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.
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Democrats in the House and Senate have introduced legislation to ban some of the most toxic pesticides currently in use in the U.S. D-Keine / E+ / Getty Images
By Jake Johnson
Democrats in the House and Senate on Tuesday introduced sweeping legislation that would ban some of the most toxic pesticides currently in use in the U.S. and institute stronger protections for farmworkers and communities that have been exposed to damaging chemicals by the agriculture industry.
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BP, the energy giant that grew from oil and gas production, is taking its business in a new direction, announcing Tuesday that it will slash its oil and gas production by 40 percent and increase its annual investment in low-carbon technology to $5 billion, a ten-fold increase over its current level, according to CNN.
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By Alex Thornton
The Australian government has announced a A$190 million (US$130 million) investment in the nation's first Recycling Modernization Fund, with the aim of transforming the country's waste and recycling industry. The hope is that as many as 10,000 jobs can be created in what is being called a "once in a generation" opportunity to remodel the way Australia deals with its waste.
Waste Mountain<p>The need for a dramatic increase in Australia's recycling capacity pre-dates the COVID-19 pandemic. <a href="https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-12-27/where-does-all-australias-waste-go/11755424" target="_blank">Australians create approximately 67 million tons of waste a year</a>, and like in many wealthy countries, much of that was sent overseas. That all changed when China announced it was <a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/10/china-has-banned-foreign-waste-so-whats-the-future-of-world-recycling" target="_blank">banning the import of a huge range of foreign waste</a> and recyclables. Soon <a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/05/malaysia-flooded-with-plastic-waste-to-send-back-some-scrap-to-source" target="_blank">other countries followed suit</a>, and Australia was forced to look for alternative solutions.</p>
Biggest exporters of plastic. Statista
Waste Export Ban<p>Australia has adopted a strategy of taking responsibility for its own waste. Starting in January 2021, it is phasing in <a href="http://www.environment.gov.au/protection/waste-resource-recovery/waste-export-ban" target="_blank">bans on the export of different forms of waste</a>. By mid 2024, Australia's home-grown recycling industry will have to deal with an extra 650,000 tons of waste plastic, paper, glass and tires.</p><p>"As we cease shipping our waste overseas, the waste and recycling transformation will reshape our domestic waste industry, driving job creation and putting valuable materials back into the economy," federal environment minister Sussan Ley said in a <a href="https://uk.reuters.com/article/us-australia-waste/australia-to-set-up-132-million-fund-to-boost-recycling-following-export-curbs-idUKKBN247060" target="_blank">statement to Reuters</a>.</p>
Timeline for Australia's waste export ban. Australian Government
Trash Into Treasure<p>The benefits to the environment of boosting recycling rates are well known – less landfill, less plastic in our ocean, reduced need for virgin materials, and lower carbon emissions. The Recycling Modernization Fund initiative aims to divert more than 10 million tons of waste from landfill, part of an <a href="http://www.environment.gov.au/protection/waste-resource-recovery/publications/national-waste-policy-action-plan" target="_blank">overall strategy to reduce the total waste generated per person by 10%</a>, and push <a href="https://www.environment.gov.au/system/files/resources/7381c1de-31d0-429b-912c-91a6dbc83af7/files/national-waste-report-2018.pdf" target="_blank">Australia's total resource recovery rate from 58% in 2017</a> to 80% by 2030.</p><p>But like many countries, Australia is focusing on the economic benefits of better waste management as well.</p><p>"This will mean Australia converts more waste into higher valued resources ready for reuse locally by manufacturers and brands in their packaging and products," Rose Read, CEO of the National Waste and Recycling Industry Council, <a href="https://uk.reuters.com/article/us-australia-waste/australia-to-set-up-132-million-fund-to-boost-recycling-following-export-curbs-idUKKBN247060" target="_blank">told Reuters</a>.</p>
Green Jobs<p>The great potential of the circular economy to create green jobs is being recognized across the world.</p><p>In the UK, the Waste and Resources Action Program has launched a <a href="https://wrap.org.uk/buildbackbetter" target="_blank">six-point plan which it claims could add $90 billion to the economy, and create 500,000 new jobs</a>. Investment in the circular economy forms a significant part of the <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/14/us/politics/biden-climate-plan.html" target="_blank">$2 trillion climate plan that Democratic candidate Joe Biden</a> is taking into November's US presidential election. And the <a href="https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/ip_20_940" target="_blank">European Union has put its Green New Deal at the heart of its plans for recovery</a> from the economic shock of COVID-19.</p><p>The World Economic Forum's <a href="http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_The_Future_Of_Nature_And_Business_2020.pdf" target="_blank">Future of Nature and Business</a> report identifies 15 systemic transitions with annual business opportunities worth $10 billion a year that could create 395 million jobs by 2030.</p><p>As is the case with Australia's Recycling Modernization Fund, a combination of private enterprise and government investment can offer ways to get people back to work by building a more environmentally sustainable economy.</p>
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The Great American Outdoors Act is now the law of the land.
