The Beginner's Guide to Electric Cars
By Emily Long
Electric vehicles (EVs) are getting cheaper — so whether you're looking for a way to save on the hassle and cost of gas, shrink your carbon footprint, or simply zip around in a new Tesla, there are lots of reasons to consider a hybrid or electric car.
But before you go electric, there are a few decisions you have to make — and some planning you need to do — to make sure the car you buy fits your driving needs. Here are a few things to consider before you make the switch.
Decide Whether to Go With a Plug-In Hybrid or Full EV
While a conventional hybrid (HEV) relies on its gasoline engine and a small battery to work in tandem, a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) can operate on its battery alone — and burn no fuel — for a limited number of miles before the engine starts up to help.
If you never plug your PHEV in, it'll act just like a regular hybrid with the engine and battery trading off. So while you can charge your plug-in hybrid to get the benefits of battery-only driving over a short distance, you don't have to.
A full EV, on the other hand, relies solely on its battery for power — which means it has to be charged regularly.
Calculate Your Costs
There are a few elements to comparing the cost of an EV versus a conventional car. One is the cost to drive your vehicle off the lot. EVs are still more expensive up front: $55,600 compared to an industry median of $36,600. The median cost of a PHEV is somewhere in the middle (around $46,000).
If you install Level 2 home charging equipment, that'll add to your upfront cost (more on that in a minute).
But the real difference is in long-term costs, which vary widely based on factors like the car make and model; gas and electricity prices where you live; when and where you charge your EV; maintenance costs; and how much you drive.
For example, it's likely that your energy costs will be lower with an EV (electricity) versus a conventional car (gas) and somewhere in the middle with a PHEV. Use a calculator (like the FuelEconomy.gov's Plug-in Hybrid tool and eGallon comparison) to get a ballpark figure.
Install a Charger at Home
Depending on where you live, you may be able to rely on public charging stations to keep your EV's battery full. But many electric car owners say that it's much easier and more convenient to install a charger at your home if you're able. Your vehicle is likely to spend the largest chunks of idle time parked in your garage or driveway, so if you can charge there you'll save yourself the hassle of waiting at a station.
If you live in an apartment or have to park on the street or in a public lot, you may be out of luck on this (unless you can convince your landlord or property manager to install charging equipment).
Setting up home charging is pretty straightforward. You can plug a Level 1 charger right into a standard 120V outlet, though this will juice up your vehicle very slowly (2–5 miles per hour, according to Energy Department estimates).
A Level 2 charger uses 240V, costs anywhere from a few hundred dollars to $1,000 or more to install, and works much faster — adding anywhere from about 10 to 20 (or more, for some models) miles of range per hour of charging. You can install this type of charger yourself or hire an electrician. Make sure you get the right parts for your vehicle. Tesla, for example, has a specific hardware and installation guide for its cars.
Take Advantage of Free Charging (and Downtime)
Charging at home will add a little bit to your electricity bill, and some charging stations do require you to pay for juicing up your EV. But there are lots of ways to charge for free.
For example, your office may provide charging stations for employees so you can leave your car plugged in for part of your workday. Some hotels, restaurants, and stores offer charging for patrons. You can also find nearby public charging stations that are free using maps like ChargePoint and PlugShare (which have filters for paid vs. free stations).
Note that public charging stations often have time limits (similar to parking restrictions). Make sure you check signage and observe any posted rules.
Plus, you can use any time you're not driving — and any location where you can plug into a 120V outlet — as an opportunity to charge (at your friends' homes, at your Airbnb, etc.).
Plan Your Driving Routes Ahead of Time
Your vehicle's range may be one of the biggest limitations to consider before you buy. Most EVs have a range of fewer than 300 miles, which makes longer trips difficult unless you can find charging stations along the way. PHEVs have very short driving ranges per charge — generally enough for commuting or running errands — but will switch to gas when needed.
