Electric vehicles are all the rage. Is owning one worth it?
Electric vehicles are vastly outnumbered on U.S. roads today, but they’re increasingly seen as the future of transportation. That’s prompting a lot of people to wonder: Is it worth buying an electric car?
And soon, consumers will have more options to choose from. General Motors, the largest automaker in the U.S., announced earlier this year it would turn to an all-electric fleet by 2035. Concerns about climate change are helping drive the switch from gas to the grid.
But surveys show drivers have some concerns with electric vehicles. After all, EVs represent a technological advancement that may change the way we drive – something many of us do every day.
Those concerns often revolve around costs and whether they’ll be able to go about their day without running out of juice. Many people are simply unfamiliar with how EVs work in the first place.
If you’re thinking about buying an electric vehicle and enlisting Duluth’s Wolf Track Energy to install a charging system at your home or business, you’re in luck. There are plenty of resources out there to help you make the decision to go all-electric, so we’ll go through some of them in this blog. We’ll also highlight EV trends and explain (briefly) what makes them work.
From the grid to the highway
Despite the recent surge in their popularity, electric vehicles rely on time-tested electrical concepts to spin their wheels.
Automobile Magazine has a helpful explainer that’ll take you through the basics of electricity. For our purposes, there’s one important concept to know: electrical current moving through wire creates a magnetic field. That makes possible the electric motors in your portable drill, hoists on a factory floor and inside EVs.
Essentially, motors in a typical, all-electric vehicle rely on electromagnets powered by the car’s batteries to create interacting magnetic fields that cause a rotor to spin and move the wheels. A plug-in hybrid electric vehicle, meanwhile, combines electricity and gasoline for a fuel-efficient alternative to traditional cars and trucks.
Electric vehicles are much more efficient than cars powered by internal combustion engines, according to the Washington Post.
Unlike traditional vehicles, many all-electric vehicles are powered by packs of lithium-ion batteries. Those are the same kind you’ll find in a cell phone or laptop, according to MyEV.
And just like those batteries, the ones in an EV are rechargeable. The median range of electric vehicles in the U.S. was 259 miles in 2020, according to federal data.
Outnumbered on the road
Far removed from their golf cart cousins, today’s EVs hold their own during performance tests. The Tesla Model S can go 0-60 mph in just 2.3 seconds, making it the quickest production car MotorTrend has ever tested.
Today, less than 1% of vehicles on U.S. roads run on electricity, according to the New York Times. But projections show EV sales are poised to climb dramatically in the coming years, causing some to ponder the end of internal-combustion engines in the decades to come.
Nearly three-fourths of drivers in this Consumer Reports survey said they’re open to buying an EV down the line. But range and cost remain two major hurdles for consumers considering going electric.
If you’re considering making a similar leap, it’s worth considering those barriers.
We’ve all been in stressful situations where we needed our cell phone but the battery died. Now imagine you’re out on the road and your car runs out of juice, potentially stranding you miles away from the nearest charging station.
That concern, which those in the EV world call “range anxiety,” was the biggest worry reported by the Consumer Reports survey.
“About half of the drivers surveyed say they would want an EV that could travel more than 300 miles between charges, and a little less than half of those who don’t ‘definitely’ plan to get an EV for their next vehicle say inadequate charging infrastructure is holding them back,” Consumer Reports wrote late last year.
Today’s roads and associated infrastructure was built with gas-powered transportation in mind. Drivers can find gas stations sprinkled along the sides of highways.
But public charging stations are more common than you might think. This helpful map from ChargeHub shows chargers dotting the Duluth region. Minnesota Power is planning to build more than a dozen EV charging stations throughout the state’s northeastern tip, the Star Tribune reported in April.
Still, it takes longer to charge a car than fill up a tank of gas, so most charging takes place at home.
Charging an EV
Home chargers fall into two categories: Level 1 or Level 2. Level 1 chargers use 120 volts, just like your home’s lights, television, toaster and other standard electronics. Level 2 chargers use 240 volts, as does your washer and dryer.
As outlined by ChargeHub, Level 2 chargers don’t come with the car and “require a slightly more complicated setup.” But they charge an EV five to seven times faster than a Level 1 system.
Those Level 2 stations make more sense for drivers who drive long distances and have “no time, or opportunity, to recharge their car during the day,” a transportation researcher told Consumer Reports.
But there are other factors at play. A vehicle’s battery size, charging rate and even weather can affect how many miles it’ll last and how long it will take to charge. Edmunds found that a new Tesla Model 3 Long Range can go 345 miles, while a Nissan Leaf Plus SL lasts 237 miles and a Mini Cooper travels 150 miles before needing more juice.
Using a Level 2 charger, it can take up to 11 hours to fully charge a Nissan Leaf or just four hours for a Mini SE Hardtop, according to Kelley Blue Book.
Some fast-charging stations rely on a Level 3 system that uses high-voltage direct current, charging EV batteries to 80% in a half-hour or less, according to Enel X, a charging station provider. Those fast chargers are expensive and aren’t used in homes, but there are several in the Duluth region.
Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all remedy to range anxiety. Your personal situation, including how far you have to drive to work, will help you determine how feasible going electric will be.
But luckily, electric cars are becoming more popular. That means more charging stations and hopefully technological advancements that make it easier to own one. After all, Tesla only just broke the 200-mile range about a decade ago, according to Car and Driver.
Otherwise, you could opt for a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle that runs on gas when the battery runs low. J.D. Power sees that as a potential cure for any range anxiety you’d feel in an all-electric vehicle.
If you’ve gotten over your range anxiety, then let’s talk dollars and cents.
Costs of going electric
If you’ve ever shopped for an electric car out of curiosity, you may have been hit with some sticker shock. A 2021 Tesla Model S runs north of $80,000, according to Car and Driver.
While there are plenty of more economical models out there, it’s no secret that EVs tend to be more expensive than their gas-powered counterparts. As Consumer Reports found, a vehicle powered by the grid can cost 10% to over 40% more than a similar gasoline-driven car.
However, EVs may becoming more competitive. As Car and Driver notes, EV costs recently decreased as prices for all cars inched up.
Buying your car won’t be the last time you put money into it, as all of us know too well. Potential buyers have to consider fuel, insurance and maintenance.
Let’s tackle fuel costs first. Like gas prices, how much you pay for electricity depends on where you live. In Minnesota, the average retail price for electricity was just over a dime per kilowatt-hour (kWh) in 2019, according to the latest data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Gas prices are more volatile than electrical costs, but as of mid-May, the average gas price per gallon in Minnesota was about $2.80, according to AAA’s handy map.
Of course, kWh of electricity and gallons of gasoline are apples and oranges. Luckily, others have crunched the numbers – and they found electric cars are cheaper to fuel.
The Union of Concerned Scientists, for one, said in 2017 that drivers could save somewhere between $400 and north of $1,000 per year in fuel costs by going electric. That amount would vary depending on where the driver lives, and the study found Minneapolis drivers could see $974 in annual savings.
I also used the U.S. Department of Energy’s tool to compare my 2010 Chevrolet Impala to a new Tesla Model 3. While I pay $3.36 to drive 25 miles, the Tesla driver is only coughing up 77 cents.
And to sweeten the pot even more, some states and utilities offer incentives for EV drivers.
Minnesota Power offers a discounted rate for home EV charging during off-peak hours. Because this service would need to be separately metered, there would be an initial cost for installing the equipment, as well as a monthly service charge of $4.25. But you’d only be charged 2.4 cents per kWh during off-peak hours. That’s far below the roughly 11 cents per kWh electricity normally costs.
Maintaining an EV
MyEV points out electric cars have about two dozen fewer “mechanical components that would normally require periodic service.” And just imaging not having to run to a shop or crawl under the car yourself for an oil change! (Mechanics, perhaps not surprisingly, aren’t enthused about the shift to electric, as the Washington Post found.)
One major repair job in EVs involve their batteries, which degrade over time and will need to be replaced. But when that happens depends on the vehicle model. Tesla owners in Europe reported their batteries had 90% of their power after 160,000 miles, according to Engadget. Normally, EV batteries last a decade, TrueCar says. The federal government requires warranties of eight years or 100,000 miles on EV batteries, according to Enel X.
AAA found that the overall cost of an EV is about $600 more expensive annually, or about 8%. Depending on your budget, that could be a small or significant price to pay for going electric.
Insuring an EV tends to cost more mostly because the cars themselves cost more, according to Kelley Blue Book. But you don’t need to buy special insurance for an electric vehicle.
A car’s carbon
Carbon dioxide emissions from gas-powered cars are a major source of pollution that is driving climate change. And fears about the planet’s health is prompting more people to seek out greener forms of energy.
But electrical generation isn’t blameless. After all, fossil fuels remain the largest sources of power in the U.S., even as renewables continue to expand. Electricity production produces a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions, while transportation accounts for 29%, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
So electric vehicles do have some effect on greenhouse gas emissions. After all, a power plant likely had to burn coal or natural gas to charge its batteries.
But studies show EVs are responsible for far fewer emissions that gasoline-powered cars and trucks. Per vehicle in Minnesota, EVs have about a third of the carbon emissions than that of traditional vehicles. In Wisconsin, they emit less than half as much carbon.
The U.S. Department of Energy arrived at that figure using the electrical generation sources in each state. Though the grid still relies heavily on natural gas and coal, renewables are becoming a larger slice of the pie. Some people even decide to install solar panels on their roofs to harness the sun’s energy to power their car’s batteries.
Putting it all together
There’s no black-and-white, right or wrong answer for drivers considering buying an electric vehicle today. Your budget and driving habits will determine if it’s the right path.
The good news is EVs are becoming more affordable. And as more people buy them, and more charging stations are built, perhaps concerns about battery life will diminish, as well.
If you have more questions or are ready to make the switch, give the local experts at Wolf Track Energy a call.