Electric Vehicles: Plugging into an Exciting, Cleaner Future

July 21, 2017
By Dave Hrivnak
Member of the Green Team

Major technological shifts fascinate me, as I have had the chance to witness several of them.   For those of us in Kingsport, TN, we likely all remember the rapid shift from film photography to digital.   I have seen similar shifts with cell phones, microwave ovens, and flat screen TV’s.   Now I believe we are about to witness an even larger shift to electric cars.   Over the past 5 years electric vehicles (EV’s) have seen a healthy and consistent 50% growth each year.  But it appears this year with the release of the Chevy Bolt, Tesla Model 3, Chrysler Pacifica minivan and other new cars we will start seeing 100+% growth rates for the next few years.  

The biggest benefit of the EV's is the fact they are much cleaner than gasoline cars.   When you include the refining, a gallon of gasoline adds 24 lbs of CO2 to our atmosphere.   At a new car average of 25 mpg that is nearly 1 lb for every mile driven.   At an average of 13,500 miles/year that is 13,000 lbs of pollution for every driver, every year.

In the USA, we average 1.18 lbs CO2/KWh to make electricity.   For a car like the Nissan Leaf, you can go 3.3 miles per KWh for an average .354 lbs of CO2/mile.   At 13,500 miles/year that is 4779 lbs of CO2, an amazing 60% reduction over your average gasoline car.   But it can get better.   Many EV drivers have gone the further step of adding solar to their home allowing them to drive emission free.   But even if you do not add solar the world is.   Clean wind and solar are the largest source of new energy being added to the grid.   So each year the grid gets cleaner.

Another nice benefit of an electric car is running costs.  At $2.50 gas, and 25 mpg that is $.10/mile just for fuel in a gas car.   At the national average of $.12/KWh an EV is only $.036/mile, a nice 64% reduction.   With an EV there are no oil changes, no belts, no exhaust, no transmission, no tune ups so maintenance is much less.   Even brakes last much longer thanks to regenerative breaking that helps put power back into your battery at every stop.   With the $7500 federal tax credit an EV is now cost competitive on the purchase price as well.

EV's are a blast to drive as you get instant torque from an electric motor allowing them to jump off the line.   Then with the batteries set low in the car they handle better than their gasoline counterparts.  

There are two broad classes of plug-in cars.   The plug-in hybrids like the Chevy Volt, Prius Prime, Ford Fusion Energy, BMW X5 or Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid; allow one to drive 20 – 50 miles on pure EV mode.   This allows one to cover most local trips emission free.   Then for longer trips a gasoline engine kicks in allowing the cars to drive like normal hybrids where both the gas engine and electric motor help drive.

Then you have the full battery powered cars with no gasoline engine as a backup.   Top sellers in this category are the Tesla Model S, Nissan Leaf, Tesla Model X, Chevy Bolt, BMW I3, Ford Focus Electric.   Some of these like the Leaf, I3 and Ford Focus are designed as city cars with a range from 70-110 miles.   But others like the Tesla’s and Chevy Bolt go over 200 miles on a charge and support fast DC quick charging.   Some manufactures like Tesla has built an extensive super charging network, now over 2,636 plugs at over 373 locations in North America.   Most Tesla’s will go over 250 miles on a charge and with a 45 minute stop you are ready for another 250 mile leg on your trip.   Additionally, Tesla has installed over 2100 destination chargers for easy overnight recharging or charging while dining.   This is in addition to the more than 16,100 public charging stations across the country.

So if you are concerned about the environment or just want to save money, check out the new crop of plug-in cars.