Earth-Friendly Car Travel

There are now many more options to enjoy the freedom to go anywhere at any time quickly and conveniently by car. Up until recently, this freedom and convenience came at a big cost to our pocketbooks, the air we breathe, and our warming Earth. The Union of Concerned Scientists estimates transportation accounts for 28% of the CO2 emissions from the typical American household. Burning a gallon of gasoline produces almost 20 lbs. of CO2. If you want to know how efficient your car is compared to climate change targets, you can check it out at CarbonCounter.com, an app developed by MIT.

Thanks to government regulations, car and truck mile-per-gallon (mpg) standards have increased fuel efficiency. Even better, the electric car industry is transforming the way we go. Most major car manufacturers now offer hybrid electric (HEV), plug-in hybrid electric (PHEV) and battery-electric vehicles (EVs) that range in size from compact models to SUVs. In January 2018, Consumer Reports updated their EV/Hybrid Buying Guide.

Decreasing our gas consumption will not only keep our air cleaner and reduce CO2, but also save us a lot of money on gasoline and car maintenance. The best way to do this is by driving an EV because electric motors are highly efficient, delivering three times as much power to the wheels than internal combustion engines. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, EVs have lower lifecycle emissions than gas-powered cars, even after accounting for extra emissions from battery manufacturing. EVs have fewer moving parts and are therefore much cheaper to maintain. EV motors are also smaller, leaving more room to carry stuff. Finally, there are a plethora of options to ditch our gas-guzzling cars.

Recommended Actions

  1. Go electric: Buy or lease an EV, PHEV, or a HEV. The potential benefit to the earth and our pocketbooks is HUGE if many of us choose to go electric. 
  2. If not electric, go for higher mpg. But really, think hard about going electric first. You can start with a HEV or PHEV if that feels more comfortable. Just remember that. If you still can’t switch to electric, make fuel economy one of your top selection criteria and don’t buy more car that you really need. You can extend storage with roof and rear racks without resorting to a gas-guzzler. And for those occasional trips when you need more carrying capacity, rent a truck or van. By switching to a car with better gas mileage, you can save hundreds of dollars a year and do your part for the planet.
  3. Drive less. Ride a bike, take the train or bus, telecommute, carpool with friends and “tripchain” (bundle errands into a single car trip).

Charging a car at a charging station

Equipment Cost

Purchase prices for electric cars are comparable to gas-powered cars, especially after the current Federal and State tax rebates for EVs and PHEVs. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, over their lifetime, EVs are less expensive than gas-powered cars.

The cost to install a car charger is in the range of $1,000 to $1,200, which includes the cost of the charger itself and the cost of an electrician to install it. This cost is tax deductible.

Incentives

  • Federal tax rebates of up to $7,500 and State tax rebates up to $2,500 are currently available for EVs and PHEVs (but not HEVs).
  • You can also get a 30% Federal tax rebate on the cost of battery charger installation.
  • DriveGreen, a program of People’s Power & Light, provides resources and information as well as special deals on EVs and PHEVs at selected car dealerships.

Environmental Benefits

EVs do not have any tailpipe CO2 emission, nor do they emit other pollutants such as nitrogen oxides and hydrocarbons. At this time, much of our electricity is generated from fossil fuels, which means that driving an EV is not entirely pollution free. But even some station wagon style EVs get the equivalent of over a 100 mpg. See the Department of Energy’s 2019 Fuel Economy Guide for more info.

Other Benefits or Potential Draw-backs

Electric vehicles have a much lower cost of ownership. They do not need oil changes, and have no transmission fluids, fuel pumps, timing belts and many other moving parts. Regenerative brakes also last longer than those found in gas-powered vehicles. The only major potential expense is battery replacement, which may result in a 20% drop in range after 100,000 miles.

Plug-in EV refueling from a charger mounted on a post.

Therefore, overall maintenance costs for EVs are considerably lower than gas-powered vehicles. Unfortunately, hybrid cars still have internal combustion engines, which will need regular maintenance.

Any homeowner who has off-street parking can install a charger, even if they do not have a garage. A charger may be installed on the exterior of a house or on a freestanding post. Homeowners of condominiums or apartment dwellers with dedicated parking spots can also have a charger, together with an accessory electric meter.

FAQs:

Q: What are the different car options and how do they work? A: HEVs have both a gas engine and electric motor. The battery is charged by burning fuel and from braking; there is no need to plug in. A combination of gasoline combustion and battery energy is used to deliver better fuel economy than that of a gas-powered engine. HEVs are a good choice when plugging in your car to recharge is not practical.

PHEVs run on battery power as long as it lasts and then switch to gasoline power, which may be beneficial for those who drive long distances or have limited opportunities to plug in to recharge their batteries.  If driven short distances, they have similar fuel efficiency to BEVs but that decreases if you drive longer distances and run on gasoline power. Overall they are still much more fuel-efficient that gasoline-powered cars.

EVs have an electric motor only and no internal combustion engine; the battery must therefore be regularly charged. These cars have the highest fuel economy. The Union of Concerned Scientists July 2018 Got Science? podcast explores “Revolution on the Road: The Shift to EVs and Self-Driving Cars.

Q: I’m concerned that an electric car will not be able to travel far enough on one charged battery. A: EVs have made rapid progress over the past few years and now have a much better range. For example the highly-rated 2019 Chevrolet Bolt has a range of 238 miles. The 2019 Tesla Model S has a range of 335 miles. Also, there is already an extensive network of charging stations all across the country that continues to grow.

Q: How do I charge up my battery at home? Is it hard or expensive? A: Your car’s battery will charge when plugged into a standard outlet; it will just take longer. It’s better to have an electrician install a 220-volt line and a charger in your garage or outdoors in your yard. You’ll need a separate accessory meter for that and if you already have solar PV, it’s probably not worth it.

Resources/Links

  1. Inside EVs has comprehensive information on a wide range of EVs.
  2. Plug in America has an app showing car-charging locations across the U.S.
  3. Cleaner Cars from Cradle to Grave; How Electric Cars Beat Gasoline Cars on Lifetime Global Warming Emissions, Union of Concerned Scientists.