We all take advantage of the freedom to go anywhere at any time quickly and conveniently by car. Yet this freedom and convenience comes at a big cost to our pocketbooks, the air we breathe, and our warming Earth. The Union of Concerned Scientists estimates transportation accounts for 28% of the CO2 emissions from the typical American household. Residents of Concord consume about 6 million gallons of gasoline each year, producing 60 thousand tons of CO2. It’s that high because burning a gallon of gasoline produces almost 20 lbs. of CO2. If you want to know how efficient your car is compared to climate change targets, you can check it out at CarbonCounter.com, an app developed by MIT.
Thanks to government regulations, car and truck mile-per-gallon (mpg) standards have increased fuel efficiency. Even better, the electric car industry is transforming the way we go. Most major car manufacturers now offer hybrid electric (HEV), plug-in hybrid electric (PHEV) and battery-electric vehicles (EVs) that range in size from compact models to SUVs. In March 2017, Consumer Reports published a comprehensive report, Electric Cars 101: The Answers to All Your EV Questions.
Decreasing our gas consumption will not only keep our air cleaner and reduce CO2, but also save us a lot of money on gasoline and car maintenance. The best way to do this is by driving an EV because electric motors are highly efficient, delivering three times as much power to the wheels than internal combustion engines. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, EVs have lower lifecycle emissions than gas-powered cars, even after accounting for extra emissions from battery manufacturing. EVs have fewer moving parts and are therefore much cheaper to maintain. EV motors are also smaller, leaving more room to carry stuff. Finally, there are a plethora of options to ditch our gas-guzzling cars.
- Go electric: Buy or lease a EV, PHEV, or a HEV. The potential benefit to the earth and our pocketbooks is HUGE if many of us choose to go electric. We estimate that if half of Concord drivers switched to EVs from gas-powered cars, we could avoid over 22,000 tons of CO2 and save over $5 million in gasoline every year.
- If not electric, go for higher mpg. But really, think hard about going electric first. You can start with a HEV or PHEV if that feels more comfortable. Just remember that. If you still can’t switch to electric, make fuel economy one of your top selection criteria and don’t buy more car that you really need. You can extend storage with roof and rear racks without resorting to a gas-guzzler. And for those occasional trips when you need more carrying capacity, rent a truck or van. By switching to a car with better gas mileage, you can save hundreds of dollars a year and do your part for the planet.
- Drive less. Ride a bike, take the train or bus, telecommute, carpool with friends and “tripchain” (bundle errands into a single car trip). If half of Concord residents drove 2,000 fewer miles in gas-powered cars, we could avoid over 10,000 tons of CO2 emissions and save $3 million per year in gasoline alone.
Purchase prices for electric cars are comparable to gas-powered cars, especially after the current Federal and State tax rebates for EVs and PHEVs. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, over their lifetime, EVs are less expensive than gas-powered cars.
The cost to install a car charger is in the range of $1,000 to $1,200, which includes the cost of the charger itself and the cost of an electrician to install it. This cost is tax deductible.
- Federal tax rebates of up to $7,500 and State tax rebates up to $2,500 are currently available for EVs and PHEVs (but not HEVs).
- You can also get a 30% Federal tax rebate on the cost of battery charger installation.
- DriveGreen, a program of People’s Power & Light, provides resources and information as well as special deals on EVs and PHEVs at selected car dealerships.
EVs do not have any tailpipe CO2 emission, nor do they emit other pollutants such as nitrogen oxides and hydrocarbons. At this time, much of our electricity is generated from fossil fuels, which means that driving an EV is not entirely pollution free. But even some station wagon style EVs get the equivalent of over a 100 mpg. According to the Department of Energy, they can save as much as $1,200 per year in fuel costs.
Other Benefits or Potential Draw-backs
Maintenance of EVs is much simpler than gas-powered vehicles. They do not need oil changes, and have no transmission fluids, fuel pumps, timing belts and many other moving parts. Regenerative brakes also last longer than those found in gas-powered vehicles. The only major potential expense is battery replacement, which may result in a 20% drop in range after 100,000 miles.
Therefore, overall maintenance costs for EVs are considerably lower than gas-powered vehicles. Unfortunately, hybrid cars still have internal combustion engines, which will need regular maintenance.
Any homeowner who has off-street parking can install a charger, even if they do not have a garage. A charger may be installed on the exterior of a house or on a freestanding post. Homeowners of condominiums or apartment dwellers with dedicated parking spots can also have a charger, together with an accessory electric meter.
Q: What are the different car options and how do they work? A: HEVs have both a gas engine and electric motor. The battery is charged by burning fuel and from braking; there is no need to plug in. A combination of gasoline combustion and battery energy is used to deliver better fuel economy than that of a gas-powered engine. HEVs are a good choice when plugging in your car to recharge is not practical. The Toyota Prius (52 mpg) is a popular model. If you need an SUV, the Toyota RAV4 hybrid (31 mpg) is a good option.
PHEVs run on battery power as long as it lasts and then switch to gasoline power, which may be beneficial for those who drive long distances or have limited opportunities to plug in to recharge their batteries. If driven short distances, they have similar fuel efficiency to BEVs but that decreases if you drive longer distances and run on gasoline power. Overall they are still much more fuel-efficient that gasoline-powered cars. For example, the Chevrolet Volt has a range of 53 miles on battery power and 420 miles with a full charge and a full tank of gas. It has reported fuel economy equal to 105 mpg when battery-powered and 38 mpg when running on gasoline.
EVs have an electric motor only and no internal combustion engine; the battery must therefore be regularly charged. These cars have the highest fuel economy. The Union of Concerned Scientists calculated that the average EV in New England got the equivalent of 86 mpg in 2015.
Q: I’m concerned that an electric car will not be able to travel far enough on one charged battery. A: EVs have made rapid progress over the past few years and now have a much better range. For example the new highly-rated Chevrolet Bolt has a range of 238 miles. The Tesla Model S has a range of 210 miles. Also, there is already an extensive network of charging stations all across the country that continues to grow.
Q: How do I charge up my battery at home? Is it hard or expensive? A: Your car’s battery will charge when plugged into a standard outlet; it will just take longer. It’s better to have an electrician install a 220-volt line and a charger in your garage or outdoors in your yard. CMLP is very helpful in these matters and offers an off-peak electric rate if you charge your car at night. You’ll need a separate accessory meter for that and if you already have solar PV, it’s probably not worth it. The cost of charging is much less than what you would pay for gasoline. A 12-gallon tank of gasoline costs $12.60, while the Chevrolet Bolt, which uses 0.28 kWh/mile, costs $9.33 at 0.14/kWh for a full recharge.