Ready to Buy an Electric Vehicle? Here's What You Need to Know
That loud sound you hear over the horizon might just be the electric car finally revving up to enter the mainstream American auto market. Except that electric cars don't really rev—they’re practically silent, handle beautifully, save you money at the gas pump and do the least harm to the environment of any vehicle currently on the road. But until recently, delivering that package of benefits in a car with reliable range and an affordable price tag has been an elusive goal for manufacturers and eco-conscious drivers alike.
In 2010, there were just a few models widely available to consumers in the U.S. Today, thanks to the rapid pace of innovation in the making and marketing, the number of electric vehicles (or EVs) and plug-in hybrids on the market exceeds 20 and competition among automakers to get into the electric game means many more models and vehicle types are on the way.
The unveiling of Tesla’s new Model 3—a sporty $35,000 battery-operated sedan with a reported range of more than 200 miles—proved how mass the appeal of EVs has become. Within a matter of weeks after the new Tesla was announced in April 2016, more than 370,000 enthusiasts put down $1,000 deposits to pre-order the new model due to hit the streets in late 2017.
With rapid improvements in battery life—and prices falling— “it’s a great time to drive electric,” said Luke Tonachel, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council's (NRDC) Clean Vehicles and Fuels project. Federal and state tax credits of up to $10,000 per purchase make the switch even more tempting, he added. But what are the key differences between owning an EV or plug-in hybrid, versus driving a conventional car with an internal combustion engine, that a driver should take into account?
Here are all the pros and the cons, of going electric:
Performance and Handling
Electric motors produce instant torque, making acceleration on the road fast and smooth. “It’s a great driving experience—you hear people talk about drivers with an ‘EV smile,’" Tonachel said. Top speeds in EVs are comparable with similar styles and models of gas cars and the large battery packs, usually located under the floor of the car, make them stable on the road. EVs are available in front-, rear- and all-wheel drive setups where the fast-response electric drive can help maximize traction and maneuverability. Still, some motorists prefer the more mechanical dynamics and gear shifting of a gas-powered sports car.
This will depend on which type of electric car you're driving. There are battery-only electric cars (EVs); hybrid models with both gas and electric engines and a battery pack charged from an external source (plug-in hybrids or PHEVs); and hybrids that generate their own electricity (HEVs). All these vehicles cost less to operate than a car that runs only on gas. The cost of recharging varies from region to region and also depends on the time of day (peak vs. non-peak). Based on the average of electricity prices nationwide, the U.S. Department of Energy estimates that the cost of driving on grid electricity is equivalent to paying around $1 per gallon at the gas pump. The department's Alternative Fuel Data Center has calculated that light-duty cars operating in electric mode can have fuel efficiency equivalent to more than 100 miles a gallon in a conventional car. Hybrids also have gas tanks, of course, but they burn much less of that type of fuel than conventional cars.
No contest here: EVs and hybrids are generally more eco-friendly than gas-only vehicles. Cars running on electricity produce zero tailpipe emissions; hybrids, when running on gas, do emit some carbon pollution and particulate matter, but less than conventional cars. Of course, electricity itself isn't entirely “clean,” especially in parts of the country with heavy reliance on old fossil-fuel power plants that emit greenhouse gases that cause climate change. Nevertheless, the typical electric-powered personal vehicle accounts for less than half the carbon pollution spewed by a conventional car over the course of its lifetime, according to research conducted by the Electric Power Research Institute and NRDC in 2015. That number is expected to fall further as older fossil-fuel power plants are phased out and replaced with cleaner sources such as renewable wind and solar power.
Two words have dogged the battery-operated auto industry from the beginning: range anxiety. This is the notion that drivers will find themselves stuck on a busy highway with a low battery—and nowhere to recharge it. “It’s an understandable concern,” Tonachel said. To drive a current-generation EV with a range of 80 miles from New York City to Albany, New York—a distance of 147 miles—“you would have to plan it very carefully,” he said. But the average American driver uses his or her vehicle 29.2 miles on a daily basis and that is well within the range of today's average EV. The next generation of EVs to hit the market, like the all-electric 2017 Chevrolet Bolt, which has an advertised range of more than 200 miles, should give consumers even more confidence. This also explains the appeal of a hybrid; it has a gas engine that kicks into gear when the battery runs low.
Fans of the internal combustion engine insist that nothing beats the convenience of the nation’s vast network of gas stations. There were 112,000 of them in 2015, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, versus about 13,500 public electric charging stations. Expanding that recharging infrastructure is critical as EVs make greater and greater inroads into the market and states, municipalities, utility companies, car dealerships, restaurants, hotels and retailers such as Walmart and Kohl's are all working to increase capacity. What these statistics don’t reflect is the large number of charging outlets in private homes, which is where the majority of EV drivers now replenish their batteries, said Tonachel. A standard two-prong 110 volt household outlet powers an EV at a rate of roughly four miles of range per hour of charging. Paying an electrician to install a $500 to $1,000 240-volt recharger allows you to top up the EV in your garage up to six times faster. And that's very convenient indeed.