Since there are far more gas stations than charging stations, driving a full EV over longer distances requires some planning. Google Maps shows you nearby stations and what kind of equipment is available if you search "EV Charging" or "EV Charging Stations." Apps like ChargeHub and PlugShare offer similar mapping features.
Depending on where and how much you drive, an EV's range may be plenty. But if you travel a lot, you may end up frustrated with charging stops and route planning if an EV is your only option. If charging stations are few and far between, if there's a line of cars already waiting, or if you simply don't want to stop for longer than a lunch break, this could get really old, really fast.
A possible workaround: if you road trip less frequently, rent a car as needed for distances beyond your EV's range. Or go with a PHEV, which can switch to gas for longer journeys.
Use the Right Charging Equipment
If you have to charge your car away from home, make sure you use the right combination of charger and plug. Most vehicles have a standard J1772 port that connects with a Level 1 or Level 2 charging unit. Some cars can also connect to faster Level 3 charging equipment using one of a few different connectors (called CHAdeMO and SAE Combo).
Teslas can hook up to proprietary Supercharger stations, though Tesla also has J1772 and CHAdeMO adapters for stations outside of its network.
Your car's specs should outline which connectors and charging systems your EV can use (or it's something you'll learn on day one of ownership). It is possible that not every charging station you encounter will have fast charging options, but you should be able to connect to any Level 2 charger with or without a J1772 adapter.
Maintain Your Vehicle
EVs don't require regular oil changes like gas-powered cars. But that doesn't mean you can simply charge and go. You still have to attend to other standard-issue car maintenance tasks and regularly inflate and rotate your tires, change your wiper blades, and keep an eye on brake pads. Some EV drivers report that underinflated tires can significantly affect your car's range. Basically, maintenance matters.
But most EVs come with much less frequent maintenance checks than conventional cars (case in point: the Chevy Bolt has no scheduled maintenance outside of tire rotations every 7,500 miles, air filter changes every 22,500 miles, and coolant flushes every 150,000 miles). There may be some minimal maintenance required on batteries and electronics, and of course, things can unexpectedly go haywire.
By contrast, PHEVs will be on similar schedules to conventional cars because they still have gas engines and associated fluids.
Depending on your specific service needs, your neighborhood mechanic may not be equipped for the job (if specialty tools are required, for example). In that case, you may need to seek out a dealer who works on your EV model.
Prepare for Extreme Temperatures
EVs have some quirks in cold weather. All cars are slightly less efficient in the winter, but EVs lose some of their range (25 percent or more) because batteries are very sensitive to temperature. Plus, it takes energy to power climate control — whether you're running the heat or the air conditioning.
One way around this is to precondition your EV while it's plugged into your charger — this warms the car and the battery so stored energy goes toward powering your actual drive. It's similar to turning on your gas-powered car's heat before you actually need to get in and drive away, but with most EVs, you can turn on or schedule this function with a connected app. Heating both your battery and your EV's cabin ahead of time means you'll be warmer and your car will be more efficient despite the cold weather. You can also set preconditioning to work in the summer so your car is nice and cool for your commute.
With a PHEV, heat relies on the gas engine. If you want to stay on battery power, turn on your heated seats until you can't handle the cold and need to blast the heat.
Don’t Forget to Turn Your Car Off
EVs and PHEVs are generally a lot quieter than regular vehicles — which means it's easy to get out, shut the door, and forget that the car is running. Remember to turn it off before you walk away. While it's unlikely you'll come close to draining your battery before you return, you probably shouldn't get in the habit of leaving it on. You may have the option to enable an alarm that goes off when you've left your car running. Some EVs automatically shut off after a set amount of time — and Teslas turn off when you exit and close the door behind you.
Emily is a freelance writer based in Salt Lake City, UT.
This story originally appeared in Lifehacker. It is republished here as part of EcoWatch's partnership with Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.
By Victoria Masterson
Using one of the world's problems to solve another is the philosophy behind a Norwegian start-up's mission to develop affordable housing from 100% recycled plastic.
