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This year, “get clean” by quitting fossil fuels

January 12, 2022

By now, most of us are pretty aware that 1) there’s a climate crisis and that we need to do something about it ASAP, and 2) that we’ve got a whole bunch of solutions—they just need to be deployed much, much faster. The quickest way to avert a worsening climate crisis is, as writer-activist Bill McKibben succinctly put it, to “stop burning things.” Specifically, we need to stop burning the fossil energy sources that are warming our planet—mainly coal, oil, and natural gas—and to adopt cleaner energy sources like wind and solar. 

Cutting fossil fuels out of our lives won’t be easy, since they are embedded in most aspects of our lives (from how we heat and cool our homes, to how we get around, to how our food is grown and transported, to petroleum-based products in our closets, wardrobes, and kitchens) and since the fossil fuel industry has embedded itself into much of our political systems. But we’re no longer completely tethered to fossil fuels; we have choices now, and cutting out major chunks of our fossil fuel consumption can be likened to kicking any other bad habit, like quitting smoking or breaking a sugar addiction. It isn’t as straightforward, and it might take a little longer, but why not try the same plan of attack? Rather than sitting on the sidelines reading dire headlines, why not get in the game?

In the spirit of the new year, we offer some bonafide steps for quitting fossil fuels, modeled on the  CDC’s guidance for quitting smoking. With a solid game plan in place, you can start “getting clean” while also saving money and supporting justice and equity ideals. What are you waiting for? 


Disclaimer: When quitting fossil fuels, you may experience moments of depression, withdrawal, guilt, or fatigue. This is NORMAL. Remember, you’re trying to make changes to your lifestyle that are not always easy, and you should feel proud of your commitment. Also, be aware that your daily habits and actions aren’t shaped solely by your individual choices, but by the physical, social, and political environment in which you live. “The system” may push back hard, making it tempting for you to cling to your high-carbon habits. Stay the course, knowing that you’re doing the right thing.


Before You Quit

Know Your Reasons for Quitting: 

So you want to quit fossil fuels? It’s important to understand why you’re making this change. Do you want to live healthier? Save money? Have more convenience? Support greater energy independence? Leave a better world for your kids? Be on the right side of history? These are all great reasons. Also, think about what you dislike about your current dependence on fossil fuels. Is it the choking exhaust from your morning commute? Worsening floods or wildfires in your region? Whatever the reasons, write them down so you can remind yourself of them every day. Knowing what you’ll gain by reducing your reliance on dirty energy can inspire you to find cleaner alternatives to meet your everyday needs. 

Make a Decision to Quit:

Sometimes, you just gotta say, “enough is enough” when it comes to burning things. But make sure you put it in writing, and (ideally) share it widely. Across the U.S. and worldwide, more and more people are taking the jump and opting for low-carbon lifestyles. They’re joined by thousands of cities, states, companies, and communities that have pledged to quit fossil fuels by going net zero or fossil free. You can set your commitment to clean energy by taking Gen180’s “Going Electric” Pledge (including making your next car an EV) or even divesting from fossil fuels. By making lifestyle shifts that are good for you, your family, and your community, you’re saying yes to a better collective future for everyone. 

Identify Steps to Quit:

Identify the steps that will work for you to quit fossil fuels. Consider actions that have the maximum impact while not costing an arm and a leg, including in areas like home energy use, transportation, and food. Maybe an EV makes sense for you, or a solar array on your roof. Can you start “electrifying everything” in your home? (maybe start with your weed eater or lawnmower and work your way up to swapping your gas furnace for an electric heat pump.) Most of these shifts will improve your well-being while saving you money in the long term. (Need more ideas? See this beautifully illustrated list.)

Build Your Quit Plan:

Now that you’ve identified the steps, start making an implementation plan. This plan will be unique to your lifestyle and needs, but should include some key elements. For one, set a “quit date” for when you want to start taking action. Give yourself time to build the knowledge, skills, and confidence you’ll need to stay committed, but don’t wait so long that you lose motivation. Then, let your friends and family know you’re “quitting fossil fuels,” and be specific about how they can support you. Identify potential obstacles or challenges that may come up, as well as strategies to overcome them, to improve your chances of sticking it through (more on this later). Establish some weekly or monthly goals and set rewards so you can celebrate your “quit milestones” (Met your energy savings goal? How about a tasty locally grown dinner…). Quitting fossil fuels is a process, so enjoy your achievements as they come. 

