2020 may be the year of the electric vehicle (EV). Dozens of new models are available, and major car manufacturers are jumping on the EV bandwagon. As the power grid becomes cleaner, fossil-fueled transportation is now the largest greenhouse gas (GHG) contributor in the U.S. It is quickly becoming the new target to cut personal, community and national carbon footprints. More than 1 million EVs are on U.S. roads and price discounts abound, but get them before the “sunsets” on this popular industry trend.
BUT ARE THEY TOO SMALL?
While early EVs looked more like large-scale toy cars, now they come in all shapes and sizes. Even electric light trucks are appearing in showrooms. Thus far, most EVs have been plug-in hybrids (PHEV) that also have gas engines, but the proportion that is purely electric is rapidly rising. In 2018, General Motors (GM) dropped several PHEVs (such as its Volt) and closed some production facilities to focus on making fully electric vehicles. Ford, VW, and Audi have all announced similar plans.
DO THEY REALLY REDUCE GHG?
Some EV critics question how much GHG is avoided by switching to an EV because fossil-fueled power plants also emit GHG. That depends on the mileage of the car an EV replaces, the efficiency of the EV (in miles per kWh), and how clean the power is that charges the EV. Using the following numbers, a local EV cuts GHG by ~70%. For a gasoline-powered car to be as clean, it would need to get more than 85-mpg. If the power comes from solar panels, GHG is cut by 100%.
- 25 miles per gallon (mpg) for the existing car.
- 4 lb. of CO2 per gallon of gasoline.
- 3 miles/kWh average for the EV (smaller EVs do better, bigger ones do less).
- .67 lb. CO2e/kWh (from the grid serving Con Ed territory).
BUT WHAT ABOUT THE BOTTOM LINE?
Under the SmartCharge incentive program, supported by Con Ed, an average EV owner can earn $150 for signing up, and up to $500 a year. Con Ed estimates that with this incentive program that the cost of operating an EV may be ~25% of the cost of operating an average fuel-powered vehicle. Toss in the greatly reduced maintenance, especially for a fully electric unit, and the pot is even sweeter.
SO, WHO HAS A CHARGING STATION?
Every EV comes with a Level 1 (115-volt) charger that plugs into a wall socket, but it can take 10+ hours to fully charge. Many EV homeowners install Level 2 (220-volt) units that take ~1/3 of the time. Fast 480-volt DC chargers may do the job in less than an hour. Generous state incentives are now available for public and employee chargers. They may cover 50% to 70% for Level 2 units, but much less for DC units that cost ~6 times as much to install. Setting up a charging account may be done over the phone using a station’s touchscreen. Find public EV charging stations by entering “EV charging stations” in Google Maps.
WILL AN EV GIVE ME STICKER SHOCK?
EV prices remain higher than equivalent cars, but hefty incentives may bring the cost close to or lower than a standard vehicle. Depending on the EV range, the federal tax credit may be as high as $7,500. New York State adds up to a $2,000 rebate, and a few dealers offer their own extra discounts (one offers another $5,000 off the sticker price of a Nissan Leaf). To make a sale, some may throw in a free Level 2 charger or 2 years of free public charging power.
Next time you are in the market for a new car, see which EV is right for you and visit one of the best EV shopping guides Sierra Club: Pick A Plug-In.