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Electric vehicle basics from Drive Electric Vermont

by Dave Roberts, Coordinator of Drive Electric Vermont

Here at Efficiency Vermont we often get inquires about electric cars and whether we have programs to support them. While we do not currently have specific offerings for electric cars we thought it would be good to provide some information and resources about them to address some of those common questions. So, in celebration of National Drive Electric Week, which happened last month, we asked Dave Roberts, coordinator of the Drive Electric Vermont program, to provide some insight into the basics of electric cars and the state of them in Vermont.

There are two basic types of plug-in electric cars – All Electric Vehicles (AEVs) which run solely on electricity stored in a battery and Plug-in Hybrid Vehicles (PHEVs) which can run on a battery and switch seamlessly to gasoline for extended range as needed. With a fully charged battery AEVs can travel between 62 and 270 miles depending on the model. With a completely charged battery and a full tank of gas PHEVs can travel between 380 and 550 miles. There are currently 13 electric car models available to Vermonters and as of July 2015 there were 943 passenger electric cars registered in the state. 75% of those registered electric cars were PHEVs.

Benefits of driving electric

There are many benefits to driving electric cars. They are much more energy efficient than gasoline or diesel internal combustion engine vehicles. Most models of electric cars get an energy equivalent of 100 miles per gallon (mpg) of gasoline or more when running on electricity, or about three to four miles per kilowatt hour (kWh) of electricity.

Electric cars have excellent traction due to the weight of their batteries, so they stay on the road in winter weather conditions when outfitted with winter tires. Lower temperatures do decrease battery performance, with some AEVs losing up to 40% of their range on the coldest days (e.g. -5° F), an important consideration if you have a long commute. Taking a few simple steps can maximize range. PHEVs also experience a reduction in range in colder temperatures, but the option to run on gasoline provides more flexibility.

Electric cars cost less to operate. Compared to an average gasoline vehicle in Vermont they cost the equivalent of about $1 per gallon of gasoline when running on electricity. So even though charging an electric vehicle may increase your electric bill, the cost is still far less than that of filling up at the pump. According to our calculations, an average Vermonter could have saved about $6,000 on fuel costs over the past 5 years with an electric car, and they would still be saving money today even with current, relatively low gasoline prices.

There are also reduced maintenance costs. Fewer moving parts in many electric cars means there is less to go wrong. AEVs have no engine, just an electric motor or two, so there are no oil changes. Electric cars also save wear and tear on brakes through regenerative braking systems which slow the vehicle down and put energy back into the battery. The vehicle battery systems are generally warranted for 8 to 10 years/100,000 miles, so replacements should be few and far between. Once the batteries reach the end of their useful life in the vehicle they can be repurposed for renewable energy storage before they are eventually recycled.

Vermont has a growing network of public charging stations and charging at home is convenient and affordable. An electric car can be plugged into a standard 120 Volt outlet. Also known as “Level 1” charging, this provides about five miles of range per hour of charging. Higher powered “Level 2” charging equipment can be installed at your home on a 240 Volt circuit (similar to an electric clothes dryer). These charge an electric car much faster, providing up to 20 miles of range per hour of charging for many models. As an added bonus, Level 2 charging is about 3% more efficient than level 1, so you can use fewer kWh in addition to the added convenience of speedier charging.

Electric cars also have environmental benefits. They emit fewer greenhouse gases and other harmful pollutants into the air than gasoline or diesel vehicles. Even taking into consideration the emissions from the source of electricity powering an electric car, New Englanders get the greenhouse gas equivalent of an 83 mile per gallon gasoline vehicle when they drive on electricity.

As with many efficient technologies, electric cars tend to cost more up front than comparable gasoline vehicles. However prices continue to decrease and lease deals are often competitive with gasoline models because the manufacturers are able to include federal electric vehicle tax credits of up to $7,500. Leasing an electric car is especially popular because of attractive pricing and owners are able to benefit from rapid advancements in electric car technology when their leases expire.

These are some of the basics about electric cars, but there is plenty more to know. To learn more visit the Drive Electric Vermont website or the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Fuel Economy site. The DOE also has a helpful online electric vehicle cost calculator, which can come in handy as you’re considering your next car. And of course, feel free to ask your electric car questions in the comments below.


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