October 25, 2022

Electric cars: let's dispel some preconceptions

From specialized magazines to the palaces of power, from the local bar to university lecture halls, there is a lot of talk – a lot – about electric cars. Their owners love them, many people want them or are curious, yet there are still those who just aren’t interested. Some people even belittle them, perhaps fuelling some false preconceptions that we will try to dispel below.

Breathable air

Let's start from an indisputable aspect: electric vehicles do not emit exhaust fumes, since their motors (electric cars have motors, not engines) completely lack combustion processes. This aspect, in itself, is already an advantage in urban centers, where the massive spread of these vehicles would make the air far cleaner and more breathable. Think, for example, of all the times you close the window because you're stuck behind an old (and noisy) diesel bus: wouldn't you prefer, perhaps, that it was electric?

Clean energy

This is why those who do not believe in the sustainability of battery-powered cars target the energy sources, considering them not very clean and perhaps taking electricity produced with coal as their cue. The facts do, however, contradict this preconception. For example, anyone who connects their vehicle to Enel X Way’s public charging infrastructure in Italy uses 100% electricity produced from certified renewable energy sources (RES). In any case, the share of RES in the national energy mix is destined to grow, so much so that it reached 42.32% in 2021, compared to 5.07% of energy obtained from coal and 0.88% from petroleum products (GSE data). Moreover, the deadlines imposed by the stringent European objectives are getting closer and closer: among these, “Fit for 55” requires a 55% reduction in CO₂ emissions produced in Europe by 2030 compared to 1990. We are talking about a pivotal and necessary step, in view of the more ambitious Net Zero goal, i.e., the zeroing of carbon dioxide emissions, which includes both their reduction and the compensatory measures, by 2050. The Enel Group, for its part, has set itself the goal of achieving carbon neutrality as early as 2040, while in 2027 it will completely abandon coal as an energy source. This is why electricity, which is already largely “clean” today, is destined to become increasingly “green.” This is also confirmed in a study by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT), according to which emissions in the life cycle of medium-low range electric vehicles are 66-69% lower than today's gasoline cars in the same segment. It’s a difference which, according to the ICCT itself, will reach 74-77% in 2030.

Green production

We now turn to the topic of vehicle production. What has been stated about the European objectives also applies to the continent’s industries: the reduction (or compensation) of emissions also involves the assembly of cars. Audi, which will only sell electric vehicles from 2026 onwards, has, for example, declared its intention to achieve carbon neutrality in its plants from 2025, and other car manufacturers are on the same path. A study by the Yale School of Environment has already identified significantly lower CO₂ emissions along the entire electric vehicle supply chain, even when taking into account raw material extraction and processing, as well as battery production.

Reuse and disposal

Batteries are a hotly debated topic when it comes to electric cars, especially in terms of their disposal at the end of their life. In reality, an alternative solution is increasingly emerging: those with a residual capacity of 75-80% can still be used as storage systems. Second life batteries, in particular, are useful in supporting photovoltaic systems, in the home or in larger solar parks. The Enel Group, for example, launched Endesa's Second Life project some time ago. This involves the use of 48 used Nissan batteries (and another 30 new ones, for comparison) in the Melilla power plant, guaranteeing an emergency electricity supply to the Spanish town for 15 minutes in the event of a site being disconnected from the grid. Furthermore, second life batteries will be essential for bidirectional (vehicle-to-grid) charging systems, thanks to which parked cars will be able to return part of their energy to the charging network during peak demand, guaranteeing an economic return for the motorist. Apart from the reuse scenario, battery disposal is still possible. Current recycling technologies allow the recovery of almost all of the materials contained therein, so much so that, in the future, the use of virgin materials for the production of storage cells will be drastically reduced.

Possible journeys

Having overcome the environmental concerns of those attracted by electric mobility, the issue of autonomy must now be addressed. Several battery-powered car models are already approaching an effective range of 500 km of actual use, as demonstrated by Quattroruote (an Italian car magazine), but electric cars with smaller batteries also have adequate autonomy for daily journeys, even with a partial recharge: basically, how many of you always make a point of completely filling up your gasoline car? The same is true for BEVs: a reduced charge may be more than sufficient for urban journeys, where, moreover, the recovery of energy during deceleration helps the vehicle travel further. And if you are planning a long journey, don't worry: ultrafast charging stations are increasingly widespread on the highway network, with output powers even higher than 150 kW. Here you can fill up with electricity in the time of a brief stop in the service areas, perhaps those few minutes needed to stretch your legs and eat a sandwich. Moreover, the Italian government’s 2021 Budget sets the objective of having recharging infrastructures of this type installed on average every 50 km by highway concession companies. As we have shown with some itineraries for your holidays, it is already possible to travel throughout Italy with a modern electric car, taking advantage of short stops in the service areas on the highway network. Moreover, in Italy there are over 30,000 available charging points where you can restore the autonomy of your e-car.

Falling price lists

All that remains is to face what is considered by many to be the main obstacle to the spread of electric cars: their price. In fact, the price lists for these vehicles are higher than those of cars in the same category with a traditional engine, but there is no shortage of national and local incentives that significantly reduce the amount. In many cases, anyone ordering an electric car subscribes to long-term leasing or rental contracts. They can also buy the car by adhering to financial formulas with the possibility of returning the vehicle as an alternative to paying the final maxi-instalment (equal to the residual value foreseen at the time of the order), perhaps to switch to a new, more up-to-date BEV. In similar cases, the list price becomes a virtual value and the outlay less burdensome, while waiting for the amounts to become equal to or lower than those of traditional vehicles. According to a study by BloombergNEF, this will happen between 2025 and 2027, thanks to the fall in battery prices.

Light maintenance

The price list for the car is, however, only one of the parameters that make up the total cost of ownership, which also includes fixed costs, maintenance and refuelling (and the residual value of the vehicle subtracted). We are talking about elements that help make car maintenance more affordable, starting with the exemption from road tax (on average for the first five years, with a sharp reduction starting from the sixth) provided by the various Italian regions. Maintenance, burdened by fewer items, is cheaper, as is the outlay for refuelling, so much so that the overall cost of a battery-powered vehicle can even be lower than that of a traditional car: that’s a great reason to choose electric mobility.


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