Photo by Caroline Brady

Even though the price of electricity has been going down across the country, it looks like it’s going to cost more for electric-car owners.

The country’s 1,200 public electric-car-charging stations have until now been free to use. But starting in January, the Electricity Supply Board (ESB) plans to require payment.

Electric-car owners will pay a flat rate of €16.99 per month for access to all the charging stations. And from April, it’ll cost 30c per minute on top of that to use one of the country’s 80 “fast” chargers.

Fast chargers can provide an 80 percent charge in 20 minutes, meaning each charge will cost roughly €6. People have become accustomed to fuelling up their e-cars for free, but this is high even in comparison with the €1 to €3 it might cost to charge your car from a domestic electricity supply.

Should we kill this charge at charge points because it could discourage people from buying and driving these more environmentally friendly vehicles? Or have these electric-car drivers already been subsidised for long enough?

Current Perks

Besides basking in the sunny feeling that you are doing your fair share to protect the environment, there are other more practical perks to owning an electric car.

The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland provides substantial funding to help you buy the car. The ESB installs a charger in your home for free, a service worth roughly €900. And, up until now, charging your car at any public charger has been completely free.

The ESB says it has to introduce a payment structure to cover the cost of this service, and that even when it does, fueling an electric car will still cost only a fraction of the price of fuelling a petrol or diesel car.

Plus, the ESB doesn’t seem to be concerned about turning people off of the idea of electric cars. The company’s press officer, Paul Hand, says electric vehicle sales are forecast to reach 1 million worldwide this year. And sales are growing here in Ireland, too.

In the first three months of 2015, 196 electric cars were sold here. That’s nearly as many as the number sold in all of 2014: 222.

Hand also says the ESB is working with Dublin City Council to encourage people to buy electric cars.

Occasional Troubles

Despite the perks, electric cars can still be expensive and a bit of a hassle.

They are seen to deteriorate in value more quickly than petrol- or diesel-fuelled cars. Trips have to be carefully planned, so you know where you can charge up. And then there’s the competition for the charging spots.

When Susan Boyle was an e-car ambassador for Citroen for four months, every now and then someone would unplug her car so they could charge theirs. “I thought all e-car drivers were compassionate, because they care about the environment,” she laughs.

More frequently, she would find a regular car parked in a dedicated charging space. “People just aren’t aware,” she says.

Dublin city councillors are working on this last issue. At their most recent transport committee meeting, they passed a motion to clearly signpost all charging points and point “reserved” boxes in front of them.

Sinn Féin councillor Ray McHugh, who brought forward the motion, says Dublin should follow the example of Cork, which offers motorists free parking and free tolls if they have electric cars.

More Incentives?

ESB’s Paul Hand echoed these suggestions, and also proposed the use of bus lanes as an additional incentive for electric car drivers.

Gerry Wardell, director of Dublin energy agency Codema, was sceptical about this idea. “It’s good to get it going, but it can’t happen in the long term,” he said.

So was David O’Connor, a lecturer in transport planning at Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT). “Using bus lanes is not a good idea,” he says.

As O’Connor sees it, the greatest benefit of electric cars is that they are incredibly cheap to run in comparison with a normal car. “Tax is low, maintenance is low – there’s no engine – fuel costs are bizarrely low,” he says.

O’Connor estimates that it costs a couple of hundred euro to run an electric car for a year, versus €3,000-€5,000 to run a petrol or diesel car after tax, fuel, servicing and depreciation.

Brian Purcell of Nissan Ireland says an electric car will make fuel savings of more than 80 percent and road tax is the lowest there is at €120 per year. He adds that the newer models don’t depreciate too much in value, and that the newest Nissan Leaf’s range has reached 250km.

Where to Next?

Ireland has a grand target to reach 10 percent electric vehicle usage by 2020.

Wardell believes Dublin has had a great start. But we still need more chargers in car parks and a little more thinking outside the box, he says.

This is taken into account, to some extent, in the draft Dublin City Development Plan, which calls for further expansion of the city’s system of charging points.

The council has also introduced new by-laws to encourage car clubs; it hopes they might introduce electric cars. DIT’s O’Connor welcomes this, saying that Go Car is often used for short trips and that electric-car sharing has been a success in other cities, like Paris.

In the future, Wardell would like to see incentives to encourage the use of electric vehicles to bring small freight deliveries into the city centre.

He would also like to see taxi drivers going electric. Taxi trips are usually short and the cars could charge up between trips. “They spend enough time at taxi ranks,” he says.

Wardell believes The Square shopping centre in Tallaght would be the perfect place to try this out. Many locals don’t own cars and get a taxi home with their shopping, he believes electric taxis could be prioritised in some way.

One issue that will have to be dealt with is adjustments for those who don’t have the facility to plug their car into their house. O’Connor would like to see some sort of pilot scheme for apartment-dwellers rolled out.

Nissan’s Brian Purcell predicts that his company’s electric car sales will double next year. He believes employers in Dublin will begin installing chargers at the workplace soon – as some have in California.

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