When presented with a choice to drive either a gasoline-powered vehicle or an electric vehicle, if costs of both were equal, most of us would choose the electric vehicle. Electric vehicles are an intriguing and enticing proposition for many drivers for a host of reasons, including sustainability. However, costs aren’t equal – usually the electric vehicle is much more expensive, up front, than the gas-powered vehicle. Despite that challenge, and others, electric vehicles are the better, more sustainable mode of transportation in the long run for a variety of reasons. There are many benefits, both individual and collective, to driving electric cars.
For one thing, electric cars can help us to end our national dependence on petroleum. In 2019, the U.S. used almost nine billion barrels of petroleum, with two-thirds of that amount going towards transportation. Our heavy reliance on petroleum makes us very vulnerable to supply disruptions and price spikes. Electric vehicles help to reduce this threat, as most U.S. electricity is produced from domestic sources such as natural gas, nuclear, coal and renewable energy sources.
Another plus for electric vehicles is their positive effect on our environment. For one thing, electric vehicles, unlike hybrid vehicles, have no emissions. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, increased usage of electric vehicles can significantly reduce emissions that contribute to climate change. This can improve public health and reduce ecological damage, both now and in the future.
Electric cars are also much quieter than gas-powered vehicles, especially when they are fully running on battery. This can be a big plus for many people who are looking for a smoother, less noisy ride.
As of October 2018, per the Edison Electric Institute (EEI), there were one million electric vehicles on roads in the U.S. That number is projected to increase to 18.7 million by 2030. It is expected that annual sales of electric vehicles will pass 3.5 million vehicles by 2030, making up more than 20 percent of all vehicle sales that year.
If electric vehicles are to become more prevalent in society, there are several challenges that must be addressed. Of course, electric cars rely on batteries that must be recharged. This creates the need for more charging ports to be available for the public to use. By 2030, it is estimated that 9.6 million charge ports will be needed to support the 18.7 million electric vehicles on the road. This will require a large investment in electric vehicle charging infrastructure.
Additionally, electric cars are initially more expensive, and as of 2021, the model choices for electric cars are limited. However, studies have shown that electric vehicles can actually save consumers money. While consumers must pay a bit more for electric vehicles up front, electric cars require no ongoing filling of the gas tank and less maintenance, as they use renewable resources. In addition, you might even get a tax credit for driving an electric vehicle.
Cities can only become more sustainable if future city planners are able to solve problems such as those presented by electric vehicles. This will likely involve changing public policy to incorporate these changes. Planners who wish to work towards building towns, regions and cities for sustainability must also work to adopt a stable electric car infrastructure, including incorporating more charging ports into that infrastructure.
Here, we will examine the challenges presented by electric vehicles, and solutions that urban planners at all levels can help to implement to answer these challenges and help to build a sustainable future.
Electric Car Battery Lifespan
Research has shown that consumers are wary of the battery capability of electric vehicles. According to a survey by Cox Automotive, 46 percent of those who are considering buying an electric car fear that the battery pack will only last for 65,000 miles maximum. This is a false assumption.
- Consumer Reports estimates that the average lifespan of the battery of an electric vehicle is 200,000 miles. This amounts to driving that vehicle 12,000 miles per year for 17 years.
Electric vehicles run on lithium-ion battery packs, similar to the batteries used in cell phones and laptops. These types of batteries have been used to power many metropolitan subway systems and transit buses for years. They do cost a lot to replace, should they ever need replaced (about $15,000 for a battery pack for a Chevrolet Bolt, for example). But, another important point to remember is that all electric cars sold in the U.S. are covered under warranty for eight years or 100,000 miles, at least. Kia’s warranty is 10 years/100,000 miles, and Hyundai offers a lifetime warranty.
Electric cars are rated on kilowatt (kWh) per hour ratings. If you purchase an electric vehicle with a higher kWh rating, you will be able to drive farther before needing a charge. (Remember, however, in all electric vehicles, the battery will never become 100 percent fully charged, nor will it discharge 100 percent, in order to extend the efficiency of the battery and preserve its life).
Drivers can get more out of the battery of their electric vehicle depending upon the ways they drive. Driving at higher sustained speeds will drain the battery faster than stop-and-go trips around town. Also, more battery is used to power a car full of passengers or cargo than to power a car with just a driver and no other occupants or objects.
Temperatures will also affect battery life. Using the car’s heater or air conditioning will draw more power from the battery. A study by the American Automobile Association (AAA) found that when outdoor temperatures are 20 degrees F or below and the vehicle’s heater is being used, the operating range of an electric car decreases by 41 percent. When the outdoor temperature is 95 degrees F and air conditioning is used, the battery’s range decreases by 17 percent.
- If properly maintained, the battery pack of an electric vehicle should last in excess of 100,000 miles before the range becomes restricted.
Charging Time for an Electric Car
How long does it take to charge an electric vehicle? The answer is complicated, and primarily based upon power source and the vehicle’s charging capacity. (Extreme temperatures, hot or cold, will add to an electric vehicle’s charging time, as noted above). The formula to figure out how long it takes to charge a specific model of electric vehicle is to divide the battery’s capacity kWh number by the onboard charger’s power rating, then add 10 percent to that number to account for losses associated with charging.
Electric vehicles each vary in charging time, and also based upon what type of electrical outlet is being used to charge the vehicle. While you can charge a vehicle using a Level 1, 120-volt wall socket, using your home’s electrical current, this will take up to eight hours, or more, to fully charge your car’s battery.
Experts recommend using a Level 2, 240-volt/40-amp minimum charging station to power an electric vehicle. Although it will require having an electrician install such a charging station at your home, this will maximize the effectiveness of the electric vehicle’s chargers.
