With the recent gas prices spiking, many people are looking toward electric vehicles as an alternative to gas-powered ones. With the average gas prices approaching $4-5 per gallon across many US cities, purchasing an electric vehicle may seem like a cheaper option to many.
With fuel costs projected to increase even more in the summer of 2021, we may see a boom in sales of electric cars in the near future. But how viable and efficient are these electric vehicles? We will be looking at what constitutes an EV's and the pros and cons of owning one.
What is an Electric Vehicle?
An electric vehicle is a vehicle that relies on battery power to run as opposed to standard gasoline-powered cars or internal combustion engines. Some electric vehicles don’t solely rely on electric batteries. There are three types of electric cars:
- the battery electric vehicle (BEV)
- the plug-in hybrid vehicle (PHEV)
- the hybrid electric vehicle (HEV).
The BEV is powered fully by electricity, with no gas use at all. Of the three mentioned types, BEVs are considered to be the most environmentally friendly option. Due to the no gas engine, there are no tailpipe emissions. Additionally, the maintenance for this vehicle is minimal. There is no need for oil changes or tune-ups like in a regular gas vehicle.
The PHEV contains both a gasoline engine and a battery pack. The PHEV will switch to gas once the electric battery runs out but the battery can be recharged at a charging station. Typically, on the battery alone, the vehicle can travel up to 40 miles, depending on the manufacturer or make of the PHEV. They are a good choice for car owners who are interested in buying an electric vehicle but may not be used to maintaining one.
Finally, the HEV, typically referred to as hybrids, have a normal combustion engine and an electrical motor that powers the engine. Unlike the PHEV, the battery cannot be plugged into an electric grid to be charged, the battery simply powers the motor. Hybrids utilize a system called regenerative braking to assist the gas engine when accelerating. Regenerative braking is a way of using the energy created from car braking to recharge the car's batteries.
Normally the energy gets wasted when you use your brakes but in vehicles with regenerative braking, the kinetic energy is reused. Hybrid cars typically have a better fuel economy compared to conventional combustion vehicles. With both the gas motor and electrical battery, the HEV can go 48-60 miles per gallon compared to a Honda Civic, which usually goes 36 miles per gallon.
Pros and Cons of Electric Cars
One of the biggest advantages of electric cars is the reduction of greenhouse gases and that's great when it comes to climate change. The fewer emissions in the air the better. As mentioned above, the BEV is fully electrical. It has no emissions, as there is no fuel for it to burn. This creates a cleaner environment as well as reduces the carbon footprint for people conscious of their environmental impact.
Passenger vehicles account for 21% of nitrogen oxide and 51% of volatile organic compounds released. These are pollutants that are components of smog and can cause both health and environmental damage.
While PHEVs don’t have zero emissions, since they have a gasoline engine, they will still emit less than a conventional vehicle. This is due to the electric battery, as the PHEV will not have any gas emissions if the battery is in use.
The HEVs contribute to greenhouse gas emissions due to the use of their gas engine. However, compared to conventional cars, they have reduced emissions. They are designed to be more fuel-efficient with their electric motor. Less emission means fewer fossil fuels being used!
The Toyota Prius Eco is a hybrid car and it emits 96.2 grams of greenhouse gases per kilometer. The Toyota Corolla is a conventional gas car and it emits 158.4 grams. So, while hybrid cars do have emissions, they are significantly less compared to their conventional counterparts.
I actually drive the Toyota Prius Hybrid. It's my second "eco" car. My first was a Smart4Two. The Prius is a good little car, it's not as peppy as the Smart but it's really good on gas. If I drive it conservatively I can save even more and with gas prices the way they are I am grateful to have it. Do I love it? Let's just say I miss the speed of the Smart. LOL!
Electric cars are cheaper than traditional gas cars in the long term. Consumers may be hesitant in buying an EV after seeing the initial cost. The electric vehicles will be cheaper to maintain throughout the year. For BEVs which require no gas, you save on monthly gas costs.
With the recent gas prices surging, the money you save adds up. We can compare the yearly costs for fuel for both an electric vehicle and a gas car. The Nissan Leaf S Plus is a BEV that costs around $400 dollars to charge on electricity throughout the year. An equivalent gas-powered car, like the Chevy Spark 1LT, costs $1848 throughout the year. So, you can save thousands of dollars throughout a car’s lifespan with an electric vehicle and the startup costs are going down each year.
The most famous EV is probably Tesla. Maker Elon Musk is a controversial character, but he certainly brought EVs to the mainstream. The Tesla Model S is a great choice for long-range up to 405 miles.
Additionally, the Canadian government provides rebates for owning an electric vehicle. The Incentive for Zero-Emissions Vehicles (iZev) is a program that provides incentives for consumers if they buy an electric vehicle7. Consumers who purchase a BEV can receive a rebate of up to $5000 at the car dealership7. For PHEVs, the rebate is up to $25007. This rebate is given to encourage consumers to purchase zero-emission vehicles and to offset the higher upfront cost.
In the United States, qualifying for a federal tax credit on electric vehicles is based on a number of factors.
Finally, electric vehicles are noted by consumers to have an excellent driving performance compared to their gas counterparts. One of the main reasons is the lack of an exhaust system. Electric vehicles are stated to have minimal torque.