<div id="e0008" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ffc07febbf5d2d585ad06d3f43e2be56"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1290667833999929344" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">🚨Breaking News: The President has just signed the bipartisan #GreatAmericanOutdoorsAct. It will help: 🏗️ Restore… https://t.co/RPefKPMn7S</div> — Fix Our Parks (@Fix Our Parks)<a href="https://twitter.com/FixOurParksUS/statuses/1290667833999929344">1596554165.0</a></blockquote></div>
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By Andrew J. Whelton and Caitlin R. Proctor
In recent years wildfires have entered urban areas, causing breathtaking destruction.
Survivors left everything to flee the Camp Fire's path. Andrew Whelton / Purdue University
Wildfires and Water<p>Both the Tubbs and Camp fires destroyed fire hydrants, water pipes and meter boxes. Water leaks and ruptured hydrants were common. The Camp Fire inferno spread at a speed of one football field per second, chasing everyone – including water system operators – out of town.</p><p>After the fires passed, testing ultimately revealed widespread hazardous drinking water contamination. Evidence suggests that the toxic chemicals originated from a combination of <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/aws2.1183" target="_blank">burning vegetation, structures and plastic materials</a>.</p>
Pipes, water meters and meter covers after wildfires destroyed them. Caitlin Proctor, Amisha Shah, David Yu, and Andrew Whelton/Purdue University
Dangerous Contamination Levels<p>Benzene was found at concentrations of 40,000 parts per billion (ppb) in drinking water after the Tubbs Fire and at more than 2,217 ppb after the Camp Fire. According to the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, children exposed to benzene for a single day can suffer <a href="https://engineering.purdue.edu/PlumbingSafety/resources/Benzene-Levels-in-Water.pdf" target="_blank">harm at levels as low as 26 ppb</a>.</p><p>The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends limiting children's short-term acute exposure to <a href="https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2018-03/documents/dwtable2018.pdf" target="_blank">200 ppb</a>, and long-term exposure to less than <a href="https://www.epa.gov/ground-water-and-drinking-water/national-primary-drinking-water-regulations" target="_blank">5 ppb</a>. The EPA regulatory level for what constitutes a hazardous waste is <a href="https://19january2017snapshot.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2015-06/documents/tclp.pdf" target="_blank">500 ppb</a>.</p><p>In early 2019, California conducted contaminated water testing on humans by taking contaminated water from the Paradise Irrigation District and asking persons to smell it. The state found that even when people smelled contaminated water that had less than 200 ppb benzene, <a href="https://engineering.purdue.edu/PlumbingSafety/resources/Dissipatiion-of-Burn-Related-VOC-From-Water.pdf" target="_blank">at least one person reported nausea and throat irritation</a>. The test also showed that water contained a variety of other benzene-like compounds that first responders had not sampled for.</p><p>The officials who carried out this small-scale test did not appear to realize the significance of what they had done, until we asked whether they had had their action approved in advance by an institutional review board. In response, they asserted that such a review was not needed.</p><p>In our view, this episode is telling for two reasons. First, one subject reported an adverse health effect after being exposed to water that contained benzene at a level below the EPA's recommended one-day limit for children. Second, doing this kind of test without proper oversight suggests that officials greatly underestimated the potential for serious contamination of local water supplies and public harm. After the Camp Fire, together with the EPA, we estimated that some plastic pipes needed <a href="https://engineering.purdue.edu/PlumbingSafety/opinions/Final-HDPE-Service-Line-Decontamination-2019-03-18.pdf" target="_blank">more than 280 days</a> of flushing to make them safe again.</p>
Plastic pipes can be damaged by heat and fire contact. Andrew Whelton / Purdue University
