#BigSummerEnergy Series: Are Electric Vehicles Right For You?

Pros, cons, lifestyle changes, environmental impact, and general questions around electric vehicles. Are they the right choice for you?

#BigSummerEnergy Series: Are Electric Vehicles Right For You?

Welcome to the #BigSummerEnergy Sustainability Series! This summer we’re dedicating our research to all that we love about summer through the lens of informing sustainable choices and presenting that knowledge in a way that feels useful and understandable.

Temperatures aren’t the only thing rising right now - the rising cost of gas has been continuous and steep this year. Whether you own or lease a car, you might be tempted to explore the world of electric vehicles (EVs) but have hesitations.

Being a leaseholder for a Honda HR-V myself, I’ve been looking to learn whether going hybrid or fully EV is the next best move. Here’s my overview of the pros, cons, lifestyle and questions around electric vehicles:

What types of vehicles can be electric?
Electric vehicles include cars, buses & trucks. There are 3 types of electric vehicles:

  • BEVs - Battery electric vehicles (battery pack stores electricity)
  • PHEVs - Plug-in hybrid (combine gas engine with rechargeable battery)
  • HEVs - Hybrid electric (regenerative battery and gas engine)

Most major car companies: Audi, BMW, Chevrolet, Ford, Hyundai, Jaguar, Kia, MINI Cooper, Nissan, Porsche, Tesla, Volkswagen and Volvo now offer parallel electric battery options from compact sedans to SUVs.

What’s the difference between a hybrid car and an electric vehicle?
The difference between battery electric vehicles (BEVs), plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs), and hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) is the technology that makes the car run - essentially what powers them (engine, battery, or both).

HEVs have been around for quite some time now (think Andy Bernard’s Prius in The Office circa 2009), and they’re pretty neat. While still gas powered, HEVs include a regenerative battery that collects energy when the car brakes. Hybrid electric vehicles cars don’t plug in and recharge, and use less gasoline than a fully gas-powered engine.

PHEVs are hybrid but instead of a regenerative battery, they use a charging port as well as a gas powered engine (more on charging later). So their electric component mirrors the BEVs, which are fully powered by electric battery via charging ports.

How far can you drive an electric vehicle?
The range of mileage between full charges is 100-500 miles depending on the model. This resembles the same range for an average tank of gas as most fuel powered cars can go between 200-400 miles on a full tank of gas, the discrepancy depending on the size of the tank, the mileage per gallon of each car, and highway driving versus local driving.  

Just like with any car, you have to charge or fill up when you near the end of your battery or tank. It may take time to understand how close is cutting it too close, but smartly, electric vehicles anticipate that charge anxiety and automatically alert drivers to get to a station soon with a route to the nearest charging port.

Presently, there are over 1 million electric vehicles, which sounds like a lot but is only 1% of registered vehicles in the US. If you look at the map of charging stations across the United States - there is a lot of existing infrastructure for EVs already.

Does it feel different driving an electric vehicle?
You’re still driving a car! But, there are some noticeable differences.

One of the big ones is no engine noise, which until you don’t hear it, you may not realize how much you rely on it to gauge your speed and announce yourself to pedestrians and other vehicles. That also means that you can gain speed quickly.

EVs have two pedals, just like fuel powered cars. But in order to drive most efficiently (for the battery), there is a learned nuance to foot pedal pressure - and like any car - being slow and gradual will maximize the battery.

EVs welcome a new anxiety to town - range anxiety - kind of like when your phone battery is getting low and you’re not near a charge - the feeling in which your vehicle isn’t fully charged and you have to go do something. Fear not, it’s the same thing as having your gas light on and missing the exit for the gas station - it’s just where and when you power your car that makes it a different habit.  

How much does it cost to charge an electric vehicle, and how often do they charge?
The cost to charge an electric vehicle depends on the battery size and localized price of electricity. On average the cost per mile is $0.04, so if your car supports 200 miles of driving, that would be $8.00 to charge. The Alternative Fuels Data Center provides great resources to calculate and learn more about energy efficiency and renewable energy.

For drivers going more than 100 miles/day, unwilling to take charging breaks for 45 minutes, electric vehicles are not ready for you yet. Additionally, for people living in very cold conditions or triple-digit temperatures, electric vehicles react differently in extreme conditions and could impact the mileage range per charge.

How do you charge an electric vehicle and what if you don't have your own driveway?
You might notice already that charging stations have popped up at supermarkets, gas stations, parking garages and workplaces near you. But, it can still feel like a risk to get a full EV without knowing that your typical day has the infrastructure in place to support your vehicle needs.

There are charging options for at-home, which can take a few hours (for instance - plan to charge overnight), or at your gas station (which right now is a quick charge of about 20-30 minutes). To charge at home requires access to a wall socket.

The types of chargers presently available for EVs come in 3 levels:

  • Level 1 (L1) is adapted to most outlets but takes 12-20 hours
  • If you choose to install a new home charger, that’s typically a level 2 (L2), which produces a full charge in 3-5 hours
  • Level 3 (L3) chargers are the type available in public areas and commercial super charging stations, which fully charge batteries in 30-45 minutes

If you live in an apartment building or don’t have a driveway, garage, or if you’re not sure how to access electricity like that -  talk to your building management before going for an electric vehicle. If there’s nothing available, look to your local legislation for that request.