Torque simply is the turning power of your vehicle’s engine, how much power the engine can produce. So, the more torque a vehicle has, the faster it can go from 0 to 100 miles per hour. The electric motors in electric vehicles respond almost instantly, so drivers can quickly accelerate when driving even from a standstill.
Because there isn’t a combustion engine, the electric vehicle is silent when driving. This provides a much quieter driving experience as the motor doesn’t make any noise.
So, we went over many important advantages of electric vehicles. However, along with all these benefits, there are some negative factors to consider as well. There are personal and environmental concerns when owning an electric car.
While the BEVs don’t have any emissions at all as they are powered by electricity, the electricity used to power it may not come from renewable sources. Depending on how the electricity for the vehicle is produced, it may cause more emissions inadvertently.
This would depend on the area where the vehicle is, as some states and provinces rely on more renewable energy compared to others.
In the provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Nova Scotia, charging your electric car can cause greenhouse gas emissions similar to regular combustion vehicles. This is because these provinces generate a lot of electricity using coal power or diesel, which contributes greatly to greenhouse gas emissions.
On the other hand, in provinces like British Columbia and Ontario, electric vehicles have close to 0 emissions as the provinces generate their electricity through cleaner or renewable methods like nuclear or hydropower, where there are minimal amounts of emissions.
- Wyoming 41%
- West Virginia 12%
- Pennsylvania 6.3%
- Illinois 6.3%
- Kentucky 5.5%.
So, depending on your location, owning and driving an electric vehicle may not provide a cleaner alternative compared to combustion vehicles due to the way the electricity for the vehicle is being produced.
Another issue with electric cars is their manufacturing of them. The batteries of the electric cars are typically composed of lithium, nickel, and cobalt, which are rare materials. These are finite resources, so when it runs out another material will be needed to substitute. The majority of batteries used for electric vehicles is the lithium-ion battery.
The mining of lithium has increased significantly as many countries are attempting to increase the production of these batteries. The mining of lithium is dangerous to the environment as it can cause habitat destruction, chemical pollution, and water scarcity.
In the Atacama Desert in Chile, there are many mining operations and they provide a quarter of the global lithium production9. However, in the mining procedure, a large amount of freshwater is used, causing the local indigenous communities in the Atacama Desert to face water issues. The local Andean Flamingo populations also had their habitats disrupted due to large-scale mining operations.
Finally, the lack of infrastructure for electric vehicles in Canada and the USA can cause hesitancy for first-time buyers. There are gas stations around the corner for combustion vehicles but not many electrical charging stations. If you are located in a dense, urban area, you have a better chance of finding charging stations but the more rural you go, the harder it is to charge the vehicle.
There are currently around 15,000 charging stations across Canada and a plan to build 17,000 more in the next 3 years. This averages about 0.06 charging stations for every electric vehicle on the road, ranking Canada 20th in the world for charging stations. More chargers need to be built to accommodate the surge of electric vehicles before many consumers make the switch.
As of September 31, 2021, the USA had 109,307 charger ports, not nearly enough.
Tips For Buying An Electric Car
- Test drive as many as you can and compare apples with apples, meaning don't compare an eclectic Toyota with a muscle car like a Mustang.
- Do as much research as you can on the range each car gets. Range anxiety is a real thing. I know firsthand about this. There were many times when I was driving my Smart Car that I worried about running out of battery. It never happened. Most have a range of over 200 miles. How many miles does it take for you to get from home to work and back? Are you using the car for errands? How far do you typically travel in a day? I used to drive a Smart Car, and in the winter it would take the battery much longer to charge, and if I turned the heat on, it would reduce the range quite a bit. And the faster you drive the more power you will use which means less battery power.
- Research electric car rebates and incentives, I mentioned a few in this article. Ask the dealer to provide as much information as they can and go to your local city or town's website to find out more.
- Invest in a home charger, when I owned my Smart Car I did not do this and I regretted it. There is an upfront cost to have it installed buts it is worth it. It will take less time to charge your care which will give you more range. It would take over 12 hours for me to get a full range in the winter without one.
- Research charging stations in your area, there are lots of apps and websites that can help you do this. This is especially important if you are traveling farther than normal.
- Make sure you understand the warranties and maintenance costs. Parts for the Tesla S, for example, are very expensive and it can be challenging to find a mechanic that knows how to fix them.
- Consider solar panels. This will eliminate one of the biggest cons of electric cars, namely the energy used to charge them. Solar panels allow you to charge your EV with power that is green.
Final Thoughts on the Pros and Cons Of Electic Cars
Electric vehicles provide many benefits to both consumers and the environment. Environmentalists and those that want to reduce their carbon footprint should consider electric vehicles as safe options.
The issues that come with electric vehicles are more on the way they are made or manufactured as opposed to the vehicle itself. BEVs don’t create any emissions but the way they are manufactured or the source of their electricity can potentially cause emissions.
But as countries shift more of their focus on renewable energies, electric vehicles will prevail over standard combustion vehicles. If consumers are hesitant about going all-in on a fully electric vehicle, partial or hybrid electric cars are a good alternative.
The technology is still expanding and many car manufacturers are working to improve the production and comfort of these vehicles. We may see an upcoming majority of electric vehicles across North America in the near future.
What are your thoughts on electric cars? Have you ever considered an electric vehicle?
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