With all of the talk about the coming electric cars, I’d like to share ten reasons why we should be excited about finally having an electric choice in affordable, practical, freeway-capable cars. My wife and I have been driving pure electric vehicles for over two years now, we no longer own a gas car, and don’t plan on ever owning one again. Now that we’re used to driving electric, we have no interest in going back to gas. Here are ten reasons why.
#1: Electric Vehicles Are More Fun to Drive
We’re all used to driving gas cars. Over the last 100 years, they’ve made a lot of progress but they are still limited by the basic technology: the internal combustion engine (ICE). An ICE has a narrow band where it produces maximum torque (acceleration), so we need a transmission to be able to shift gears to take advantage of the strong torque at different speeds. Even so, we often have to wait for the shift and then for engine RPM to climb into the right range. The same applies to energy efficiency, we have to shift to the right gear to get the engine into the right RPM range for efficient cruising.
An electric motor doesn’t have these problems. It can deliver maximum torque over a wide range of RPMs, eliminating the wait for acceleration. Once you get used to this instant response to the accelerator pedal, driving a gas-burner seems primitive. You also get smoother acceleration for a more comfortable ride with no lurching at gear changes.
This is a big help going up hills. We’ve all had to develop the skill needed to start moving going up a steep hill without stalling the engine. This is tricky because a gas engine doesn’t produce much torque at low RPMs, so we have to do some trick to rev the engine up before engaging the transmission so the engine has enough torque to pull the car up the hill. An EV doesn’t have this issue, it can produce maximum torque at zero RPM, so not only is there no way to stall an EV, you can start driving uphill smoothly instead of orchestrating a rapid launch.
Driving in the snow is better in an EV. With the ability to control torque independent of speed, it’s easier to keep the wheels from spinning, especially with traction control helping you out. RAV4-EV owners who live in snowy areas rave about how well the front-wheel drive SUV does in the snow, even without traction control. Despite with its rear-wheel drive design, Tesla Roadster owners seem to be very happy with its traction-controled performance on ice and snow. Imagine an all wheel drive EV…
#2: Powering Electric Vehicles Supports the Local Economy
Electricity is produced locally, so with an electric vehicle, your fuel dollars support local jobs instead of going to foreign governments and overseas jobs. We send hundreds of billions of dollars overseas every year to pay for gas. Imagine the benefit to our economy if we kept those dollars here and used them to develop domestic energy sources.
#3: Driving Electric Improves Our National Security
Many of those dollars we send overseas to go to nations that don’t like us. All of those dollars contribute to the world oil market which benefit nations that actively hate us and sponsor terrorism. By converting to electric vehicles, we reduce funding to enemy states and terrorist organizations. How nice would it be not to fund both sides of the war on terror?
#4: Electric Vehicles Produce Zero Tailpipe Emissions
EVs have no tailpipe emissions. Generating electricity may cause emissions at a power plant, but those emissions are located away from population centers and more tightly regulated than automobile emissions. Carbon monoxide from auto exhaust causes hundreds of accidental deaths per year in the US. Air pollution from automobile exhaust causes thousands of deaths from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and rheumatic heart disease. Heart disease rates double in neighborhoods near freeways. As bad as air quality is near freeways, it’s even worse inside our gas-burning cars.
#5: Charging at Home is More Convenient Than Fueling at a Gas Station
Fueling a vehicle at a gas station is an inconvenience we tolerate only because we are used to it. Charging an electric vehicle is much easier and only takes a few seconds of your time: plug in when you get home, unplug when you’re ready to leave. By starting with a full charge every day, even with the shorter range of an EV, most drivers will be able to complete all of their daily driving without ever having to stop for a charge. If you’ve ever shared a car, you know what a hassle it is when the other person lets the tank get low and doesn’t stop for gas, instead you get stuck with the inconvenience of making a detour, waiting in line, standing in the rain, and smelling like gasoline when you’re done. With an electric vehicle, that whole experience just goes away.
#6: Braking is Better in an Electric Vehicle
With a gas car, the engine can only make you go faster; to slow down, you have to use friction brakes which slow your car down by turning your car’s momentum into heat and brake pad wear. In addition to wasting energy, wearing out your brakes costs you money. With an electric vehicle, the motor can also act as a generator that slows the car and charges the battery, saving money on both fuel and brake wear.
Saving money is nice, but this process (called regenerative braking) also makes for a better driving experience. If you’re driving down a steep hill in a gas car, you have to either ride the brakes (which in addition to being expensive is dangerous on long hills) or downshift and hope you can find a gear that will slow you to a speed that’s not too fast or too slow for the driving conditions. With an electric vehicle, the amount of regenerative breaking can be smoothly controlled, allowing you to coast downhill at whatever speed you like, sparing your brake pads and charging your battery.
#7: Electric Vehicles Have a Quieter Ride and Produce Less Noise Pollution
Electric vehicles have no engine noise. Most of the noise you hear from steady-speed traffic is tire noise, which is the same for electric vehicles. At lower speeds, EVs make the same sort of fan and pump noise you hear from a modern gas-burning sedan. The big difference in sound is that with no engine there’s much less noise during acceleration. This makes for a quieter ride for those inside the car and less noise pollution for those outside the car.
