Owning an electric vehicle (EV) can be a lot of fun. They are much more environmentally-friendly than gas-powered vehicles, more reliable due to fewer moving parts/points of failure, you can enjoy reserved parking in many public lots, and your garage becomes your gas station. I’ve owned my EV for a year now and am continually surprised at many of the repeat questions people will ask me (see below).
ISN’T RANGE A PROBLEM?
This is the biggest question/concern that I hear from people. While I certainly won’t claim that the limited range of an EV will work for everybody, they can certainly work for far more than you might realize. Let’s break down the data:
The average American gas-powered vehicle averages less than 400 miles on a single tank of gas. That would mean a 13 gallon tank at 31mpg to just meet that mileage. Your typical smaller sedan has a 12 gallon tank and larger vehicles might have 15-16 gallon tanks (and a much higher hit to their fuel efficiency).
EVs currently have a wide spectrum of ranges. The Fiat 500e is rated at 84 miles on a single charge whereas the Tesla Model S can get up to 315 miles. Most EVs fall somewhere in the middle of these two. My car, a 2015 Nissan Leaf, gets about 110 miles on a single charge. As of 2018, newer models hitting the market are getting around 200+ miles. Range in an EV tends to be linearly proportional to the size of the battery, so as we see lithium ion battery production costs come down the ranges are getting better.
Having a total range of 110 miles is a huge gap from 400 miles. But before you dismiss EVs because of the range, ask yourself how frequently do you drive 400 miles in a day? 300 miles? 100? Speaking for myself, it’s pretty rare. My wife and I vacation across the lake in Michigan every year. That’s a single trip that is 97 miles. Clearly this is just my experience, but it is something to consider. I drive my car primarily as a commuter vehicle. My office is 15 miles away in downtown Chicago which means I’m driving 30 miles a day. I’ll charge my car on Tuesdays and Thursdays and otherwise I never think much about it.
The other thing to consider here is that most of us are used to driving a car that we want to keep as far away from a gas station for as long as possible. Our brains are wired to think that way because we want to save money on gas. Why would I want to fill up all the time? I’d be broke in a month. This isn’t the case with an EV, though. Every night when I pull into my garage, I plug in. My gas pump is my electrical outlet. I use a 120v charger that came with my car so it takes most of the evening, but 240v home chargers are available if speed is necessary.
HOW HIGH IS YOUR ELECTRIC BILL???
I’m not sure where the myth that EVs blow up your electric bill started, but the answer is that my bill increased by $11 per month to keep my car charged. That’s considerable savings compared to my wife’s 5 year old combustion-engine vehicle that requires $60-$80 of gas per month. Figuring out the impact to your home electric bill is pretty simple. Instead of burning gasoline you’re consuming stored energy measured in kilowatt-hours (kWh). Since your electricity usage is also measured by kWh usage, you can easily do the math to figure out the impact on your bill.
I’ll use my own car as an example:
I have 100 miles of range (110 but 100 is easier math) and I charge on Tuesdays and Thursdays, which means I charge after I’ve traveled 60 miles (30 per day). 60/100 is 60% of my total battery, which holds 30kWh of energy. 60% of my battery is 18kWh that I am recharging twice a week, for a total of 36kWh being drawn from my house per week. Over the course of a month that totals up to 144kWh, which my electric company (sourced by Arcadia Power) charges $0.08 per kWh for. 144 x 0.08 comes to a whopping $11.52 per month. Quite a bit cheaper than filling a gas tank.
In reality you will find that the necessity to charge can be a bit lower than the above estimate. The reason for this is that all EVs have regenerative braking, which is a fairly mature technology. When the wheels of your car are spinning, it is because there is energy transferred causing them to spin. When the brakes are applied, that energy is released, usually in the form of heat. Regenerative brakes capture a lot of that escaped energy and put it back into the battery. Relying on regenerative braking can alleviate a lot of strain on your battery, and further reduce the impact on your energy bill.
If it’s a possibility for you, you can even go one step further and source renewable energy for your home. Going 100% solar could mean that you have an electric bill of exactly $0. And if you’re sourcing renewable energy and driving an EV, your car is running on sunshine.
SO IT HAS ZERO EMISSIONS?
Yes…and no. This was actually the fact that later inspired me to co-found RePrint. Ever since my wife and I sold our condo and moved into a house in the Chicago suburbs I have been gradually reducing our reliance on wasteful appliances and tools. All of my lawn care is battery powered and we initially installed CFLs and are now switching to LED bulbs. When I bought an EV I thought to myself, ‘I must have totally zeroed out most of my impact.’ But I was dead wrong.
Yes, there is no tailpipe on my car. In fact, the first night I purchased it I was in the garage playing around with the dashboard and my wife walked out and noted, “Hey you’re sitting in here with the garage door closed and you’re not poisoning yourself!”
Unfortunately that isn’t the entire story for EV emissions.
First of all, there were carbon emissions during the manufacturing of your car that you cannot dismiss. Those emissions tend to add up to the equivalent of 100s of pounds of CO2e/year over the lifespan of the vehicle. What were those emissions? They were from the factory that produced it, the trucks that transported the steel that was used to manufacture the frame, the tires that still need to be replaced like any other car, etc.
The other easily ignored factor is the source of your home energy. The measured environmental impacts of how you charge your EV varies wildly from state to state and is entirely dependent on what kind of options you have for sourcing energy. Illinois is filthy and very reliant on coal. That makes my total emissions a decent bit higher than most (approximately ~4100lbs CO2e/year). My same car in my hometown has nearly triple the efficiency and only emits ~1300lbs CO2e/year. That’s a huge difference! For comparison, the average hybrid vehicle has about 6000lbs CO2e/year and the average gas vehicle is 8000lbs CO2/e. So while your footprint isn’t zero with an EV, it’s certainly a lot better than the alternatives.
Check out this site to play around with different EV models in your zip code to see how owning one would affect your environmental impact.