Why Consider Electric Cars?

Jukka Kukkonen

For the last century we have relied heavily on oil to provide energy for our transportation needs. Gasoline- and diesel-powered internal combustion engines (ICE) have monopolized as the propulsion provider for cars and trucks. They have worked fairly well for us, but we are also paying a heavy price in environmental effects. Fortunately, we are starting to explore new alternatives, and electric vehicles (EVs) are emerging as the most viable new alternative for most of our driving. Here are some reasons to consider the switch:

With EVs we aren’t tied to one energy source, so we have the flexibility to choose how we produce the energy for our transportation. We can drastically reduce our dependency on oil and move toward more renewable energy sources. Owning an EV even allows you the option of producing your own transportation energy directly from the sun by adding solar panels to the roof of your home.

Even the best ICEs do a poor job in turning the energy from the gasoline into propulsion power. On average, 20% goes to propulsion and about 80% is thrown away as waste heat. Electric motors are just the opposite. They turn 80% of the battery’s energy to propulsion power, while only 20% goes to waste heat. So EVs consume much less energy than traditional ICE-powered cars.

ICEs are very complex machines, and in most cases they are coupled with automatic transmissions that are even more complicated. Together, they consist of hundreds of moving parts. A modern AC electric motor has just one moving part, a rotor, and is coupled with a simple reduction gear. This simplicity means cheaper production costs in mass manufacturing, and the whole power train is practically maintenance free.

EVs work for most people’s daily driving needs

The capability of batteries to carry energy is still limited, but the technology is developing fast. Present technologies limit the range of sensibly-priced family sedans to less than 100 miles/charge. This means that EVs are not yet ready to take you on interstate trips, but they are still well-suited for the daily driving needs of most people, since according to a U.S. Bureau of Transportation study, 78% of people drive fewer than 40 miles per day on average. For longer trips, people could rent a car, use public transportation or, in two-car households, they could use their second car, a traditional ICE powered vehicle.

Low emissions
Even though electric cars don’t emit any exhaust gas, electricity production does cause emissions. The amount of these emissions depends on how big a portion is produced by coal-fired power plants. Still, even if the electricity were exclusively produced by coal, the exhaust emissions per mile driven would be less with EVs than with ICE vehicles. The more electricity produced by renewable sources such as solar and wind, the smaller the amount of emissions. For ICE vehicles, when we add the emissions for finding and drilling the crude oil, transporting it to refineries, refining it, transporting it to gas stations, pumping it to the storage tanks and even using electric pumps to pump it into cars, we start to get a better picture of the total emissions of oil-based energy sources. And how do you measure the costs of catastrophic oil spills like on the Gulf Coast?

Cheaper to own and use
The high efficiency of the EV drive train means electricity costs for driving your EV are about half of what you would pay for gas for even the most efficient ICE car. The simplicity of the EV drive train means maintenance costs are also reduced drastically. Even the brake system sees very little wear, because most of the energy needed to slow down is collected to batteries by using the motor as a generator when the brake pedal is pressed. The new lithium-ion battery packs found in most of the mass-manufactured EVs coming to market are expected to last eight to ten years. Even though these packs are fairly expensive now, the rapid development of battery technologies will make these packs much cheaper by the time they need to be replaced.

Why pure EVs might not work for you
If no one in your family commutes fewer than 40 miles per day, I would advise you to consider plug-in hybrid (PHEV) models like the Chevrolet Volt, the Toyota Prius Plug-in, or the Fisker Karma. Those will give you some pure EV driving range (12-40 miles), and then the ICE engine will provide the extended range you need. There aren’t yet many bigger truck and van options available as EVs, but keep your eyes open for new models coming to the market in the future.

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PlugInConnect, Jukka Kukkonen St Paul, MN PlugInConnect.com

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