What’s the deal with electric vehicles?
“EVs are no longer a mystery. They’re a no-brainer.”
— GMP Director of Communications Kristin Kelly
VERMONT — Recent proposals by President Biden and Gov. Scott have included significant funding for electric vehicles and associated charging infrastructure, which they hope will hasten a transition away from gasoline-powered vehicles and their devastating effects on the climate.
Funding efforts to reduce consumer costs and increase driving convenience will go a long way toward bringing this transition about, but many experts have said that one of the biggest challenges will be getting the word out to consumers about the benefits — to themselves and to the planet — of switching from gas to electric.
To that end, as part of our series on electric vehicles, the Independent offers this brief, and by no means exhaustive, primer on all things “EV.”
There are dozens of electric vehicle models now available in the U.S., and many more are in development.
They fall into two basic categories: plug-in electric vehicles (EVs) and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs).
EVs have an electric motor instead of an internal combustion engine, and they get their power from a battery instead of gasoline or diesel.
PHEVs have an electric motor and a fossil fuel engine and typically switch from electric to gas power once their batteries have lost their charge.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency explains the basics of these vehicles in a short online video: tinyurl.com/3pe7vj9c.
The most expensive thing about an EV is its battery, which in many cases, at least for now, accounts for a third to a half of a vehicle’s cost.
EVs used to be significantly more expensive than gas vehicles, but as battery technology and manufacturing techniques have improved, they’ve recently begun to close the gap.
As of this week, according to Drive Electric Vermont, there are:
• 21 PHEV models available in Vermont, ranging in price for a new car from $23,350 to $67,645.
• 17 EV models, ranging from $29,900 to $89,990.
A number of EV purchase incentives can help reduce the upfront cost of an EV purchase, by more than $10,000 in some cases.
Drive Electric Vermont keeps an up-to-date list of EV purchase incentives on its website, driveelectricvt.com.
For now, Vermonters buying or leasing PHEVs or EVs can earn anywhere from $1,500 to $4,000 in state incentives, depending on model and income level.
Federal tax credits ranging from $2,500 to $7,500 may also be available, though some models, such as those made by Tesla and GM, no longer qualify — at least for the time being.
Sixteen Vermont utilities are also offering a range of incentives. Green Mountain Power, for instance, currently offers rebates, free chargers and special charging rates for qualifying customers.
All of this information can, of course, change at any time, so prospective buyers and the just-curious should visit driveelectricvt.com for the latest updates.
While the upfront cost for most EVs can be a little higher than for gas-powered vehicles, fueling and maintaining EVs is less expensive, which can lead to an overall savings over the life of the vehicle.
Because PHEVs also have internal combustion engines and fuel tanks, their driving ranges are similar to regular gas vehicles.
EV driving ranges vary by model, but most EV drivers in Vermont can get through a day’s activities without having to stop and recharge their EV batteries.
Over longer distances, however, fully charged EVs tend to run out of battery life before gassed-up vehicles would run out of fuel.
This is very likely to change, however, as battery technology evolves. A decade ago, most EVs had a range under 100 miles on a full battery. Today, some models exceed 300 miles and at least one model available in Vermont exceeds 400 miles.
It’s important to note, especially for Vermont drivers, that cold weather reduces the travel range of EVs — just as it reduces the fuel efficiency of all vehicle types.
For EVs, much of the reduction comes from heating vehicle interiors, which drains batteries faster. But the batteries themselves can also be affected by colder temperatures. Performance drops off sharply at 15 degrees and temperatures below zero can reduce driving ranges by as much as 50%.
For a comprehensive explanation of the data, along with model comparisons and best practices for winter driving and charging, visit driveelectricvt.com/winter.
EVs and PHEVs can be recharged with Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment … or “chargers.”
Three common charging methods, which can be used at home or on the road, in all kinds of weather, are Level 1, Level 2, and DC Fast Charging.
Level 1 charging uses the same 120-volt current found in standard household outlets. Homeowners with PHEVs or EVs can easily charge their vehicles as they sit in the driveway or garage, but it’s slow: 3-5 miles of driving range per charging hour.
Level 2 charging uses 240 volts, the same as household outlets dedicated to electric ranges or clothes dryers, and charging is faster — 10-20 miles per charging hour. The units are more expensive, but Green Mountain Power is giving them away to qualifying customers — and has been doing so for years. For more information, visit tinyurl.com/ykjtajev.
DC Fast Charging delivers a whopping 480 volts and can fully charge some EVs in less than an hour. Vastly more expensive to install, the units tend to be used for public charging stations. One drawback of these chargers is that automakers have refused to get together and make plugs that are compatible with one another, which makes things more complicated and confusing for consumers.
As EVs become more popular, workplaces have begun offering onsite charging for employees, businesses are providing it for customers, and communities are installing public stations.
Vermont has 292 (and counting) EV charging stations, according to a map maintained by Drive Electric Vermont. Seventeen are in Addison County: 12 in Middlebury, two in Ferrisburgh and one each in New Haven, Panton and Starksboro — though at least two of these are located at businesses and listed as being reserved for customers only.
In February Gov. Scott announced that 11 new fast-charging stations will be installed in high-traffic corridors around the state over the next two years, and earlier this month Vermont’s Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment Grant Program opened up bidding for the installation and maintenance of six more, including one in Vergennes.
Most public charging stations are operated by charging networks and they require payment: around $1/hr. for Level 2 and 35 cents/minute for DC Fast Charging. This ends up being quite a bit less expensive than gasoline. At the moment, charging an EV is roughly equivalent to paying $1.50 for a gallon of gas.
Green Mountain Power offers its customers an incentive program that could reduce that cost even further. For more information, visit tinyurl.com/c5t8dw3k.
According to Vermont’s 2016 Comprehensive Energy Plan, “achieving significant reductions of greenhouse gas emissions and fossil fuel consumption in Vermont’s transportation sector will require a large-scale transformation to alternatively fueled vehicles that reduce petroleum usage and related emissions with advanced technologies and fuels (such as plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, all-electric vehicles, and fuel-cell electric vehicles).”
Total greenhouse gas and other emissions associated with driving EVs are typically less than those for gas-powered vehicles, and can be significantly less if the electricity powering EVs comes from renewable sources.
PHEVs also tend to produce fewer emissions overall, especially during short trips around town, which can be fueled exclusively from battery power.
The EPA offers the following comparison of vehicle tailpipe and upstream carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, in grams per mile:
• Nissan Leaf (EV): 140.
• Chevrolet Volt (PHEV): 210.
• Subaru Outback: 461.
• Ford F150 truck: 652.
Drive Electric Vermont lists a host of other benefits that EV owners enjoy:
• Some smartphone apps can manage your EV’s heating and cooling systems remotely.
• EVs accelerate faster than most equivalent gas-powered cars.
• And they get increased traction because of their heavy batteries (put on some winter tires and you’re good to go).
• EVs are incredibly quiet.
The combination of advantages and incentives is making EVs more and more irresistible, GMP Director of Communications Kristin Kelly told the Independent.
“EVs are no longer a mystery,” she said. “They’re a no-brainer.”
Reach Christopher Ross at [email protected]
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