How much do electric vehicles cost, is there a cost benefit to EVs?
Electric vehicles tend to be priced higher than fuel-powered cars, most estimate the price gap to be around $10,000, but there are a lot of money savings and incentives that can offset that price difference.

That extra cost is due to the high price of the vehicle battery. But like most emerging markets, the more popular electric vehicles become, the lower the costs will be to produce them, dropping the costs to buy or lease.

There will be immediate cost savings through charging ($8 to fully charge versus $60 for a tank of gas!), and various rebate programs and tax incentives (more on that below) that quickly bring down the initial price gap in purchasing costs.

One thing to note is - if and when - an electric vehicle needs repairs, it’s not a vehicle you can take to your typical auto repair shop, and that makes sense since EVs don’t have a typical combustion engine nor all the engine part parts. You can expect to have fewer repairs. For now, those repairs may be priced higher as EV repair is a still considered a specialized service. But, as EVs become more prevalent, all of these costs will go down too.

Knowing the fluidity of the electric vehicle market, especially in the nascency of regulations and technology, I’m currently more interested in leasing before buying.

Do all states support electric vehicles?
While each state has different momentum on how they’re creating an EV infrastructure, there has been some federal support and corporate focus to increase a nationwide network of EV charging station and a general investment in clean energy. The federal government as well as a few states offer tax rebates up to $7,500 when you choose an electric vehicle.

Presently, it seems that different states are leading the charge (no pun intended) on setting up and incentivizing the creation of an environment that supports electric vehicles in partnership with their power grids.

The states leading the way for EVs are: California, Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Florida, Texas, Maine, Vermont, New York, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Arizona, Hawaii, and Washington D.C.

The worst states for electric vehicles? Alaska, North Dakota and South Dakota.

It’s summer, where are we going in an electric vehicle?
It wouldn’t be the #BigSummerEnergy series without suggesting the best road trips around the United States best suited with an electric vehicle. Considering free charging stations, number of charge points at each stop, quality of chargers, and beautiful attractions around, Luxury Travel Magazine came up with a top 5 list of road trips perfect for EVs.  

Check out:

Some tips for road travel include choosing hotels with charging stations, utilizing RV parks that come equipped with electricity ports, and driving in the summer over winter to maximize battery longevity. Electrify America can help any EV driver to find a charging station ASAP.

And you don’t just have to travel in the United States, a lot of the world is poised to support electric vehicle travel - view these global road trip destinations!

How good are electric vehicles for the environment? Are they the best option?
In thinking about fossil fuels, electric vehicles have a smaller carbon footprint than gas powered cars. It has been proven that after 18 months of driving an EV, they surpass and outperform fuel powered cars in total greenhouse gas emissions.

But, from a sustainability perspective, electric vehicles are not the end-all-be-all answer. Why?

First – the grid. The electricity that charges batteries comes directly from the power grid available, which could be fossil fuels or clean renewable energy. So, depending on the state will affect just how clean your EV runs, but it is cleaner than fuel powered, no matter what.

Second – the batteries are made of rare earth elements (REE) such as lithium, nickel, cobalt or graphite. These require extraction and commoditization that is not only polluting but can also lead to conflicts that we see with many of earth’s nonrenewable materials. The effect of mining disrupts environments and that is not a fair trade off.

Third – we have to consider the battery waste and whether they can be properly recycled? Perhaps partially, but presently it’s not a well thought out part of the life cycle. Because they’re relatively new to the market, it may be 10-15 years before we see fleets of EVs being recycled or disposed of. It’s not all bad news though, and there are a lot of debates on what lithium batteries can do in their second life.

Is the future electric vehicles? How can EVs become more sustainable?
Electric vehicles are happening right now! And there will be a lot more of them in our future. The infrastructure is being enhanced to support them and make them more affordable. It’s only a matter of time before they are the prevalent choice in automobile market.

But, are they the most sustainable choice in transportation? Yes and no.

If alongside electric vehicles, states started to ensure that power grids were powered through clean, renewable energy like solar, wind and hydro, that would make the carbon footprint of electric vehicles much more attractive. Additionally, if lithium battery removal was ensured to be recyclable leading to less waste and less mining, then we’re looking at a much cleaner future for transportation.

In many ways, a sustainable future for transportation depends on where you’re going. For instance, transportation within cities and towns - the best choice is travel via public transportation, biking and walking. These are the kindest options for your wallet, health and the environment.

For longer distances, electric and hybrid vehicles are better than fuel powered, but don’t overlook public transportation on buses and trains - especially electric powered ones! While plane travel still plays a big role in negative environmental impact, they too are on the way to a cleaner, electric future by 2026.

And for all the water lovers this summer - look out for electric boats now! As the size and weight of batteries decrease, we’ll begin to see more recreational electric boats grace our waterways. Especially those getting $30 million in venture capital.

>>> Our take:

EVs are going to become more and more the norm, which will continue to offset the costs, answer pressing environmental questions and help ease lifestyle changes that may give you pause today. Millions of drivers in the United States and the world are rocking electric vehicles already and loving it, so it's up to you to deduce whether you're ready for it!