Implementing Your Plan: Strategies for Effective Quitting

Manage Your Quit Day:

It’s the big day! You’re ready to take dedicated action to better your life (and everyone else’s). Revisit your list of reasons for quitting fossil fuels and shifting to clean energy. Review your quit plan. To avoid distractions, keep the day’s schedule light so you can really focus on the tasks ahead, and how you’re going to implement them. If you’re aiming to cut back on gasoline use, plan out your day to combine trips, or make your car keys less accessible. Be honest about how much you can take on initially (you don’t want to burn out on all your ambition). Ultimately, your “quit day” may be underwhelming, but that’s ok—it just matters that you do something, however small, to move toward your fossil-free goal. 

Recognize Signs of Depression:

Being a clean energy champion can be exciting—and tiring. You’ll face struggle, withdrawal, frustration. You might feel like you’re not doing enough, fast enough, or you might feel guilty about “relapsing” when you fly to visit friends or family (it’s okay, give yourself a break!). Climate grief is real. Mood changes and self-doubt are common when you’re making big (or small) lifestyle shifts. You might feel a sense of loss of your “old” (high-carbon) life. Embrace these emotions and work through them. Remind yourself that you’re shifting to something better—both for yourself and for the planet. 

Reduce Your Stress:

Quitting fossil fuels is not at all about depriving yourself of pleasure. Some things will just work differently. Get excited by the challenge, and be creative. That twenty-minute fast-charging stop for your EV means you can get some exercise, enjoy a meal, or try some meditation. Take a deep breath. Remind yourself (again) why you’re quitting fossil fuels. Celebrate your “quit milestones” with things that bring you joy. Envision that appealing, fossil-free world!

The Long Haul: Maintaining Your Quit

Prevent Slips:

Inevitably, the parts of our system still under the fossil fuel regime will trip you up. This is all normal. Try to anticipate potential “triggers”—the people, places, things, and situations that draw you back into the old paradigm—and find creative ways to deal with them. Create incentives and strategies to keep up your clean energy, low-carbon lifestyle, and make it convenient. Keep your bike by your front door, with your lock, helmet, and saddlebags ready to go. 

Build Support to “Stay Quit”:

It’s easier to stick with something if you’re held accountable. This means tapping into your peer network for reinforcement, and sharing your intentions far and wide to create expectations for success. Surround yourself with folks who understand and support your commitment to getting off fossil fuels, or who are taking similar steps themselves. Try to get family and friends on board (this may involve difficult conversations with that uncle of yours), but explain why this shift is important to you, and get personal about it (check out David Suzuki Foundation’s CliMate tool for tips on conversation techniques). Lend your support to others who have similar goals. 

Prepare to Stay “Fossil Fuel-Free”:  

You’ve got this, now keep it up! Now that you’ve made important changes in your own life, it’s crucial to share your experience with others. This can maximize the your “ripple effect”, working to shift the social norms around you. Remember that you have more influence on those around you than you might realize. Ultimately, these individual actions need to be scaled up and combined with mutually reinforcing changes at the government and corporate levels. Raise your voice within your community and advocate for wider structural changes that enable clean energy adoption. Support efforts by the federal, state, and local governments to enhance EV infrastructure. Encourage subsidies for public transport and greater energy efficiency for buildings. Vote for clean energy.

Enjoy the Benefits of Quitting:

Above all, celebrate what you’re gaining! Hold strong to your vision of contributing to a better world, and embrace your role as a changemaker. Enjoy your rewards, and congratulate yourself. There’s no time like the present to create a better future.

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When Should I Buy an EV?

December 1, 2021

This post was written by Matt Turner, Creative Manager at Generation180

When we got our first electric vehicle (a used 2016 Volkswagen e-Golf) two years ago, my family, friends, and neighbors became curious. Many began asking me if they should buy an EV. Now, as EVs have quickly become more mainstream and the number of available models has skyrocketed, the question changed from if they should buy an EV to when? Is the price at the right point now, or should I wait a couple of years? Are there enough models to choose from that fit my lifestyle? Is it hard to find a place to charge?