- It takes an average of four hours to fully charge an electric vehicle’s battery using a Level 2 charger.
Another option is a DC fast charger (also known as a Level 3 charger), which powers the car’s battery faster. When an electric car’s battery’s standard of charge is below 20 percent or above 80 percent, the DC fast charger’s charging rate slows in order to lengthen battery life and reduce the risk of overcharging.
- DC fast charging has been said to get a battery to 80 percent power in just 30 minutes.
For those who are driving electric vehicles every day, the solution is to charge the car overnight and not to rely on the DC fast charger regularly.
Of course, to some drivers, it may seem much easier and less time-consuming to simply fill a car’s tank up with gas – this doesn’t take eight hours, but rather, a matter of minutes. Switching to driving an electric vehicle involves a mindset that must be changed, with the driver concentrating on the great benefits of electric vehicles over the more insignificant drawbacks.
As of 2021, public charging stations for electric vehicles are becoming more prevalent. As mentioned above, many owners of electric vehicles have opted to have an electrician install a Level 2 charger (240-volt) in their home rather than rely on public charging stations.
Public charging stations do exist, but they are still not as prevalent as gasoline stations.
- As of 2021, there are approximately 20,000 public charging stations across the U.S.
They are usually found in public parking garages and apartment building garages, as well as within retail parking lots, new car dealerships, and on some city street corners. Some public charging stations will allow you to charge your car for free, while others will charge a fee.
Planning your route becomes a necessity when relying on public charging stations. Apps like CarStations and websites like PlayShare.com can help you to locate electric vehicle charging stations across the U.S. Most public charging stations are Level 2, but some Level 3 fast charging stations do exist.
Another option is having a charging station at your workplace. Not as many employers offer such charging stations yet, but for those who do, they are usually Level 2. Some states are offering incentives to employers to install charging stations for employees, who can then conveniently charge their vehicles during the eight hours in which they are working.
In the future, sustainability planners, transportation planners, and strategic planners must make cities more electric vehicle-charger friendly, and include charging stations within every city they plan. This will not only create a more sustainable city, but a better, more sustainable environment in which we all can live.
Model Choices for Electric Cars
Unfortunately, there are still far fewer model choices for electric vehicles being sold than there are for gasoline-powered vehicles in the U.S. As of 2021, according to Car and Driver magazine, the following new electric vehicle models are being sold in the U.S. (each is listed with its base price, MPGe (fuel economy/vehicle efficiency) and combined battery range):
- Jaguar I-Pace
- 76 MPGe
- 234 miles
- Audi e-tron Sportback
- 77 MPGe
- 218 miles
- Audi e-tron
- 78 MPGe
- 222 miles
- Porche Taycan
- 79 MPGe
- 222 miles
- Volvo XC40 Recharge
- 79 MPGe
- 208 miles
- Polestar 2
- 92 MPGe
- 233 miles
- Tesla Model X
- 96 MPGe
- 328 miles
- Volkswagen ID.4
- 97 MPGe
- 250 miles
- Ford Mustang Mach-E
- 100 MPGe
- 300 miles
- Mini Electric
- 108 MPGe
- 110 miles
- Nissan Leaf
- 111 MPGe
- 149 miles
- Tesla Model S
- 111 MPGe
- 373 miles
- Kia Niro EV
- 112 MPGe
- 239 miles
- 113 MPGe
- 153 miles
- Chevrolet Bolt EV
- 118 MPGe
- 259 miles
- Hyundai Kona Electric
- 120 MPGe
- 258 miles
- Tesla Model Y
- 125 MPGe
- 326 miles
- Hyundai Ioniq Electric
- 133 MPGe
- 170 miles
- Tesla Model 3
- 134 MPGe
- 353 miles
Because there are still fewer options for electric cars as opposed to gasoline cars, this may lead to difficulty finding a mechanic to work on your electric car. As of 2020, only three percent of all mechanics had been trained to work on electric vehicles. As electric cars increase in popularity and become more feasible, however, more and more models are being produced, and more and more mechanics are being trained to work on them.
Initial Cost of an EV
Advocates for electric-powered vehicles say that, while the initial cost of an electric vehicle may be more upfront than that of a gas-powered car, this cost is recouped in the savings you’ll see on fuel over the vehicle’s lifespan.
- According to research by Car and Driver magazine, the average price of an electric vehicle is $19,000 higher than that of a gas-powered vehicle.
As you can see from the list above, not all electric vehicles are exorbitantly priced. Some have come down in price to a more reasonable sticker price of $30,000 to $45,000. Of course, you can still obtain a new gas-powered vehicle for far less. When you take into account the tax credit that you will likely receive for purchasing an electric vehicle (which ranges from $2500 to $7500, depending upon the vehicle you choose and the state in which you live), this incentive can drastically lower an electric vehicle’s initial cost.
Operating costs for an electric vehicle are also less than those of gas-powered cars. When directly compared, the costs to power an electric vehicle are half of what it costs to power a gas vehicle. This also depends upon electric prices in your area, the price of a gallon of gas, and other factors that may fluctuate.
- If you drive 100 miles in a gas-powered vehicle you will spend $9.83, vs. driving 100 miles in an electric-powered vehicle for $5.27.
- Maintenance costs for electric vehicles average $800 per year less than those of gas-powered vehicles. You will also save up to $5000 per year in fuel and maintenance costs combined.
While there may be challenges to switching to electric vehicles and ending our dependence on gasoline-powered vehicles, the benefits of utilizing these vehicles greatly outweigh those challenges. Getting the public to accept electric vehicles as the norm and not as something out of the ordinary will require planners to make certain changes when planning cities, towns and regions. Making urban areas electric vehicle-friendly will go a long way towards encouraging more people to make the important decision to drive electric vehicles, fostering a more sustainable future.