FAQs - Electric Vehicles
How do I find out about the models that are available?
This is changing all the time, so the best thing to do is to go to the EV websites that promote EV purchasing and use. They are full of all sorts of useful info including reviews. Here are a few good ones:
Here in Portland, we have an amazing resource called Forth which is an EV showcase center with cars to rent or demo, information about charging locations in the city and the state and the latest on available incentives. It is an excellent resource for people curious about EVs or anyone wanting to try one before purchasing.
Are EV’s really cleaner than gasoline powered cars? Aren’t we just trading gasoline emissions for electricity emissions?
EV’s produce dramatically less greenhouse gas emissions than even the most fuel efficient gasoline powered vehicles. New data from the EPA shows that on average, and EV powered by electricity off the US grid is equivalent to a gasoline powered car that gets 80 mpg. This is up from 73 mpg only a year ago because the grid continues to get cleaner every day. And, an EV powered with renewable energy creates Zero emissions.
Are EV’s more carbon intensive to manufacture than regular automobiles?
Most of the manufacturing energy required to produce an EV is very similar to what it takes to build a regular gasoline powered internal combustion engine vehicle (ICE). The batteries however are more energy intensive to produce than the other parts of the vehicle so a typical EV will take between 15% to as much as 68% more energy to produce depending on the size of the battery pack. This difference however will be recovered very quickly once the vehicle begins operation. Because electricity is so much cleaner than burning gasoline, the additional manufacturing emissions will be recovered within 6-18 months of operation depending on the size of the battery, how much you drive and how clean the electricity you use. If you are charging with 100% renewable energy, that will cut this recovery time essentially in half. So, over the complete lifecycle of an EV, it will emit around half as much carbon as an equivalent gasoline or diesel powered vehicle and much less than that if it is charged with renewable energy. This data comes from a very careful 2 year study conducted by the Union of Concerned Scientists. Here is a link to that article which includes a great video explaining this.
What about the batteries - are the materials in EV batteries bad for the environment?
Most EVs are powered by lithium-ion batteries. This is the same battery technology that is in our cell phones, laptops and other cordless electric products. At the moment, the electronics industry is the largest user of these battery materials, but as EVs grow in popularity, they will become a large consumer as well. There are some legitimate concerns about the sourcing and disposal of these batteries which carmakers as well as electronics producers are grappling with. For instance, some countries who produce cobalt, an ingredient in many batteries, have histories of poor labor practices. Many companies like Tesla and Apple purposely source their materials to avoid those problems. Some newer battery lithium-ion technology does not use cobalt at all. Battery recycling has also become more available and viable and companies are emerging to drive the recovery of these expensive materials. Finally, battery technology is one of the largest areas for R&D investment in the world today. Progress on new battery technologies is being made which will continue to make them cheaper and easier to produce, and will avoid hard to source materials. Here is a link to a a good article from The Union of Concerned Scientists on this topic of the materials in batteries, but the bottom line is that the materials used to produce batteries should not be used as a reason to avoid switching to an EV.
Shouldn’t I wait until my current vehicle is past its useful life before replacing it with an EV?
Normally, it is best not to replace products in our lives unnecessarily. This is because for most things we purchase - products like clothing or furniture or housewares - the carbon emissions related to that item stem entirely from the energy that was consumed to manufacture it and ship it to you. So the damage has been done so to speak ,and the best thing to do is to use that product for as long as possible so that more energy does not have to be consumed to create a new one.
Products that consume fossil fuels for power - cars, water heaters, furnaces, stoves, lawn mowers etc. are a different case altogether. These devices emit greenhouse gasses every time they are turned on. They are sources of emissions. The emissions from their operation are many times greater than the emissions from their production. An automobile for example will produce 8 to 10 times more greenhouse gasses from its operation than were produced for its manufacture. Therefore, the sooner it is replaced with a clean electric car that produces no emissions, the better.
Imagine that the fleet of cars in this country are like a big pipe. Each year, 17 million new cars are put into one end of the pipe to join the others in the fleet. They will be driven around for about 15 years and then they will come out the other end of the pipe and be turned into scrap metal. Every year new cars enter the pipe and old useless cars exit the pipe. At the moment, the pipe is filled with gasoline burning automobiles which produce enormous amounts of greenhouse gasses. The sooner we fill the pipe with clean EVs and eliminate the gasoline burning cars, the sooner we can reduce our overall emissions and clean up our air. The only way to do this is to put more EVs into the pipe at the front end and to do this as quickly as possible. Each new EV purchased makes the overall fleet cleaner. This is why the best thing you can do is to let someone else drive your gasoline burning car around for the remainder of its lifetime and put a new clean EV into the fleet as soon as you are able. When you buy an EV you are also helping to influence others - your friends and neighbors will notice and it will send a signal that EVs are normal and practical, and this will make it easier for others to do it too.