Maybe you have a traditional internal combustion engine (ICE) car that works fine…for now. But within a year or two, maybe you expect to be needing a new (or new to you) car. Should it be an EV? Does it make sense to swap my ICE car a little early to begin saving money now? When do I pull (or plug in) the plug? 

In this post, I share my decision-making process — one you can follow to help you make the right decision at the right time that makes sense for you. Buying any vehicle is a big decision with lots of variables and nuance, but hopefully, I can help you get pretty close. 

For the sake of simplicity, whenever I mention an EV, I will only be discussing Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs) and not Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs), unless I specifically call them out. 

After studying the many questions Generation180 gets around EVs, and from lots of personal conversations I’ve had, it seems to me that there are two main determining factors to see if now is the time to buy an EV:

1. Practicality: Can I do the same things with an EV that I usually do with my ICE vehicle?
2. Cost: Can I afford the initial cost, and will I save money compared to an ICE vehicle?

Note: each section contains a “short answer” and a “long answer”. If the short answer gives you all you need, feel free to move on. Or if you want a little more detail, check out the long answer. Each section has a “the bottom line” at the end to give a quick summary.

Practicality:

The fact of the matter is: EVs are cars just like traditional ICE vehicles, but with a different (and better) way of moving from place to place. Manufacturers know what Americans’ needs are, and they are meeting them. It seems most EV models coming out are mid-sized SUVs, and a mid-sized SUV just so happens to be the best-selling non-truck vehicle in America so far this year. 

Range

The second most popular question I get about EVs is “What’s the range?”—we’ll get to the most popular one later.

The short answer:
It’s probably more range than you need. The average driver drives only 39 miles round trip per day. Considering there isn’t a single new battery electric vehicle available that has less than 110 miles of range (and the majority have more than 250), it’s safe to say no matter what new EV you get, most people will have enough range to do their daily driving. 

The long answer:
The average range doesn’t work for everyone, so let’s discuss some more specifics. Especially in rural areas, the miles driven are higher. In states like Wyoming, the average daily drive is the highest in the nation at 65 miles per day. However, even the smallest range EV will have nearly double the needed range.

What about long-distance commuters? There are at least 26 BEV models available in the U.S. right now, and 22 of them have more than 200 miles of range standard, and they offer as high a range as more than 400.

The bottom line:
If your daily commute is within 200 miles roundtrip, it’s very easy to find an EV that has enough range as your daily driver without the need to charge during trips.

Charging

Speaking of charging, it goes hand in hand with the range conversation. Most EV owners charge at home (81% at home, 7% at work, and the rest at public chargers). Think of charging your EV as you charge your phone. By and large, most of us charge our phones at home overnight, but at times you may want to plug it in somewhere away from the house. EV charging is like that. So what does charging look like with an EV?

The short answer:
Just like there are three main types of gasoline available at the pump, there are three main types of charging available for EVs. Level 1, Level 2, and Level 3 (being the fastest). Charging at home is either Level 1—plugging into a standard wall outlet—and gets you 4-5 miles per hour, or Level 2—think of a dryer or stove plug—and gets you 25-75 miles per hour. Level 3 chargers are usually the ones you see out in public and can get you as fast as 180-300 miles per hour depending on the charger and the car.

The long answer:
Level 1 charging is the cheapest way to get started charging your EV. Every car comes with a cord that you plug directly into any standard wall outlet in your home. While slow, it still covers what most people drive on a daily basis. For example: if you drive 30 miles per day, plug in your car when getting home at 6:00 PM, and unplug it when you leave for the day at 7:00 AM, you still charge at least 44 miles.

Most Level 2 chargers can be installed in your home for around $1,200. This price can be reduced as many states and localities offer hundreds of dollars in rebates when installing.  The convenience of being able to more quickly charge your car can make this install worth it. Many Level 2 chargers also have capabilities for more advanced charging schedules and energy monitoring to see how much money it’s costing to fill up. While I used a standard Level 1 charger for my EV for months without issue, I highly recommend getting a Level 2 charger installed if possible.

Both Level 2 and Level 3 chargers are usually what you will see in public charging areas. Some of these are free, and some cost money to use. There are a number of different companies that offer the services, and you usually need to download an app to your phone to use the chargers. Like gasoline prices, the cost to use varies depending on location and service provider. The one thing you can count on is that if the charger isn’t free, then it will likely cost more to charge at a public station than at your home.