Building Codes Could Make Areas Disaster-Ready<p>Our research underscores that community building codes are inadequate to prevent wildfire-caused pollution of drinking water and homes.</p><p>Installing one-way valves, called backflow prevention devices, at each water meter can prevent contamination rushing out of the damaged building from flowing into the larger buried pipe network.</p><p>Adopting codes that required builders to install fire-resistant meter boxes and place them farther from vegetation would help prevent infrastructure from burning so readily in wildfires. Concrete meter boxes and water meters with minimal plastic components would be less likely to ignite. Some plastics may be practically impossible to make safe again, since all types are susceptible to fire and heat.</p><p>Water main shutoff valves and water sampling taps should exist at every water meter box. Sample taps can help responders quickly determine water safety.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9540d7e271306ed417112042a3efc9a4"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/GnlrzI1wdAI?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Smell Test Doesn’t Work<p>Under no circumstance should people be told to <a href="https://www.waterboards.ca.gov/press_room/press_releases/2018/pr122418_voc.pdf" target="_blank">smell the water</a> to determine its safety, as was recommended for months after the Camp Fire. Many chemicals have no odor when they are harmful. Only testing can determine safety.</p><p>Ordering people to boil their water will not make it safe if it contains toxic chemicals that enter the air. Boiling just transmits those substances into the air faster. "Do not use" orders can keep people safe until agencies can test the water. Before such advisories are lifted or modified, regulators should be required to carry out a full chemical screen of the water systems. Yet, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/aws2.1183" target="_blank">disaster</a> after <a href="https://pubs.rsc.org/en/content/articlehtml/2017/ew/c5ew00294j" target="_blank">disaster</a>, government agencies have failed to take this step.</p><p>Buildings should be tested to find contamination. <a href="https://www.purdue.edu/newsroom/releases/2020/Q1/study-your-homes-water-quality-could-vary-by-the-room-and-the-season.html" target="_blank">Home drinking water quality can differ from room to room</a>, so reliable testing should sample both cold and hot water at many locations within each building.</p><p>While infrastructure is being repaired, survivors need a safe water supply. Water treatment devices sold for home use, such as refrigerator and faucet water filters, are not approved for extremely contaminated water, although product sales representatives and government officials may <a href="https://undark.org/2019/09/19/camp-fire-california-drinking-water-carcinogens/" target="_blank">mistakenly think</a> the devices can be used for that purpose.</p><p>To avoid this kind of confusion, external technical experts should be called in assist local public health departments, which can quickly become overwhelmed after disasters.</p>
<div id="71cf9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="e059d199e8368d282a31601e372e4dda"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1204068265980547075" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">The Los Angeles City Council's Planning and Land Use Committee signed off on an effort to expand the city's fire-re… https://t.co/fP8Z8mUq7R</div> — IntlCodeCouncil (@IntlCodeCouncil)<a href="https://twitter.com/IntlCodeCouncil/statuses/1204068265980547075">1575907219.0</a></blockquote></div>
Preparing for Future Fires<p>The damage that the Tubbs and Camp fires caused to local water systems was preventable. We believe that urban and rural communities, as well as state legislatures, should establish codes and lists of authorized construction materials for high-risk areas. They also should establish rapid methods to assess health, prepare for water testing and decontamination, and set aside emergency water supplies.</p><p>Wildfires are coming to urban areas. Protecting drinking water systems, buried underground or in buildings, is one thing communities can do to prepare for that reality.</p>
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By Zulfikar Abbany
"We don't have a definition of life," says Kevin Peter Hand, one early California morning when we speak via video. "We don't actually know what life is."