I’ll admit I was one of the people who thought I’d miss the roar of an engine. After a few minutes of driving electric, I quickly realized how silly it is to equate noise with power. Engine noise doesn’t make your car faster, just louder.
#8: Electricity is a Cheaper Fuel with More Stable Pricing
Driving on electricity costs a few cents a mile. Where I live, electricity is about $0.11 per kilowatt-hour, which translates to about 3 cents per mile in an electric vehicle, or about 33 miles per dollar. With gas at $3/gallon, to get that same fuel cost a gas car would need to get nearly 100 mpg.
Electric prices are quite stable. Electricity is produced locally and highly regulated to give stable energy prices. Electric rates can be high during peak demand on hot summer afternoons, but EVs can (and should) be charged overnight during off-peak times when electric rates are low.
Our total dependence on oil for transportation makes our economy incredibly fragile. World demand for oil is climbing while production from cheap sources of oil are tapering off. Not only are gasoline prices going to climb dramatically in the long term due to demand outpacing supply, but short term prices are susceptible to huge spikes from small disruptions. Whether it’s a hurricane in a critical area, an oil state dictator in a bad mood, or an unfathomable stock market frenzy, your price at the pump could double next month. That’s not a concern when you’re driving electric.
#9: You Can Make Your Own Electricity
If you drive an EV, you can make your own fuel. Solar panels can produce electricity to power your house and your car. Although currently expensive to install, they pay for themselves over time. Tax incentives can make solar panels very attractive, and dropping prices promise to make them more affordable in the future. The same is true of wind. Other options are being explored, and all are more practical than having an oil well and refinery in your back yard.
#10: A Simpler Drive Train Means Less Maintenance and Longer Life
We’re all used to gasoline cars wearing out, typically in 100,000 to 200,000 miles. It’s all those parts: cylinders, pistons, cams, valves, rockers, all sorts of crazy widgets that are subjected to thousands of chemical explosions per minute. These parts have to be kept lubricated with oil that gets steadily muddied with the tiny metal fragments that are being continuously worn from those parts until they no longer function. When you change your oil, you’re draining out the part of your engine that has worn away over the last few months. A similar process is happening in your transmission, that wacky contraption that allows us to squeeze useful power out of an internal combustion engine by constantly smashing different sets of gears together.
An electric motor has a single primary moving part: a rotor that is pushed by magnetic fields. There are no violent explosions, just the smooth push of one magnetic field against another. Add in some bearings and you have an electric motor that can be expected to last between one million and five million miles. Because the motor can deliver torque over a much wider RPM range, no transmission is required, just a much simpler gear reduction that doesn’t require the stress and complexity of changing gears.
As we shift to electric cars, our concept of both maintenance and depreciation are likely to change significantly. Other than tire replacement, almost all of the regular auto maintenance we’re used to either goes away or is greatly reduced. The biggest problem with this is that because you’re no longer paying for an oil change every few months, you have to fill your own wiper fluid. The auto dealers will probably want you to come in once a year to have everything checked out, but most of the time there won’t be anything that needs repair or replacement.
Bonus! #11: Electric Vehicles Produce Less Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Improve With Age
Although EVs produce no tailpipe emissions and therefore no greenhouse gasses, they use the output of electrical generation that may contribute to greenhouse gas production.
If an EV is powered with clean, renewable energy then driving it does not contribute to global climate change. Depending on where you live, you may be able to pay a little extra for green electricity. Where I live, Puget Sound Energy offers green energy for additional 1.25 cents per kilowatt hour, a small increase in cost compared to what I save in gasoline expense.
Even without the green power option, considering the mix of sources of electricity on the US west coast, in terms of CO2 emissions, driving an EV is equivalent to driving a gas vehicle that gets 143 miles per gallon. The west coast is more heavily weighted in hydroelectric and natural gas than the US average, so that’s a pretty good number. If you consider the entire US grid, then on average driving an EV has CO2 emissions equivalent to driving a 44.2 mpg car.
People who don’t want you to consider buying an EV will try to scare you away by saying a scary word: COAL! They will shout, “all electricity comes from coal, driving on electricity from coal is bad for the environment, you should stick to gas!!!” Obviously, this is completely false on both counts. The US grid is not all coal; by CO2 emissions, it’s actually more like all natural gas on average. Even if your electricity comes straight from a coal plant, driving an EV is equivalent to getting 28.2 mpg, compared to the US average fuel economy of 21 mpg.
If you want to learn more, you may find this electric vehicle efficiency analysis helpful.
Even better than how an EV performs today is how it will improve over time. Gas cars get dirtier and less efficient over time. Electric vehicles do not. For many reasons, we need to improve our power grid by moving to renewable energy sources. As we do so, the electricity you put into your EV gets cleaner and therefore so does your driving.
The Bottom Line
If we all gradually transition most of our driving to EVs and even if we kept the same mix of power generation, it would be a good thing for the environment, the economy, national security, and your driving experience. As we transition to greener, locally produced power while oil price climb in response to growing global demand and increasing production costs, the many benefits of driving electric will increase.