Your Top 4 Questions on Electric Vehicles, Answered

National Drive Electric Week kicked off Saturday with more than 30+ events scheduled across the Southeast. If you haven’t checked one out yet, you still have a chance. Find an event near you here.

Nearly 400,000 electric vehicles (EVs) have been sold in the U.S. in the last five years. Early owners of EVs, regardless of their motivations for purchasing their first one, are finding that EVs not only save them money and are cleaner for the environment, but they are really fun to drive. SACE supports EVs because they are cutting are nation’s oil consumption and reducing air pollution. As the world’s largest consumer of oil, it’s critical that we reduce demand – for energy and economic security and for the climate. When I’m out talking with groups about EVs, I get many questions about the feasibility of driving an EV.

Below I address the top 4 most common questions:

1) What do you do when the battery gets low? Well, you “fill” up. I’ve been very surprised by how common this question is. Like gasoline vehicles, there are many tools on the dash that let you know when your battery is running low and how much range you have left, which means that you really never need to worry. It’s not much different than a visit to the gas station, but much more convenient – you can charge AT HOME. There are primarily three types of charging options: Level 1, 2, and 3. Level 1 charging is just like plugging in your phone. Your car comes with a standard charger that you simply plug into a 120 volt household wall outlet. This is often called “trickle” charging. You get approximately 3-5 miles of driving range added per hour or 25-40 miles range added during 8 hour workday. Level 2 is very common in public charging locations, but many people also have Level 2 chargers installed at their homes. Level 2 charging doubles your charging range from Level 1. You will get approximately 10-25 miles of driving range per hour of charging. The fastest charging available – Level 3 –  is called DC Fast Charging. You can get 60-80 miles of driving range in under 30 minutes.

Snapshot of Charging Stations Available Using Plugshare

Public charging infrastructure is also growing rapidly to ease “range anxiety.” Local government offices, shopping centers, businesses, and hotels are adding charging as amenities for their customers, employees and tenants. One of my favorite apps, available on most phones, is Plugshare. It’s a great tool that allows you to map charging stations or find a station near you. It also includes notes from users who have checked in to charging stations or comments on the site, amenities around a charging station or if a station is in operation. Most public charging stations that you will find today are Level 2, but the number of DC Fast Charging stations is growing rapidly and we see this, as well as extended battery range, as an important tool for greater EV adoption.

2) How far can you go? This was one of my biggest concerns when I decided to go electric. I was quickly surprised by how much less I drove than I thought. And that is true for many. More than 69% of people drive less than 60 miles per day and 80% of people drive fewer than 100 miles per day. This is well within the range of EVs available today. Battery range (at an affordable price) is also improving. Tesla, a leader in battery technology, has been a model for both demonstrating, and exceeding, expectations about EV performance and battery range. The Model S gets approximately 265 miles on a single charge. Most new models of the most popular EVs will have better range than the previous models. While today’s EVs may not work for everyone, the number of vehicle types on the market are growing.

3) I only see the Nissan LEAF and Tesla on the road, what other EVs are available? These are two of the most common EVs today. In fact, the Nissan LEAF is the most popular EV in the world today. But many new vehicles are now available – Ford, Chevrolet, Volkswagon, Toyota, Mitsubishi, BMW, Mercedes and others now have an EV available. The Kia Soul EV is also the new kid on the block, growing in popularity due to its SUV feel. We are expected to see a new Chevy Volt (which is a plug – in electric hybrid (it has gasoline “back up”) and the Nissan LEAF with greater electric range coming out soon. For a couple of great EV guides, visit here and here.

4) Aren’t EVs just as dirty as gasoline vehicles when charging in the South? This is a very common question. In the Southeast, with one of the “dirtiest” grids in the country, it’s true that EVs driven here are not emissions-free across their life cycle, but they are still cleaner than most gasoline vehicles on the road today. In New York or even North Carolina, with cleaner electricity grids, EVs produce lower emissions than even the most fuel-efficient hybrids. Thus, driving a Nissan LEAF in New York and North Carolina is equivalent to driving a gasoline car that gets 84 mpg or 60 mpg, respectively. That’s pretty impressive.

When exclusively powered by a renewable source of energy, like solar or wind, an EV produces the emissions equivalent of a gasoline-powered vehicle that gets 500 mpg. Also, oil isn’t getting any cleaner, but electricity is. In most states, the grid is getting cleaner every day – numerous coal plants are closing and renewable energy is growing. There are also new tools for determining the benefits – Union of Concerned scientists explains it here.

Bottom line: EVs are clean, affordable and really fun to drive. While I can tell you how great they are, nothing beats getting behind the wheel of the vehicle yourself. If you’re curious, there is still time to catch an EV event this week. Find an event near you here.

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1 Comment

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“Level 2 charging doubles your charging range from Level 1.” (BTW, it should be charging rate rather than charging range.)

This isn’t quite true. IIRC, the slowest level 2 charger in a commercial vehicle is 3.3kW. On level 1, 120V, the default maximum charge rate is 12A since the safest assumption is a 15A circuit. This is 1440W or 1.44kW. There is some overhead and inefficiencies so not all 1.44kW makes it to the battery. In the case of my 2016 KIA Soul EV+ this overhead is in the 300-400W range depending on ambient temperature. This overhead doesn’t significantly change when charging on level 2. Even if the EVSE tells the car to only draw 12A at 240V (2.88kW) the overhead doesn’t double so the amount of energy going into the battery is more than double. In the case of the 3.3kW chargers there is nearly a three fold increase in battery charge rate. My KIA has a 6.6kW charger so at full power level 2 is about six times faster than on level 1. This can easily be accomplished by a “dryer” circuit.

I think it important to let people know that level 2 has several different rates and to go for the higher rate on board chargers, and that it is significantly faster than just double the level 1 charge rate. Another thing to add is that they should get a car with a DCFC port even if they don’t think they will use it. The value of the car will be higher and they might be surprised how much they use it when they have it.

Comment by David D. Nelson on September 27, 2015 2:59 pm

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