One nice thing about charging stations around town is they are often installed at places your car will be parked at for some time like shopping centers, restaurants, and grocery stores. While on road trips you can find charging stations at popular hotels to charge overnight, at national parks, and more and more, large gas stations are installing EV chargers. Both Apple Maps and Google Maps show electric vehicle charging stations within their route planning, and there is a growing movement of smart planning options to help you find charging stations while you stop for lunch or to stretch your legs.

The bottom line:
You’ll do the vast majority of your charging at home, which is more convenient than having to go to the gas station. If you do need to charge, the network is large and growing, and there are tons of resources to make it easier.

Model availability

So now you’re thinking “All of the above is fine and dandy, Matt, but are there any EV models that actually do what I need them to? I have kids, a dog, and we go mountain biking on weekends an hour away. Is there an EV that lets me do that?”

The short answer:
Probably. Check out the list of currently available models to find the features you need. But most EVs available today are SUVs with hundreds of miles of range. I personally know a few families who fit the above description and love their EV. I have three kids myself, and we love our EV too.

The long answer:
Probably. When thinking about what car to purchase, it’s important to think about needs. What do you most need your car to do? Many EV households still maintain one gasoline-powered vehicle and drive their EV 70% of the time. This is probably the most difficult question to answer as every person’s lifestyle has its own unique needs. To help illustrate the potential of EVs, I’ll lay out a few lifestyle examples below.

Frugal local commuter. I live really close to my work, grocery store, and favorite restaurants. I probably drive 10 miles a day and love to take my dog to the local dog park and enjoy my city. On the weekends I might go to the next town over to visit a friend or family member.

What EV works for me? Basically any of them. If this describes something close to your life then your only real decision is what style you like and what your price point is.

Outdoorsy couple: The local commute isn’t what concerns us, we need to make sure our car can get us an hour out of town and back with a trunk full of camping gear and our mountain bikes in tow.

What EV works for me? More and more every day. Look at the Hyundai Kona EV, Volkswagen ID.4, and the Ford Mustang Mach-E. These have hundreds of miles of range, roof racks and trailer hitches for equipment, and space in the trunk for more gear.

Family with 3 kids: It’s not camping gear I’m hauling, it’s three kids in car seats. Please tell me there is an EV with a third row!

What EV works for me? The Chrysler Pacifica PHEV, Tesla Model Y, and Tesla Model X. Third-row EVs are currently limited but still available, and next year and the following, a slew of third-row EVs will hit the market.

Personally, my family has three kids, all in car seats, and we do 80% of our driving in a 2016 Volkswagen e-Golf that has 85 miles of range. It’s not uncommon for the five of us to go to the grocery store and still fit an overflowing diaper bag and a trunk full of groceries comfortably enough. When you weigh in what you actually need from a vehicle, often you come to different conclusions than what the manufacturers are trying to upsell you.

The bottom line:
Especially in two-car households, there is an EV model that fits just about everyone’s needs. List out your needs and see how an EV can fill them.

Bonus: Lifetime emissions

This question is one I hear a lot. Given the materials needed to manufacture electric vehicle components, and the fact that many electrical grids in America are still majoritively powered by natural gas, do EVs actually have a lower carbon footprint?

I won’t get into a “long answer” here as this topic warrants its own article. But the short answer is:  yes. From cradle to grave, electric vehicles are better for the environment than conventional cars everywhere.

Three separate, independent, high-quality studies have shown that even if you take into consideration all lifecycle stages of an EV, including vehicle production (extraction of raw materials, processing, assembly, painting, etc.), vehicle use (driving, charging, maintenance, etc.), and end-of-life (re-use, recycling, disposal to landfills, etc.), electric vehicles, hands down, are better for the environment and produce far fewer emissions than ICE vehicles.

Cost

When we discuss costs, it’s helpful to think in terms of the total cost of ownership over time.  That just means that over the course of the time that I will own the car, will it cost me more, or less money than a comparable ICE vehicle would’ve cost me. 

