As I See It: Charged up about EVs
Published 5:44 am, Friday, August 7, 2015
On July 13, I drove to Stratford in a car powered by an internal combustion engine, and drove home in a vehicle powered only by an electric motor.
I cut my ties to carbon-based fuel, and from now on, my fuel will be electrons. Gas stations are now for pit stops and an occasional bag of Doritos. For the most part, I will recharge my electric vehicle (EV for short) at home. In my case, the solar panels on my roof will produce the electricity I need to run my car, at almost no additional cost to me. Even if I weren’t solarized, my fuel cost per mile would be sharply reduced, and I can expect more savings because EVs require minimal maintenance aside from brakes and tires.
My Volkswagen eGolf does not sacrifice performance. It’s whisper-quiet, with solid handling and impressive acceleration. And it’s got all the creature comforts and technological frills found in any late-model car. The sticker price was several thousand dollars more than a comparable gasoline-powered model, but was more than offset by a $7500 Federal tax credit and a $3000 rebate from the state (the funding for this rebate is limited, and varies with the EV’s battery capacity).
Let me stop congratulating myself long enough to confess that the preceding paragraphs tend to glorify the advantages of EVs while leaving out the trade-offs. I said goodbye to an excellent hybrid car to make this bold leap into the future, so I need a lot of reassurance. I think I’ve taken the trade-offs into consideration, but the wisdom of this decision remains to be seen.
With new technology, I’m not the first one to charge up the hill. So I took comfort in knowing that about 1,700 EVs had already been registered in Connecticut; the number approaches 300,000 nationally. That’s a miniscule percentage of total cars on the road, but EV sales have been exponential, not only in the U.S. but around the world.
I was surprised to learn that EVs have been around as long as gasoline-powered vehicles, both having origins in the 19th Century. The two technologies competed for supremacy until the 1930s, but EVs could not compete on cost, speed and range. It did not help that gas stations proliferated as a road-building boom allowed for longer trips. But a major EV renaissance is underway, mainly because of advances in battery technology.
OK then, why did I go for an EV? Beyond the favorable economics, I’ve been on a tear in reducing my carbon footprint, and this is a major step in that direction. But I still need reliable transportation! In my working life, I drove 30,000 miles a year. Now that I’m out to pasture, it’s down to 8,000 a year, most of which is well within the range of my EV (80 to 100 miles).
Which brings us to the main trade-off: range anxiety. True, I’m giving up a lot of range; my EV’s battery will be out of electrons long before a standard car runs out of gas. So, I have to keep an eye on the charge remaining in my battery, and anticipate my next day’s drive distance. Most of the time, my car will recharge in my garage while I sleep. If we have a longer trip, say, to Boston, we’ll take my wife’s Subaru. An EV trip to Boston would require planning. There is an ever-expanding network of charging stations, but depending on how much charge I need, and the charging speed of the EV station, I might have to kill some time before I’d be back on the road.
We can reasonably expect battery technology improvements to increase range and decrease charging time. If you’re driving profile includes a lot of long-distance trips, though, this might not be the time for you to get a pure EV. If you’re willing to spring for a Tesla S, though, you don’t need to wait, and feel like James Bond at the same time. Long commutes need not be an obstacle, if there’s an EV charging station installed at your workplace or nearby.
Meanwhile, it’s been fun learning a new way to drive. The game in my hybrid Honda was simply to maximize miles per gallon. With an EV it’s the same game, but with the recharging challenge, the bottom line is maximizing range. I’m driving slower on highways, but I get my thrills zipping up to highway speed. I’m a little stingy with A/C, and I’m learning how to let the car exploit the energy generated by braking to recharge the battery. I can use gravity to save power; when I go downhill on North Benson Road, I take my foot off the accelerator for a controlled roll. If I’m lucky and make the lights, I can get all the way to the I-95 underpass without using a single electron.
Fairfield has nine EV charging stations, with more on the way. I can go to Whole Foods, for example, to shop and grab a cup of coffee while my car gets a free charge in the parking lot. It feels like a “green discount” on the organic carrots.
My EV experiment has been a success so far. There are lots of EV’s on the market, and you can see some of them on Sept. 12, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., at the “EV Plaza” event at the Fairprene lot at the Fairfield train station. Maybe you’re ready to plug in!
Ron Blumenfeld is a Fairfield writer and retired pediatrician. His "As I See It" column appears periodically. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.