Is charging an EV a pain?
One thing that EV owners learn immediately is that charging an EV is not the same concept as filling up your car with gas. We are used to diving our gasoline powered cars until the tank is nearly empty then filling up. This is partly because it is so unpleasant to go to the filling station. With an EV, it is common to top up regularly and rarely deplete the battery to near empty.
In daily driving that typically means starting every day unplugging from the wall with a full charge, driving to work or around town and then plugging back in at night to recharge. Typically you are using much less than a full charge in one day. This becomes the routine, and it sure beats going to the gas station.
If home charging is not available, charging at work can be a similar routine for those that have that option or going to a faster charger at a shopping mall or some other place you are planning to be for a few hours anyway.
How do I charge at home?
Many people worry that they will have to put in an expensive charger to power their EV. This is an option but not usually required. Your car will come with a portable mobile charger that can be plugged into any 120V wall socket as long as no other large appliances use that circuit (refrigerators for example). Typically such a charger will only provide about 2-6 miles of battery charge for every hour the car is plugged in. This will usually be plenty to cover most daily driving situations since most cars are driven less than 35 miles per day and over night charging will easily supply 50 miles of charge.
If you need more than that, you can install a larger dedicated circuit for your charging. A 240V amp circuit can provide from 10 - 60 miles of charge per hour.
Here is an article from the US Department of Energy on home charging.
What does Level 1, Level 2 and Level 3 charging mean?
Level 1 charging means charging from a typical 120V home electrical outlet and will usually only deliver 2-6 miles of charge per hour of charging which is plenty for most home charging situations.
Level 2 charging means charging from a 240V circuit and will usually deliver 10 - 60 miles of charge per hour of charging. This type of circuit can be installed in your home if you need that amount of charging speed. This is the typical charging speed that is available at most commercial chargers and works for all EVs. Most charging stations that businesses supply for employees are Level 2 and these are also often available at public parking lots and garages.
Level 3 charging is also called fast charging and uses a 480V circuit. This technology can provide as much as 100 -150 miles of range in 30 minutes or less depending on the vehicle and the charger. This level is only available at commercial charging stations and is not always compatible with all vehicle types. Check with your vehicle supplier before you buy your EV to understand what kind of fast charging your vehicle is capable of. Tesla provides their own network of Supercharging stations that provide Level 3 charging, while most other brands use the CHAdeMo chargers that are available from various independent charging station networks.
This article has a good description of the various charge levels and networks that are available for public use.
Tesla, VW and others are prototyping the next generation of fast charging technology that can charge up to twice as fast as current Level 3 chargers. This will start to approximate similar fill up times to what we are used to with gasoline powered cars and those should start showing up in limited numbers in 2019.
How much range do I need?
This really depends on how you use the car and how far you typically drive. For most daily driving, a range of 60 - 100 miles is completely adequate. Keep in mind that you may experience less than the advertised range due to many factors that include cold weather, use of the air conditioner, driving over hills etc. A safe rule of thumb for range is about 3/4 of the advertised range if you don’t want to flirt with disaster.
How does it work to travel long distances?
This is becoming easier and easier every day. Now it is not uncommon to find EVs with a range of 200 - 300 miles, and the models introduced in the next 12 months will offer new choices with long range capability. There are also more fast charging stations being deployed every month. Tesla has done a fantastic job of installing Superchargers along every major highway in most parts of the US. They are strategically located so that it is possible to travel very long distances with just a few stops along the way. Other fast charging stations are also quite easy to find along major highways. Here is a website with great information and maps for charger locations and planning where to charge along your route.
Driving long distance with an EV works best with regular short stops to recharge. This is because the fast charging stations will provide a lot of charge in the first 30 minutes, then start to slow down as the battery gets more full. If you stop every 2 hours or so for a cup of coffee or a snack or a bathroom break, your car can get 100 - 150 miles of charge in 20 - 30 minutes with the new fast charging technology.