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Should you change what you drive? Is East Anglia ready for the electric revolution?

PUBLISHED: 16:02 25 September 2018 | UPDATED: 16:02 25 September 2018

The electric charging points at the new Crown Car Park in Ipswich. Picture: IPSWICH BOROUGH COUNCIL

The electric charging points at the new Crown Car Park in Ipswich. Picture: IPSWICH BOROUGH COUNCIL

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At the end of the last century diesel cars were the economical (and clean) answer to motorists prayers. Then hybrids and electric vehicles started making an appearance – but are they really the answer?

Plug-in hybrids, like this Toyota Prius, are becoming popular. Picture: TOYOTAPlug-in hybrids, like this Toyota Prius, are becoming popular. Picture: TOYOTA

Today motorists looking for the greenest and cheapest way of travelling are being seduced by an array of choices – but what is the best to maximise convenience, minimise price and offer premium practicality.

Ipswich’s new Crown Car Park has 28 spaces for electric car drivers to charge their vehicles and the borough is planning to install two more into the Elm Street car park.

Motorists do not have to pay extra to charge their vehicles on top of the car parking fee to use these chargers.

There are chargers in council-run car parks in Bury St Edmunds and Newmarket – but you have to be a member of the Polar charging network and book in advance before you use them.

The Nissan LEAF is one of the new breed of all-electric cars. Picture: NISSANThe Nissan LEAF is one of the new breed of all-electric cars. Picture: NISSAN

There are no charging points at present in council car parks in Colchester – but there are at some other locations in the town. The website www.zap-map.com has details of public charging points.

Other organisations are also starting to install charging points – the National Trust has started putting them in some of their most popular properties.

Public charging points will put power into an electric vehicle faster than a home charger – taking between 30 minutes to two hours to charge up a vehicle.

To fully charge a car to maximise its range will usually cost about £3.60 at home and take about 7.5 hours. Many chargers are put on an overnight electric tariff to reduce this cost.

The new Crown Car Park in Ipswich opened in July. Picture: IPSWICH BOROUGH COUNCILThe new Crown Car Park in Ipswich opened in July. Picture: IPSWICH BOROUGH COUNCIL

Most mass-market all-electric cars will give you an advertised range of up to about 160 miles, although like other vehicles the harder you drive them, the lower the range. Someone doing regular motorway trips might be lucky to get 100 miles out of a full charge.

Electric car user Charles Brookson who lives near Stowmarket said the infrastructure was improving: “The new charging points in the Crown car park are very good – and if you know where to look you can travel around quite freely.

“We have a BMW with an 80-mile electric range and a two-gallon petrol tank as a back-up. We can get from Suffolk to Lancashire on one charging stop at Grantham with that.

“Charging points can easily be found – there’s one we use at the Minsmere bird reserve and several Adnams pubs have them!”

The old combustion engine – whether petrol or diesel – looks to be living on borrowed time. The government has said it wants to stop new cars with old technology being registered in the UK after 2040 (but that’s a long time away and there’s plenty of opportunity to go back on that promise).

And there are a slightly bewildering array of vehicles on offer – with very different levels of practicality.

As well as the petrol or diesel vehicles that most of us already drive there are four different forms of power on offer to drivers – and a fifth that could be offered in the near future.

Hybrid: The first hybrid car, the Toyota Prius, was launched in 1997. It includes an electric motor charging batteries while the vehicle is running, which in turn help the engine and can power the car for short distances. You still need the petrol engine to be running most of the time, but it greatly improves the miles per gallon figure. Modern hybrids do allow the petrol engine to cut out periodically – which makes them especially efficient on urban trips. New hybrids start from about £13,000.

Plug-in hybrid: A development of the hybrid, these cars have a more powerful battery that can be charged externally and gives drivers the ability to make journeys of up to about 30 miles on electric power alone before switching to the engine and operating as a “normal” hybrid. Ideal for drivers doing a lot of urban miles, but who sometimes need to travel long distances. Prices start from about £30,000.

Petrol-electric cars: Cars that are powered by electric motors which are powered by batteries charged from the mains but also have a petrol generator for longer journeys. Not so many of these are around, but there are some on the second-hand market.

Electric cars: Many manufacturers are now building all-electric vehicles powered by batteries that have to be charged regularly. They now offer a range of up to 150 miles – but charging can take some time and you have to find charging points. But for short or medium-length journeys they are ideal. Prices start from about £26,000.

However with an all-electric car you are effectively buying the fuel – ie the batteries – at the same time as the car itself. The cost of the electricity to recharge it amounts to about 2-3p a mile, a fraction of the cost of petrol or diesel.

Hydrogen Fuel Cells: The “Holy Grail” of the motor industry. They use hydrogen as a fuel and their only emission is water – but there are very few around and even fewer places to fill up. They are very expensive to buy (at present) with the cheapest costing £53,000 for a fairly average-looking hatchback.

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