To figure this out, let’s start with the initial investment. The fact is that many EVs have an initial sticker price that is higher than a comparable ICE vehicle—which is a big deal for most of us. For example, the most popular non-truck vehicle of 2021 so far is the Toyota RAV4 which has a starting price of $26,350. A comparable EV is the Hyundai Kona Electric which has a starting price of $34,000. That’s a $7,650 price difference.

But those numbers are a bit deceiving when we think about the total cost of ownership. Overall, you will spend less money when owning an EV than an ICE vehicle. Let’s dive into why.

Tax incentives

The short answer:
Most new EVs on the market today qualify for a federal tax credit of up to  $7,500. This generally brings the cost of a new EV in line with a traditional ICE vehicle.

The long answer:
Once you file your taxes, you can use the $7,500 federal tax credit towards reducing your tax bill. In the above examples I gave, this immediately brings the EV and ICE vehicles to an almost identical price point. And even better, it looks like that tax incentive may be increased up to $12,500 next year, which would put those EVs at around $4,500 less than their ICE counterparts.

On top of federal incentives, take a look at state incentives for EVs where you live. Some states like California and New York offer grants and rebates from $500-$5000 depending on the model. As more and more states adopt friendlier EV policies, we should see more states adopt more incentives.

The bottom line: tax incentives often bring the upfront cost of an EV to a similar (or cheaper) price point as an ICE car.

Filling Up

This is by far the most common question I get: “How much does it cost to charge?” Just like with ICE vehicles, this varies depending on the model, how much you drive, and how much you pay for electricity.

The short answer:
One simple way to suss this out is to compare the cost of a gallon of gasoline to a similar amount of energy you get from electricity (called an e-gallon). In Virginia, I spend about $1.00 per “e-gallon” at the time of this article. Compare that to the gas station near my house which is currently selling gasoline at $3.19 per gallon—more than three times as much.

That’s a very generalized figure, and it varies from state to state, but feel free to try it out here. If that number is as detailed as you need, skip down to the next section. But if you’re interested in figuring out exactly how much driving an EV would cost/save you, I’ll lay out a (hopefully) simple illustration here.

The long answer:
To compare appropriately, I’ll use the two vehicles I mentioned earlier, and some current US averages on gas and electricity costs. I’m also assuming you’re charging at home like the vast majority of EV owners do.

U.S. Average miles driven per year: 14,263
2021 Toyota RAV4 efficiency: 30mpg
U.S. Average price per gallon of gasoline: $3.29
2021 Hyundai Kona EV efficiency: 2.7 kilowatthours (kWh)/mile
U.S. Average price per kilowatthour (kWh): $0.14

ICE Driver: I drive my Toyota RAV4 14,263 miles per year and get 30 miles per gallon. It costs me $3.29 per gallon of gasoline, and so I spend $1,564.18 on gasoline for the year. (14,263/30) * 3.29 = $1,564.18

EV Driver: I drive my Hyundai Kona EV 14,263 miles per year and use 2.7 kWh of electricity per mile driven. It costs me $.14 cents per kWh, and so I spend $739.56 on electricity for the year. That’s more than 50% cheaper than driving an ICE vehicle. (14,263/2.7) * 0.14 = $739.56

This equation gets even better if your utility has a time-of-use rate that lets you pay cheaper rates when charging on non-peak times. For example, I schedule my electric car to charge from 12:00 AM to 5:00 AM when electricity is only 7.3 cents per kWh. Meaning driving 14,263 miles only costs me $359.03 compared to more than $1,500 in one of the most fuel-efficient ICE vehicles on the market.

The bottom line:
EVs are far cheaper to drive on a daily basis; conservatively ½ as much and as little as a ¼ as much.

Maintenance

Let’s move on to normal wear and tear costs. You may know that EVs have far fewer moving parts than ICE vehicles, which is a great thing when it comes to maintenance costs (a Chevy Bolt, for example, has 80% fewer moving parts than a comparable ICE vehicle). More moving parts means more wear and tear. EVs also have no exhaust system, less need for cooling, less wear on braking, and no need for oil changes, fan belts, timing belts, head gaskets, spark plugs, etc. The list goes on.

The short answer:
EVs can save owners $4,600 in maintenance costs over the life of the vehicle. In general, most of the more expensive repairs for cars happen at around the 5-year-mark, so that’s where you will really begin to avoid potential repair costs.

