They’re cool. They’re supposedly green. And yes, electric vehicles (EV) can be confusing. Check out the real-world answers below to seven classic EV questions. We’ve even discovered some crazy sweet (like $10,000 sweet) EV coupons that expire Sept. 30. Maybe it’s time to go electric?
With Volvo discontinuing selling gas engine cars by 2019, BMW already launching an EV and Mercedes Benz and Volkswagen rolling out their own models soon, it’s clear that electrically powered cars will become mainstream.
The Top 7 EV questions:
1. What is an electric vehicle?
Instead of a gasoline-powered internal combustion engine, an EV is powered either fully or partially by a battery that the car owner recharges regularly.
Some EVs, like a Tesla or Chevy Bolt, are 100 percent electric and do not have gas engine backups. Others are called plug-in hybrids, such as Toyota’s Prius Plug-in Hybrid, and are powered by both a gas engine and a battery that is charged regularly by the owner.
Today’s article does not focus on a third category: Hybrids. A hybrid, like the regular Toyota Prius or Honda Accord Hybrid, have gasoline-powered engines assisted by a battery and usually achieve 40 to 50 mpg. Hybrid batteries are not charged by the owner, but are replaced around 150,000 miles.
2. How far will an EV drive on one charge?
Newer lithium-ion battery technology has dramatically improved, and so have EV driving ranges. As the graph below illustrates, many EVs cover more than 100 miles on a single charge. According to 2009 data from the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration, 93 percent of vehicle trips on a given travel day moved less than 100 miles. Because there is not a gasoline-powered back up engine, EV owners must manage charging the battery.
3. How and where do you charge EVs?
Charging EVs depends on where you live, work and how many miles you typically drive.
Most EV owners with commutes ranging from 30 to 80 miles charge their EVs at home during the night, then go to work and charge while they’re working. EV owners with long-range batteries — 200 to 300 miles — charge every few days and usually at home.
Most EV owners install a 240-volt charger somewhere accessible to their electric car on their property. EV chargers act just like gas pumps, but they’re in your own garage. The electric charger is attached to a long, thick cord, similar to a gas pump, and you “click” the charger into the car. Charging times vary from overnight to a few hours, based on the charger and battery type.
Offsite EV chargers are popping up everywhere, especially in urban areas like Baltimore City. Within a 30-mile radius from downtown, there are 700+ public chargers at theaters, stores, malls, apartment buildings, congregations, hotels and even MTA Park-and-Ride lots. Some chargers are free to use, while others some charge per kilowatt.
The nonprofit Maryland Electric Vehicle Initiative has been key to helping increase Baltimore’s charger accessibility and raising Maryland’s EV awareness.
“Our priority is to create user-friendly transportation hubs where Marylanders can live and work anywhere and have access to a sustainable transportation system that links people to roads, buses, subways and bike lanes,”said Jill Sorensen, director of the Maryland Electric Vehicle Initiative. “Electric Vehicles are the heart of this strategy with charging stations located wherever drivers need them.”
Maryland offers businesses and homeowners EV charger rebates to help offset the costs of installing an EV charger. Installing one at home costs between $400 to $1,400. Typical EV electricity usage is about $50 per month, which still amounts to between $1,000 and $1,500 in yearly gasoline savings.
4. Are EVs eco-friendly?
In the future, absolutely. Today, it depends on how “clean” the electricity is that’s charging the battery.
Choosing a fuel-efficient car is the no. 1 change to cut your carbon footprint; your car’s tailpipe pollution amounts to 50 percent of your climate change emissions.
The reason that Uncle Sam (up to a $7,500 tax credit) and states offer steep incentives for EVs is that the U.S. energy grid is getting cleaner as power plants push coal to the side in favor of renewable energies, even natural gas. (It’s arguable that fracked gas equals coal emissions due to methane leakage, but that’s another story.)
Given Maryland’s current electricity fuel mix, with one-third coal-fired generated, even driving an EV on plain ol’ BGE electricity reduces emissions by half. Nuclear, gas and renewables make up the remaining two-thirds. Since Maryland has committed to 25 percent renewable energy by 2020, carbon emissions should continue to drop.
EVs are super green when homeowners install solar panels to power them with the sun. Tesla, which also owns Solar City, has bet its business strategy on EV owners installing solar panels, or a super-cool Tesla Solar Roof coupled with a Tesla Powerwall battery, ensuring that EVs are powered off-grid and pollution-free.
Today in Maryland, EV owners can take two minutes and switch their home’s electricity to a 100 percent emission-free supplier. Learn how to switch the smart way with Baltimore Fishbowl’s Guide to Choosing Climate-Friendly Electricity.
In the near future, every person paying a BGE bill will be able to buy off-site, or community solar, and power their home and EV with the sun. With the U.S. car industry and Trump pushing against lower U.S. fuel standards, seriously reducing carbon emissions from gas-powered vehicles seems improbable, which furthers the case for why EVs are a good bet.
5. Do EVs cost more?
Yes, but there are steep government rebates and incentives, as well as huge EV coupons and yearly gas savings.
Tesla clearly changed the EV market perception from “EVs are lame golf carts” to “EVs are amazing.” But Tesla’s cars are luxury models, with the Tesla’s Sedan S and Tesla SUV Model X starting at $61,000. The more reasonably priced Tesla Model 3 starts at $35,000, and is just rolling off the factory lines.
Until Sept. 30, Nissan and Constellation Energy (owned by Exelon) together are offering a $10,000 coupon for a 2016 or 2017 Nissan Leaf. That’s in addition to the federal $7,500 tax credit. With a few other incentives thrown in, EZ-EV is marketing $20,000 off a Leaf’s $32,000 MSRP. One requirement, however, is that you switch your electricity supplier to Constellation Energy.
If you’re curious about comparing a gas-powered car to an EV, this calculator is perfect.
6. Where do I buy an EV?
Start online and research this Greener Cars buying guide, which has just the right amount of detail on the many EVs available. If you’re an engineer type, read the U.S. Department of Energy’s EV guide.
Then, test drive EVs. Tesla recently opened a full-service dealership in Owings Mills. Local Nissan, Chevrolet, BMW, Mercedes, Hyundai, Fiat and VW dealers all offer an EV option.
Just a warning, though: Once you drive electric, you may never go back to internal combustion again.
7. What’s it really like to drive an EV?
Electric cars are very smooth and quiet and loaded with technology. Over time, you land on a charging schedule that works for your driving life. You figure out where to charge, just like you know your local gas stations for a gas-powered car. You also get better at driving the car to max out the battery, as air conditioning and driving hard use up power.
The downside? For the 10 percent of driving that’s over 100 miles, it’s optimal to have a second vehicle, such as a plug-in hybrid or gas-powered car, as a backup for longer trips or vacations. There are plenty of charging stations along I-95 and I-70 and in larger cities. Interstate charging stations are super fast and can charge the battery while drivers grab coffee. However, in rural areas there are few, if any, public charging stations today, which makes trip planning complicated.