Seven reasons going electric isn’t as expensive as everyone makes out (and even if it is, we have to pay)

“Sustainability is an opportunity, not a sacrifice”, said Hannah Ritchie, an environmental data scientist, at a TED talk I watched last week. And I thought, YES. 

That’s the problem. Politicians and consumers are locked in a spiral of gloom around the costs of saving the planet, whether it’s electric cars, heat pumps, free-range chicken, wild salmon or the ULEZ charge, and there’s no room in the debate for the flip side of all this, which is the opportunity it gives us, and the actual net cost of that opportunity when you weigh up the savings and new revenue streams. 

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It’s all just too expensive, says literally everyone, and at this critical time of sky-high inflation (otherwise known as “looming general election” if you’re Rishi or Kier) it’s outrageous that we should be asked to pay more for anything.

But there are several counter arguments here, that I never get time to make on the rapid, soundbite-focused consumer phone-ins I take part in on various BBC radio stations every month around cars and their costs. 

Point one:

It only takes two minutes to dismiss the idea of buying an electric car on the grounds that a new one is still 37 per cent more expensive than the petrol version, so that’s what everyone does. It takes a little longer to explain that, actually, used electric cars, which is what 90 per cent of us will buy, saw 13 consecutive months of price drops until last month, and several models that are three years old are now the same price, or cheaper than, their petrol three-year-old equivalents. According to Auto Trader data, a one- to three-year-old Vauxhall Mokka and the same-aged electric Mokka-e reached price parity in August. Meanwhile, the price difference between a three-year-old BMW 3-Series and a three-year-old Tesla Model 3 was £20,000 in August 2022, dropping to just £2,000 this August. 

Point two:

Saving the planet doesn’t actually, or inevitably, mean less money in our pockets. Between 1990 and 2019, GDP per capita went up by 57 per cent while CO2 emissions went down by 49 per cent, according to World Bank data.

Point three:

Solar and wind energy are now cheaper than coal.

Point four:

The price of batteries has fallen massively, and will continue to do so, especially in relation to energy density, ie every consumer will see cheaper electric cars that can go further on one charge between now and 2035. Just look at how far we’ve come: in 1990, an electric-car battery would have cost you anywhere between $500,000 and $1m; in 2022 it was between $5,000 and $12,000. Imagine where it will be in 2030.

Point five:

Thanks to the Government simultaneously rowing back on its 2030 target for the sale of EVs alongside sticking to the 2024 ZEV mandate stipulating 22 per cent of each OEM’s range must be electric, there will be a glut of new EVs for sale next year, as supply strengthens and demand drops, so consumers will benefit from the inevitable price drops (this is obviously not good news for OEMs, but we are where we are, and at least JLR and Toyota are happy-ish with the 2035 delay).

Point six:

The most gob-smacking stat to come out of last month’s SMMT Electrified conference in London was courtesy of the boss of Renault trucks, who told us all that bin lorries average 2-3mpg. And you’re telling me, while you’re busy chucking stuff in your household waste without giving it a second thought, that you don’t want to go electric if it’s going to cost you? We have to decarbonise road transport, as of yesterday. All of it. If there’s a cost, there’s a cost. It’s that or the planet melts.

Point seven:

While we’re on the subject of throwing stuff away I’m reminded of a fantastic rhyming book my kids read: “There’s no such place as away”. When we throw stuff “away”, it has to go somewhere. Think on that, and the 2-3pmg your bin lorry is doing, and make some changes.

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