The long answer:

There aren’t zero repair costs for an EV, of course. Like an ICE vehicle, you still have a heating and air conditioning system, tires, and suspension components, but those are the same to maintain as an ICE vehicle.

There are two main things an EV has that an ICE vehicle doesn’t: an electric motor and a large battery. How much do they cost to repair? The good news is that while an electric motor is expensive to fully replace ($6k-$9k), it almost always outlasts the life of the vehicle and lasts much longer than a traditional internal combustion engine. It’s not something you’ll need to worry about.

Replacing an EV battery outright could cost you $5,500 (about the same price as replacing an engine in a midrange gasoline vehicle). EV battery warranties are as generous as eight years and 100,000 miles. Even if there was an issue with the battery, they don’t usually need to be fully replaced. Unlike gasoline engines that can unexpectedly blow a gasket and leave you stranded on the side of the road, an EV battery simply degrades over time. So after 10 years, your EV’s range may be reduced from say, 300 miles to 270 miles — still more than most people will need on a daily basis.

The bottom line:
Over the course of the vehicle’s life, EVs can cost $,4600 less to maintain. Even if you don’t own the vehicle that long, it still costs less to maintain than an ICE vehicle.

Next Steps:

We’ve covered the main things you need to know to help you determine if you should purchase an EV or not. Now use this handy decision tree we made to determine if it makes sense for you.

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New comic: America’s EV Love Story

August 18, 2021

From time to time, we like to tell stories in the form of comics. This one is all about a “love story” that has pretty much gone untold—but is more important today than ever before. Check out the preview below, and head here for the full comic.

Head here to finish reading!

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How my weed eater ushered me into the 21st century

March 17, 2021

This article is from the March 17, 2021, issue of Flip the Script, a weekly newsletter moving you from climate stress to clean energy action. Sign up here to get it in your inbox (and share the link with a friend).

Gen180’s Matt Turner wrote this post back in late 2018; as spring 2021 arrives (thank goodness), it’s as relevant as ever. A 2021 update at the end checks back in on Matt’s life today, 2.5 years after writing the initial post.

The broken cord just hung there, yellowed with age and not sure of what to do or what to be. This particular cord had held for seven years and had served its purpose well—until this balmy July afternoon.

It used to be the pull cord for a weed trimmer. For years, it would faithfully listen to my grunts and curses as I abused it, struggling to start it up again after a long winter. It would wait patiently as I mixed my two-cycle gas like a chemist in a lab, primed the carburetor with the rubber squeeze bulb, and opened the choke. Then I would aggressively yank that cord like it had slighted me.

Inevitably, after minutes of enduring my frustration, the pull cord would do its job and turn the crankshaft to start the engine. I always had a sense of accomplishment when it started—like I had tamed some fearsome beast.

02

Tamed by the beast

But on this particular midsummer’s day, the pull cord failed me. After one pull, it snapped. I was left abandoned with a weed trimmer full of gas and ready to work, but with no key to ignite the fires within. I consider myself somewhat handy with tools and basic car repairs, so I was certain that with a little time and research, I could replace a simple pull cord.

As I opened the plastic paneling to reveal the cord housing, I realized that I’d slacked on quite a bit of maintenance over the years. Yes, the pull cord needed replacing, but so did the air filter, the fuel filter, and the spark plug, all of which were original to the machine and, according to the manufacturer, should have been replaced long ago.

After ordering the parts I needed, they arrived at my door within a week. I got to work the next available weekend. Garage open, tools out, music on, I began with the confidence of a seasoned surgeon ready to save a life.

After five hours of blood, sweat, and frustration, I stood back and looked at my handiwork. The concrete floor was permanently stained with fuel, my hands were covered in seven-year-old gunk and blood, and tools were splayed across the floor. I pulled the cord, and nothing happened. Two more times—nothing. Twenty minutes later, still no luck.

Five hours spent repairing a machine that is suppose to make my life easier. Five hours that I could’ve spent watching the game, or fixing that sink leak I’d been meaning to get to, or playing with my daughters. Five hours wasted.

Standing in my garage, I spotted the oil drip under the car that had been slowly leaking for months, and the SUV that had been having transmission issues, and the lawn mower that likely needed the same maintenance as the weed trimmer.