Sustainable Homes<p>UN-Habitat says an <a href="https://unhabitat.org/un-habitat-aims-to-use-plastic-waste-to-support-housing-for-all" target="_blank">estimated 60% of people living in urban areas of Africa are in informal settlements</a>. At the same time, between 1990 and 2017, African countries imported around 230 metric tonnes of plastic, "which mostly ended up in dump sites creating a massive environmental challenge," the agency adds.</p><p>UN-Habitat deputy executive director, Victor Kisob, said the aim of the partnership with Othalo was to "promote adequate, sustainable and affordable housing for all."</p>
Artist's impression of an Othalo community, imagined by architect Julien De Smedt. Othalo<p>Othalo's process involves shredding plastic waste and mixing it with other elements, including non-flammable materials. Components are used to build up to four floors, with a home of 60 square metres using eight tons of recycled plastic. A factory with one production line can produce 2,800 housing units annually.</p><p>Following successful laboratory tests, Othalo's factory in Estonia has started producing components to build three demonstration homes for Kenya's capital, Nairobi; Yaoundé, the capital of Cameroon and Dakar, the capital of Senegal.</p><p>Othalo founder Frank Cato Lahti has been developing and testing the technology since 2016 in partnership with <a href="https://www.sintef.no/en/" target="_blank">SINTEF</a>, a 70-year-old independent research organization in Trondheim, Norway, and experts at Norway's <a href="https://en.uit.no/startsida" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">University of Tromsø</a>.</p>
Othalo founder Frank Cato Lahti. Othalo<p>Almost <a href="https://www.un.org/development/desa/publications/2018-revision-of-world-urbanization-prospects.html" target="_blank">seven out of every 10 people in the world are expected to live in urban areas by 2050</a>. More than 90% of this growth will take place in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean.</p><p>"In the absence of effective urban planning, the consequences of this rapid urbanization will be dramatic," UN-Habitat warns.</p><p>Lack of proper housing and growth of slums, inadequate and outdated infrastructure, escalating poverty and unemployment, and pollution and health issues, are just some of the effects.</p><p>Mindsets, policies, and approaches towards urbanization need to change for the growth of cities and urban areas to be turned into opportunities that will leave nobody behind, UN-Habitat says.</p>
Pioneers of Change<p>Reimagining cities and communities for greater resilience and sustainability was a key topic at the<a href="https://www.weforum.org/events/pioneers-of-change-summit-2020" target="_blank"> World Economic Forum's Pioneers of Change Summit 2020</a>.</p><p>The digital event brought together innovators and stakeholders from around the world to explore solutions to the challenges facing enterprises, governments and society.</p><p>Opening the summit, <a href="https://www.weforum.org/events/pioneers-of-change-summit-2020/sessions/opening-plenary-8f731cbc65" target="_blank">Stephan Mergenthaler, the Forum's Head of Strategic Intelligence and a member of the Executive Committee</a>, said: "We need to change the way we produce, the way we live and interact in our cities to make this transition to net-zero emissions a reality…</p><p>"And as this year has illustrated so dramatically, we need to make every effort that we keep populations healthy, if we want to avoid jeopardizing all this progress."</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/11/un-africa-recycled-plastic-housing/" target="_blank">World Economic Forum</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649069252#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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By Dolf Gielen and Morgan Bazilian
John Kerry helped bring the world into the Paris climate agreement and expanded America's reputation as a climate leader. That reputation is now in tatters, and President-elect Joe Biden is asking Kerry to rebuild it again – this time as U.S. climate envoy.
