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Considering an electric vehicle?

So, you have decided you are interested in electric vehicles (EVs)? EVs offer lower fuel costs and lower maintenance costs, and they are better for the environment. That said, there are many different questions you may be asking before you purchase.

 

What is an electric vehicle?

There are many vehicles out there that are powered by electricity in some capacity, which leads to some confusion. Battery electric vehicles (BEVs), also known simply as electric vehicles (EVs), are what people generally think of when they think of electric cars. These vehicles are powered solely by electric power. Hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) have internal combustion engines that runs using gasoline but is combined with an electric battery where both can power the drivetrain which increases the efficiency of the vehicle. They don’t have a plug, but the batteries can be charged through regenerative braking systems or by spinning an electric generator while the internal combustion energy is running. Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) are similar to an HEV but the battery can also be charged by plugging in to a source of electricity. PHEVs can plug in to recharge, and they can run on gasoline when the charge runs out. When the battery is depleted, the vehicle will run as an HEV.

 

How far can I drive on a charge?

This will vary depending on the vehicle. With new innovations in battery technology, the range of EVs is getting better every year. Some EVs, like the Tesla Model S can now go 335 miles on a single charge, while others are intended for city drivers and have a range around 100 miles. Minnesota’s weather also impacts vehicle range; a car’s battery won’t hold the same level of charge in cold weather, and range drops further if you use some of that energy for heating or cooling the vehicle. Keep in mind that different traffic conditions can also impact the range of your vehicle. Driving on the highway at a constant speed of 75 mph is a constant drain on the battery whereas city driving is at lower speeds and includes more stopping which does not drain the battery as quickly.

Where can I charge my car?

Do you have a parking spot near an electric outlet at home? Based on the typical daily driving habits of most Americans, many cars can be charged at home overnight and have enough juice to get you through the standard day. When charging in your home, there are a couple different types of chargers to consider. Most EVs come with what is known as a Level 1 charger that can plug into a normal outlet. Many people choose to install a Level 2 charger at home for faster charging. A Level 2 charger supplies 240V, like what an electric oven or clothes dryer uses, and might require upgrading your home or garage wiring. For those that live in an apartment or are without a garage, home charging may be more difficult.

There is a growing number of public charging options available in Minnesota. Your workplace might have chargers that you can plug into during the day. Plugshare and the Department of Energy have resources to find public chargers in your region or to map out where to charge on longer road trips. For those longer trips, EVs will save money compared to gasoline, but can also add time if you have to pull off to charge throughout the trip. DC fast chargers, which can top off an EV’s battery in a matter of minutes rather than hours, are mainly available along highway corridors. Keep in mind that not all chargers are compatible with all EV models.

 

What incentives do I receive as an EV owner?

When purchasing an EV, a federal tax credit of $7,500 is available to the first 200,000 EVs sold per automaker. Once an automaker has sold more than 200,000 EVs, the tax credit is reduced and tapers off within the next one and a half years. Tesla has already crossed the 200,000 vehicle threshold and GM is getting close, but other manufacturers are just getting started with electric vehicles.

Your utility may also be provide other incentives. Check the Department of Energy website and with your utility to see incentives you may be eligible for.

 

What is the cost of owning an EV?

As an EV owner, you can smile and wave every time you pass a gas station knowing you will no longer be paying for gasoline. You’ll spend less on electricity than you would on gasoline, and less on maintenance for your EV, too. EVs cost more than Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) vehicles up front, but savings can add up over time.

Most Minnesota electric utilities have rates specifically designed for charging electric vehicles, typically cheaper overnight when demand for electricity is lower. Charging at night also means your car won’t add costs to the electric system overall. Check with your utility to find out what rates they have to offer for EV owners, and whether it would be a good deal for you.

EVs typically have lower maintenance costs, as there are far fewer moving parts compared to an ICE vehicle. EVs also do not require oil changes and many other routine maintenance services that ICE vehicles require. The investment bank UBS estimates that yearly maintenance costs are 60 percent lower than a comparable ICE vehicle.

Eventually, EVs require battery replacement. The typical warranty for a battery will be 8 years or 100,000 miles. Once the warranty is expired, the cost of replacing a battery can range anywhere from $5,500 to $15,000 for more sophisticated, longer-range batteries. Battery technology is improving every year and costs will continue to go down year after year. How long your battery lasts is dependent on how you use and charge the battery, but the battery should outlast the warranty.

Kelly Blue Book has a handy tool that lets you compare the total cost of ownership of new vehicles over the first five years, including the purchase price, fuel costs, maintenance, and more.

 

What effect will my EV have on the environment?

Electric vehicles release no emissions in the neighborhoods through which they drive, so they are much cleaner for local air than ICE vehicles. Many studies – such as this from the US Dept. of Energy and this from the Union of Concerned Scientists – have found that the total emissions from producing the electricity to power an EV are lower than emissions from gasoline to power an ICE vehicle, too. This is true even here in Minnesota, where we use more coal power than the national average. And as power production continues to get cleaner, your EV will get cleaner, too.

If you want to go farther, you can sign up for up to 100% renewable energy through your electric utility, typically for a small premium on your bill. Great River Energy currently offers 100% wind energy program for EV charging at no extra premium to drivers in their 28 member co-ops who sign up for their EV charging rate.

 

Have more questions? 

If you have more questions or are looking for more resources on EVs, please don’t hesitate to reach out. Send me an email at benb@cubminnesota.org or call at 651-300-4701.

 

Public Utilities Commission electric vehicle inquiry

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission has been looking into the future of electric vehicles in docket #17-879 in which CUB has been a participant. CUB’s goal in this docket is to ensure owning and operating an EV in Minnesota is as easy as possible while still promoting EV policies that benefit everyone, drivers and non-drivers alike.

 

Author: Ben Bratrud

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