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By Dana M Bergstrom, Euan Ritchie, Lesley Hughes and Michael Depledge
In 1992, 1,700 scientists warned that human beings and the natural world were "on a collision course." Seventeen years later, scientists described planetary boundaries within which humans and other life could have a "safe space to operate." These are environmental thresholds, such as the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and changes in land use.
The Good and Bad News<p><span>Ecosystems consist of living and non-living components, and their interactions. They work like a super-complex engine: when some components are removed or stop working, knock-on consequences can lead to system failure.</span></p><p>Our study is based on measured data and observations, not modeling or predictions for the future. Encouragingly, not all ecosystems we examined have collapsed across their entire range. We still have, for instance, some intact reefs on the Great Barrier Reef, especially in deeper waters. And northern Australia has some of the most intact and least-modified stretches of savanna woodlands on Earth.</p><p><span>Still, collapses are happening, including in regions critical for growing food. This includes the </span><a href="https://www.mdba.gov.au/importance-murray-darling-basin/where-basin" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Murray-Darling Basin</a><span>, which covers around 14% of Australia's landmass. Its rivers and other freshwater systems support more than </span><a href="https://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/[email protected]/latestproducts/94F2007584736094CA2574A50014B1B6?opendocument" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">30% of Australia's food</a><span> production.</span></p><p><span></span><span>The effects of floods, fires, heatwaves and storms do not stop at farm gates; they're felt equally in agricultural areas and natural ecosystems. We shouldn't forget how towns ran out of </span><a href="https://www.mdba.gov.au/issues-murray-darling-basin/drought#effects" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">drinking water</a><span> during the recent drought.</span></p><p><span></span><span>Drinking water is also at risk when ecosystems collapse in our water catchments. In Victoria, for example, the degradation of giant </span><a href="https://theconversation.com/logging-must-stop-in-melbournes-biggest-water-supply-catchment-106922" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Mountain Ash forests</a><span> greatly reduces the amount of water flowing through the Thompson catchment, threatening nearly five million people's drinking water in Melbourne.</span></p><p>This is a dire <em data-redactor-tag="em">wake-up</em> call — not just a <em data-redactor-tag="em">warning</em>. Put bluntly, current changes across the continent, and their potential outcomes, pose an existential threat to our survival, and other life we share environments with.</p><p><span>In investigating patterns of collapse, we found most ecosystems experience multiple, concurrent pressures from both global climate change and regional human impacts (such as land clearing). Pressures are often </span><a href="https://besjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/1365-2664.13427" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">additive and extreme</a><span>.</span></p><p>Take the last 11 years in Western Australia as an example.</p><p>In the summer of 2010 and 2011, a <a href="https://theconversation.com/marine-heatwaves-are-getting-hotter-lasting-longer-and-doing-more-damage-95637" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">heatwave</a> spanning more than 300,000 square kilometers ravaged both marine and land ecosystems. The extreme heat devastated forests and woodlands, kelp forests, seagrass meadows and coral reefs. This catastrophe was followed by two cyclones.</p><p>A record-breaking, marine heatwave in late 2019 dealt a further blow. And another marine heatwave is predicted for <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/dec/24/wa-coastline-facing-marine-heatwave-in-early-2021-csiro-predicts" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">this April</a>.</p>
What to Do About It?<p><span>Our brains trust comprises 38 experts from 21 universities, CSIRO and the federal Department of Agriculture Water and Environment. Beyond quantifying and reporting more doom and gloom, we asked the question: what can be done?</span></p><p>We devised a simple but tractable scheme called the 3As:</p><ul><li>Awareness of what is important</li><li>Anticipation of what is coming down the line</li><li>Action to stop the pressures or deal with impacts.</li></ul><p>In our paper, we identify positive actions to help protect or restore ecosystems. Many are already happening. In some cases, ecosystems might be better left to recover by themselves, such as coral after a cyclone.</p><p>In other cases, active human intervention will be required – for example, placing artificial nesting boxes for Carnaby's black cockatoos in areas where old trees have been <a href="https://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened/publications/factsheet-carnabys-black-cockatoo-calyptorhynchus-latirostris" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">removed</a>.</p><p><span>"Future-ready" actions are also vital. This includes reinstating </span><a href="https://www.abc.net.au/gardening/factsheets/a-burning-question-fire/12395700" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cultural burning practices</a><span>, which have </span><a href="https://theconversation.com/australia-you-have-unfinished-business-its-time-to-let-our-fire-people-care-for-this-land-135196" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">multiple values and benefits for Aboriginal communities</a><span> and can help minimize the risk and strength of bushfires.