Energy Is at the Center of the Climate Challenge<p>The <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/1/" target="_blank">effects of climate change</a> are already evident across the globe, from <a href="https://theconversation.com/100-degrees-in-siberia-5-ways-the-extreme-arctic-heat-wave-follows-a-disturbing-pattern-141442" target="_blank">extreme heat waves</a> to <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/12/" target="_blank">sea level rise</a>. But while the challenge is daunting, there is hope. Solar and wind power have become the <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2020/Jun/Renewable-Power-Costs-in-2019" target="_blank">cheapest forms of power generation globally</a>, and technology progress and innovation continue apace to support a transition to clean energy.</p><p>In the U.S. under a Biden administration, long-term national climate legislation will depend on who controls the Senate, and that won't be clear until after two run-off elections in Georgia in January.</p><p>But there is no shortage of <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/features/2020-biden-climate-change-advice/" target="_blank">ideas for ways Biden</a> could still take action even if his proposals are blocked in Congress. For example, he could use executive orders and direct government agencies to tighten regulations on greenhouse gas emissions; increase research and development in clean energy technologies; and empower states to exceed national standards, <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-autos-emissions-california/defying-trump-california-locks-in-vehicle-emission-deals-with-major-automakers-idUSKCN25D2CH" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">as California did in the past with auto emission standards</a>. A focus on a just and equitable transition for communities and people affected by the decline of fossil fuels will also be key to creating a sustainable transition.</p><p>The U.S. position as the world's largest oil and gas producer and consumer creates political challenges for any administration. U.S. forays into European energy security are often treated with suspicion. Recently, France blocked <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/frances-engie-backs-out-of-u-s-lng-deal-11604435609" target="_blank">a multi-billion dollar contract</a> to buy U.S. liquefied natural gas because of concerns about limited emissions regulations in Texas.</p><p>Strengthening cooperation and partnerships with like-minded countries will be critical to bring about a transition to cleaner energy as well as sustainability in agriculture, forestry, water and other sectors of the global economy.</p>
Creating a Global Sustainable Transition<p>How the world recovers from COVID-19's economic damage could help drive a lasting shift in the global energy mix.</p><p>Nearly one-third of Europe's US$2 trillion economic relief package <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-07-21/eu-approves-biggest-green-stimulus-in-history-with-572-billion-plan" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">involves investments that are also good for the climate</a>. The European Union is also strengthening its 2030 climate targets, though each country's energy and climate plans will be critical for successfully implementing them. The <a href="https://joebiden.com/clean-energy/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Biden plan</a> – including a $2 trillion commitment to developing sustainable energy and infrastructure – is aligned with a global energy transition, but its implementation is also uncertain.</p><p>Once Biden takes office, Kerry will be joining ongoing <a href="https://www.un.org/en/conferences/energy2021/about#:%7E:text=The%20overarching%20goal%20of%20the,2030%20Agenda%20for%20Sustainable%20Development.&text=Accelerate%20delivery%20of%20United%20Nations,related%20issues%20at%20all%20levels." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">high-level discussions on the energy transition</a> at the U.N. General Assembly and other gatherings of international leaders. With the U.S. no longer obstructing work on climate issues, the G-7 and G-20 have more potential for progress on energy and climate.</p><p>Lots of technical details still need to be worked out, including international trade frameworks and standards that can help countries lower greenhouse gas emissions enough to keep global warming in check. <a href="https://www.carbonpricingleadership.org/what" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Carbon pricing</a> and <a href="https://www.csis.org/analysis/how-can-europe-get-carbon-border-adjustment-right" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">carbon border adjustment taxes</a>, which create incentive for companies to reduce emissions, may be part of it. A consistent and comprehensive set of national energy transition plans will also be needed.</p><p>The global shift to <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2019/Jan/A-New-World-The-Geopolitics-of-the-Energy-Transformation" target="_blank">clean energy will also have geopolitical implications for countries and regions</a>, and this will have a profound impact on wider international relations. Kerry, with his experience as secretary of state in the Obama administration, and Biden's plan to make the climate envoy position part of the National Security Council, may help mend these relations. In doing so, the U.S. may again join the wider community of countries willing to lead.</p>
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By Maria Caffrey
As we approach the holidays I, like most people, have been reflecting on everything 2020 has given us (or taken away) while starting to look ahead to 2021.