced to €3,500 from July. There are no grants payable on EVs which cost more than €60,000. There is also a grant of €600 to cover the installation of a home charger.

And how much does a home charger cost?

Again it depends but you can get a 7KwH charger installed for about €600 on top of the grant.

Are there tax benefits to owning an EV?

There are. EVS that cost up to €40,000 get VRT relief of up to €5,000 while EVs that cost €40,000-€50,000 get half the relief. There is no VRT relief on EVs that cost more than €50,000. There are also benefit in kind perks for EV cars provided by companies to their employees.

What kind of range do they have?

Again it very much depends on the model. One of the big selling points of Teslas is that they have ranges of 600km or more. The Polestar 2 has a range of about 500 while the Mercedes EQB promises to take you anywhere between 300km and 400km.

That’s a pretty wide gap?

When it comes to EVs the exact range will depend on how fast you drive, how hot – or indeed how cold – you want the car to be and other differentials. Car makers tend to talk up the maximum distance but, as anyone who have ever driven an EV across the country will testify, range anxiety is still very much a feature of driving most EVs.

What difference do they make to the environment?

They are not perfect. For starters, the mining of minerals for batteries causes massive damage in countries when the mining takes place. But when it comes to emissions and air pollutions they are best in class right now. Actually, that is not true. Walking, cycling or even taking public transport will significantly lessen your carbon footprint.

How reliable is public transport in Ireland and how can it be improved? Tell us your story