Have you been noticing more electric vehicles (EVs) on the roads these days? Or plugged into a charging station at a local grocery store or in a parking ramp?
Do you wonder why people choose to drive them? Here are some things to know about this new technology.
What is an electric car?
These are cars powered by electricity, stored in the battery, instead of gas. Some models are full-electric cars known as battery powered electric vehicles (BEV) and others are plug-in hybrid (PHEV) models powered with both electricity and gas.
Depending on the model, a full-electric car can travel 100 to 300 miles before the batteries need charging. The driving range per charge is expected to increase in future EV models. This is due to the addition of more on-board battery capacity as battery costs decrease.
Plug-in hybrid electric cars have a gas engine in addition to an electric motor. The gas engine kicks-in once the batteries run out of power, typically after 15 to 50 miles of travel.
Why drive one?
Electric vehicles have zero pollution emissions from the tailpipe. In fact, a full-electric car has no tailpipe. Driving an electric car helps improve local air quality, especially in high population neighborhoods near busy roadways. And when you charge your EV with electricity from renewable wind or solar sources, there are zero emissions both when the car is operating and during charging. Some EV drivers have even put solar in at their homes; others have signed up for community solar or utility EV renewable energy programs: mncharging.org.
Even when charged with electricity from the grid, electric vehicles have two-thirds fewer carbon dioxide emissions than gas vehicles due to their high energy-efficiency. In addition, Minnesota’s electricity generation continues to include more wind and solar—making it even greener to drive an EV!
EVs are also more economical to operate. An energy efficiency rating at four times that of a gas-powered car means "fueling" costs for full-electric cars are significantly less. Because electric cars have hundreds of fewer moving parts than conventional vehicles, their maintenance costs are also much less. For example, there is no need to schedule an oil or transmission fluid change. Drivers report them as being quiet and fun to drive because of their instant response when the accelerator is pushed.
Are they expensive to buy?
More models are coming out that rival gas-fueled vehicles on purchase price, especially after federal tax credits are applied. To compare the emissions and cost of driving an electric vs. gas-powered car, check out the U.S. Department of Energy’s Electric Drive Cost Calculator.
How do you charge the batteries?
Most people charge electric cars at home in their garages overnight. Charging stations (also known as electric vehicle supply equipment) for the garage are available online via home improvement stores and other outlets. You may need an electrician to install equipment depending on the type you select. Contact your utility to inquire about electric vehicle charging programs.
A number of public parking ramps, workplaces, and stores have charging stations for use when drivers are away from home and need a charge. Depending upon the station owner, there or may or not may be a cost for using a public station. There are over 630 public charging spaces in Minnesota. Check out the locations on www.plugshare.com.
For long distance travel by electric car, charging corridors are going in across the country. Along these interstate and highway routes, fast-chargers will charge your car in about 30 minutes. In the future, these stations are expected to provide a charge in about 10 minutes, which is about the time it takes to fill a gas car tank.
With new charging stations, you can now travel by electric vehicle from the Twin Cities to Duluth. Interstate 35 now has a series of fast-charging stations that can charge an EV in about 30 minutes.
The MPCA is working on awarding grant funding to selected project proposers for the Volkswagen Settlement funds available for electric vehicle infrastructure. Two grant opportunities recently closed for fast charging stations along selected highway corridors in Minnesota and Level 2 charging stations around the state.
Are there fewer miles per charge in the winter?
The distance you can drive per charge does decrease in the winter. Here are some things you can do to improve mileage in cold weather:
- Warm the car cabin while the car is still plugged in. This allows you to use power from the grid to warm up the car rather then pulling electricity from the car battery.
- Use your vehicle’s heated accessories. Heated accessories (steering wheel, seats, etc.) use less energy than heating the entire cabin. In addition, the warmth on your backside and fingers can minimize the amount of cabin heat needed to make you and your passengers feel comfortable.
- Practice eco-driving. Using eco-driving techniques can help get the most out of your range all year round — watch your speed, avoid hard starts, and coast to a stop when possible and press the brake pedal gradually, when needed. Visit FuelEconomy.gov for more EV eco-driving tips.
- Be sure to brush off your car before driving. Snow or ice on your vehicle adds extra weight that your battery has to drag along. It also increases aerodynamic drag by changing your vehicle’s profile. Since EVs don’t produce waste heat from the engine, snow on your hood will stay put if you don’t brush it off before you start your trip.
What does the future hold for electric cars?
New developments in battery technology, a growing number of vehicles to choose from, wireless charging, and expanded charging infrastructure, among others, point to a bright future for electric vehicles. It helps that more and more automakers are investing in the development and expansion of EVs. Today in Minnesota, you can purchase one of 25 models of plug-in hybrid or fully electric vehicles.
Where can I get more information?
- Locations of public charging stations including fast chargers
- Drive Electric Minnesota
- U.S. Department of Energy electric vehicles
- Plug-in electrics available in Minnesota
- To talk with existing owners
- How your utility company can help
- If you live in an apartment building or condominium
- How to get charging at your workplace