I’m not rushing out to buy an electric car just yet, here’s why...

Electric cars are being mooted as the solution to all our problems - but Ailin Quinlan disagrees in her weekly column
I’m not rushing out to buy an electric car just yet, here’s why...

Ailin says she sees lots of problems with electric cars, regarding charging points and costs. Picture: Stock

SO here’s the thing. The little people never win. I’m not talking about leprechauns or pots of gold under rainbows, because there never are any pots of gold under any rainbows for us, the real-life little people.

They might tell you that the electric car is the solution to all our problems, but one thing that’s as sure as death or taxes, no matter what Minister Eamon Ryan says about his new electric car action plan, is you can bet it won’t be the pot of gold under your rainbow.

Many of us have been down this road before when the government got ants in its pants about a new scheme and promised all sorts of things. About 16 or 17 years ago, there was a lot of talk about another so-called pot of gold; this new-fangled thing called wood pellets.

Wood pellets were supposed to be way cheaper than oil to heat your home. The government even offered a grant, through, as I recall, the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI), to help you get in the necessary infrastructure.

At the time we were frazzled young parents with two jobs, a mortgage, childcare and all the other costs associated with living in your own home, raising a family and working full-time. Heating oil was expensive and the cost was rising.

Okay, we said, so let’s investigate wood pellets. So we did. The reports were very positive. Wood pellets were supposed to be much cheaper than oil and also very effective. In the end, we decided to bite the bullet.

Some time around Halloween, 2006, an enormous metal silo which holds three tonnes of pellets was delivered by truck in flat-pack. This was the outdoor depot for the pellets (there was also an indoor hopper for the shed). This huge outdoor silo had to be assembled immediately - and in one day - because a lorry was coming to fill it up and it had to be ready, because wood pellets could not be allowed to get damp, let alone wet. And the weather was bad.

Work began immediately. The day the silo arrived was horrific. It was lashing rain and sleet and it was extremely cold. It was so bad that my husband, his friend and our 10-year-old son first had to build a sort of plastic shelter under which they could begin the assembly work.

That horrendous day, I looked out at the three of them through the kitchen window and found myself thinking that for once I was really glad to be a woman. It took the three of them the whole day. There was an auger too which had to be connected to the hopper in the shed. Then it all had to be connected to the house because it was supposed to provide central heating at a much lower cost than electricity.

The big green oil tank was decommissioned. An elegant red Italian-made wood pellet stove, was installed in the kitchen. Happy days. Chink, chink, we thought. The sound of money being saved.

Well, lads, here’s the thing. As many of us are now beginning to fear in relation to the palaver around electric cars, all this talk about wood pellets being far cheaper than oil, turned out to be more wishful thinking than anything else.

The first thing we found was, contrary to all that we had heard and read, using the wood pellet infrastructure was just as expensive, if not more so, as the oil which we had just stopped using. The thing just gobbled pellets which, by the way, were still very new and could only be delivered from some place far up the country.

Eventually, we decided to turn off the wood-pellet central heating altogether and just use the pellet burner in the kitchen and to hell with heating the rest of the house. More duvets on the beds, basically.

A few years later, we installed a much bigger, more traditional-looking wood pellet stove. It was black, American-made and went into the sun-room off the kitchen.

This turned out to be a Godsend. This stove was actually meant to be left on low day and night in the depths of winter. You filled it up with buckets of pellets drawn from the hopper in the shed. And if you left the kitchen doors open, the black stove heated up the whole house, using a fraction of the pellets than the wood pellet central heating system.

The big black stove didn’t heat the radiators - it just heated the air, and the whole house warmed up and for a very reasonable cost.

But of course, the point is that contrary to everything we had been told, having a central heating system fuelled by wood pellets was prohibitively expensive. Just. Like. Oil.

So okay. These days, it’s electric cars. How cheap they are to run - well they will be when, er, the price of electricity finally comes down again. If it does. How there are going to be charging points everywhere you can think of from sports clubs to mobility hubs with €100 million to be invested in public charging infrastructure (ever think about the rate of vandalism in this country?) so that people who are not in a position to get a home charging unit can charge their cars at the nearest lamp-post.

The government, through the SEAI, even provides a grant towards the purchase and installation of a home charger unit. Ah, memories.

According to moneyguideireland. com, as of December, 2022, if you charge your car at your home charger overnight, and it’s a Nissan Leaf 40 Kwh which is the car they’re using as their model, you will get 100km out of it for about €3.40. If you charge it on the at-home meter during the day, a charge to do 100km would cost about €6.45.

Meanwhile, some of the public charging points will cost as much as €11 for the same charge. And it should not go unnoticed that last May the ESB raised its prices for charging at its public charging points by more than 50%.

As we all know too well - given that we can no longer boil a kettle without thinking about the cost of it - electricity prices have soared.

There are now reports that the cost of charging an electric car on the road in Britain has risen by nearly 60% in eight months - making these vehicles more costly to run on long journeys, than, er, traditional petrol motors.

The study in the UK also found that rapid charge points used by motorists topping up on long drives are now nearly £10 (or more than 11) more expensive than filling your car by petrol.

Another problem that people are discovering: although charging your electric car at home may still be cheaper than buying a tank of fuel at the pump, it’s significantly more expensive to do it at a charge, say at a public or not-at-home charging station.

We’re not that enormously different to Britain, generally speaking, so is any of this ringing any alarm bells? And what about the risk of your battery running flat somewhere in the back of beyond where there are no chargers every 60 km of motorway?

The Irish government might be claiming that it is ‘on track’ to reach its stated target of having nearly a million electric vehicles on the roads by the end of the decade.

The target is for 100% of new car registration to be electric within seven years, but I won’t be holding my breath - or rushing out to buy one. Not just yet anyway.

Because us, the little people, just tend not to win.

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