</span></p><p>It might also include replanting banks along the Murray River with species better suited to <a href="https://www.abc.net.au/gardening/factsheets/my-garden-path---matt-hansen/12322978" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">warmer conditions</a>.</p><p>Some actions may be small and localized, but have substantial positive benefits.</p><p>For example, billions of migrating Bogong moths, the main summer food for critically endangered mountain pygmy possums, have not arrived in their typical numbers in Australian alpine regions in recent years. This was further exacerbated by the <a href="https://theconversation.com/six-million-hectares-of-threatened-species-habitat-up-in-smoke-129438" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2019-20</a> fires. Brilliantly, <a href="https://www.zoo.org.au/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Zoos Victoria</a> anticipated this pressure and developed supplementary food — <a href="https://theconversation.com/looks-like-an-anzac-biscuit-tastes-like-a-protein-bar-bogong-bikkies-help-mountain-pygmy-possums-after-fire-131045" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Bogong bikkies</a>.</p><p><span>Other more challenging, global or large-scale actions must address the </span><a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iICpI9H0GkU&t=34s" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">root cause of environmental threats</a><span>, such as </span><a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41559-018-0504-8" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">human population growth and per-capita consumption</a><span> of environmental resources.</span><br></p><p>We must rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero, remove or suppress invasive species such as <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/mam.12080" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">feral cats</a> and <a href="https://theconversation.com/the-buffel-kerfuffle-how-one-species-quietly-destroys-native-wildlife-and-cultural-sites-in-arid-australia-149456" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">buffel grass</a>, and stop widespread <a href="https://theconversation.com/to-reduce-fire-risk-and-meet-climate-targets-over-300-scientists-call-for-stronger-land-clearing-laws-113172" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">land clearing</a> and other forms of habitat destruction.</p>
Our Lives Depend On It<p>The multiple ecosystem collapses we have documented in Australia are a harbinger for <a href="https://www.iucn.org/news/protected-areas/202102/natures-future-our-future-world-speaks" target="_blank">environments globally</a>.</p><p>The simplicity of the 3As is to show people <em>can</em> do something positive, either at the local level of a landcare group, or at the level of government departments and conservation agencies.</p><p>Our lives and those of our <a href="https://theconversation.com/children-are-our-future-and-the-planets-heres-how-you-can-teach-them-to-take-care-of-it-113759" target="_blank">children</a>, as well as our <a href="https://theconversation.com/taking-care-of-business-the-private-sector-is-waking-up-to-natures-value-153786" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">economies</a>, societies and <a href="https://theconversation.com/to-address-the-ecological-crisis-aboriginal-peoples-must-be-restored-as-custodians-of-country-108594" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cultures</a>, depend on it.</p><p>We simply cannot afford any further delay.</p><p><em><a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/dana-m-bergstrom-1008495" target="_blank" style="">Dana M Bergstrom</a> is a principal research scientist at the University of Wollongong. <a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/euan-ritchie-735" target="_blank" style="">Euan Ritchie</a> is a professor in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, Centre for Integrative Ecology, School of Life & Environmental Sciences at Deakin University. <a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/lesley-hughes-5823" target="_blank">Lesley Hughes</a> is a professor at the Department of Biological Sciences at Macquarie University. <a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/michael-depledge-114659" target="_blank">Michael Depledge</a> is a professor and chair, Environment and Human Health, at the University of Exeter. </em></p><p><em>Disclosure statements: Dana Bergstrom works for the Australian Antarctic Division and is a Visiting Fellow at the University of Wollongong. Her research including fieldwork on Macquarie Island and in Antarctica was supported by the Australian Antarctic Division.</em></p><p><em>Euan Ritchie receives funding from the Australian Research Council, The Australia and Pacific Science Foundation, Australian Geographic, Parks Victoria, Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, and the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC. Euan Ritchie is a Director (Media Working Group) of the Ecological Society of Australia, and a member of the Australian Mammal Society.</em></p><p><em>Lesley Hughes receives funding from the Australian Research Council. She is a Councillor with the Climate Council of Australia, a member of the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists and a Director of WWF-Australia.</em></p><p><em>Michael Depledge does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.</em></p><p><em>Reposted with permission from <a href="https://theconversation.com/existential-threat-to-our-survival-see-the-19-australian-ecosystems-already-collapsing-154077" target="_blank" style="">The Conversation</a>. </em></p>
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