MAY 19, 2016

Have Questions about Electric Vehicles? You've come to the right spot!


Why would I want to buy an electric car?

Imagine never having to stop at a gas station, driving for pennies per mile, and no more oil changes, ever. With federal and local tax incentives, some electric cars can be comparable in price to a similar conventional car—maybe even less. Counting tax incentives from the IRS, some EV's will cost buyers around $24,000. 

How efficient are they?

Electric cars are up to three times as efficient as gasoline-powered cars. That's primarily because electric motors are 90% efficient at converting energy into motion, compared to 25% - 30% percent for conventional cars and hybrids. In regions with renewable and clean electric production, electric cars make a lot of sense to lower your carbon footprint.

Don't they just shift power production to dirty coal plants?

Power is never free. Today, almost half of America's electricity comes from coal, which generates significantly more emissions than other sources. A 2005 joint study by an electric-utility industry organization and the National Resources Defense council estimates that introducing significant numbers of plug-in hybrids with a range of 20 miles of electric driving on American roads would cut global warming pollution by at least 163 million tons annually. Oil dependence is easier to gauge: An estimate by the Federal Highway Administration is a savings of 550 million gallons a year.

Electricity is also safer, cleaner and easier to transport and distribute than gas or oil, which further lowers the carbon costs of EV's. As energy efficiency increases in US households and renewable energy production increases, the carbon costs or electricity will be even lower. The electricity the Bonneville Power Association produces is some of the lowest carbon utility scale energy available in the US. 

What models are available? 

The options are growing every month! Every major car manufacturer is coming out with their takes on electric vehicles. A good starting list can be found here.

How much do they cost?

Prices range from $23,000 for the basic Mitsubishi iMiev to over $100,000 for the Tesla Model S. Most cost around $30,000. All pure EVs are eligible for a $7,500 federal tax rebate in addition to other state and local tax credits. Washington State offers tax-free sales on EV's under $35,000. 

How far can I drive?

Most of the pure electric cars on the way have a range of about 80-120 miles between charges, depending on hills and speeds. Some models, such as the Tesla Model S have larger optional batteries that can go up to a claimed 300 miles. Before ruling out an electric car due to 'range anxiety', track your daily commute miles and see how far you drive on average. The average US citizen drives 30 miles a day, well within the range of full-size EV's. 

Worried about range anxiety? As you get some EV time in, you'll get used to the limits and plan for them better, with less worry. According to this study, adjustment usually takes about 3 months.


How much will it cost to charge?

OPALCO's usage rates vary throughout the day, so charging costs will depend on when you charge your car.

To better illustrate the savings of charging at low-rate times of day, let's take the example of a Nissan Leaf, with a 24 kWh battery pack and see the cost differences. We'll assume that the Leaf is very low on charge and needs 20 kWh of electricity to charge the batteries:

 Time of Use Rates 

6am - Noon $ .1513/kWh x 20 = $3.02

Noon - 6pm $.0935/kWh x 20 = $1.87 

6pm - 8pm $ .1513/kWh x 20 = $3.02 

8pm - 6am $.0410/kWh x 20 = $0.82

With a range of 100+ miles for a 2015 Nissan Leaf, you'd only be paying less than a penny per mile if you charge overnight! 

Overall, you can expect an electric car to cost about 4 cents a mile to charge at national average electric rates. A conventional car that gets 30 mpg would cost about 9 cents a mile to fuel.

What type of charger do I need?

There are three levels of chargers: 

  • Level 1 is a 110-volt charger that can charge a plug-in hybrid or extended-range electric vehicle overnight, but would take more than 24-hours to charge a pure electric vehicle. They will usually be built into the vehicle and can be used for "opportunity charging" when another type of charger isn't available.
  • Level 2 is a 220-volt charger, which most electric-car owners will purchase to charge their cars overnight in their homes. A Level 2 charger can charge a pure electric car in 8 to 10 hours.
  • Level 3 is known as fast charging. These chargers will primarily provide direct current at up to 500 volts. Level 3 chargers will be installed in public places and can provide an 80 percent charge to a full electric car in under a half hour.

How much will a charger cost?

  • Level 1 chargers are included with all the cars coming on the market.
  • Level 2 chargers cost $400 to $800, plus the cost of pulling a dedicated 220-volt outlet to your garage or driveway, which may be significant.
  • Level 3 chargers are expected to cost as much as $60,000 to install, and consequently will not be for home use. Malls, restaurants, or parking garages may install them, and they will probably charge by the hour for their use.

Washington State provides up to $1000 in tax incentives for charging stations. 

How big a circuit will I need?

Pure electric cars will require a separate charger that requires at least a 220-volt, 20-amp circuit. 30 or 40 amp circuits will charge faster. Any electric-car charger has to be on a dedicated circuit. 

Will electric cars work in the winter?

Using the heater, lights, and wiper (or to a lesser degree the air conditioner in the summer) can use up a significant portion of the battery's charge. The batteries also have a little less energy in the winter. Cold weather can reduce battery performance by about 20% of the average range on the coldest winter days.

How long will the batteries last?

As batteries wear, their capacity to absorb a charge diminishes. So the range of electric cars will diminish with age. General Motors and Nissan, the first two companies to introduce electric cars in the United States, are providing battery warranties of eight years or 100,000 miles. In California and 15 other states that follow California emissions laws, GM will have to warranty the batteries to 10 years or 150,000 miles.

Can the batteries catch fire?

They have in a couple of widely publicized cases in the Tesla Model S following high-speed collisions. But they don't explode spontaneously and drivers have had plenty of warning and time to escape. Lithium-ion batteries are a lot less volatile than gasoline. Tesla has addressed the battery-fire concerns with a recall.