These problems are decades old. It’s 2018. There’s got to be a better way of doing things by now.

01

Better living with electricity

A good friend of mine who worked in landscaping recommended that I look into getting a new weed trimmer, but this time one that swaps out the internal combustion engine, the carburetor, the pull cord, the spark plug, and the fuel—all for a single battery. It sounded appealing.

After a little research, I found that the battery-powered trimmer cost about as much as the gas-powered one, and the reviews for the battery version were actually better. So I decided to make the jump to my first electric engine.

This isn’t a story to tell you how much I love my new weed trimmer (though I do) because it’s quieter (it is), saves me money (it does), weighs less (yup), and has better performance (that too). It’s the story of how I realized there’s a better way of doing things than we’ve done before.

These problems are decades old. There’s got to be a better way of doing things by now.

I don’t own an electric car yet, but I know that my next car will be one. The cost savings, convenience, performance, and overall experience of electric engines just blows the alternative out of the water. I didn’t start that summer day thinking I’d buy into the “electrify everything” movement. But I came out of it knowing that I’d never look back.

There’s probably some esoteric insight into how my journey from gas-powered small engine frustrations to electric engine happiness is a metaphor for the world’s current state of wrestling with the abundance of gas-powered vehicles and the need for cleaner power. But really, the insight is much simpler: there’s just a better way of doing things now, and it’s electric.

2021 update:

It’s been two and half years since I opened the door to the electrification of everything. That door turned out to be the lid to a pandora’s box of better (and cleaner) ways of doing things. In the spring of 2019 I purchased an electric mower. That same summer I purchased a used electric car and in the fall, we took it one step further and installed solar on our home. With every transition we’ve made there has been a marked improvement in our lives. I can confirm through first-hand experience, there’s definitely no going back.

It feels good that I’m now able to align my actions with what I believe in (cleaner air is better air)—but electrification really is just a better experience. My kids love how quiet and clean our electric car is. Even before getting solar, our EV cut our “fuel” costs in half. When coupled with solar panels, we were able to exchange our $300+ electricity/gasoline combined monthly costs for a $100 per month solar loan—a no brainer decision. I can now see the word-of-mouth effect of my solar panels and EV starting a ripple of positive impact in my family and my neighborhood.

There is still so much work to be done to make these solutions more accessible to more people. While the market is moving things in the right direction (e.g., more used and affordable EVs available for sale, improving technology making solar panels, HVAC, and yard tools cheaper to produce) the science is pretty clear that we need to step on the accelerator in a big way. Find ways that you’re able to get involved (one place to start) and get busy. 

Matt Turner, Creative Manager at Generation180

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It’s time to rethink how we get around

July 15, 2020

Public transit has taken a huge hit from the coronavirus pandemic. Subway and bus ridership are way down, and, in a true sign of the times, some New Yorkers are buying cars for the first time ever. Ride-sharing services are also suffering. Until we can figure out how to use mass transit safely (here are some strategies to get you started), most of us (if we have the choice) will opt for driving. But “carmageddon” doesn’t have to be our fate. In addition to biking and walking, other low-carbon transport modes like electric vehicles (EVs) and micromobility solutions such as e-bikes and scooters are all great options.

By most accounts, biking and walking have been the real winners in the COVID-19 era, offering the perfect combination of “social” and “distancing.” Bike sales have exploded in Europe and across the U.S., with cycling shops from Phoenix to Washington, D.C. reporting sales well above previous levels. In a country better known for its car culture, Americans are buying bikes (including e-bikes) by the droves and—surprise!—enjoying the physical and mental health benefits. In an April survey, bicycle manufacturer Trek found that 21 percent of bike owners planned to ride more during COVID times, while 50 percent said they’d keep riding after the pandemic subsides.

Risk mitigation checklist: mask—check; helmet—fail.

Even more importantly (for our planet and overall health), bicycle commuting is growing, as bikes are seen as a safer alternative to public transit. During lockdown, many cities closed streets to cars or created “corona cycleways,” in some cases making the changes permanent (as in Seattle) to alleviate pollution and encourage biking and walking. In New York, where fewer than 1 percent of commuters travel by bike, these unprecedented times are changing mindsets. “We are absolutely confident we are going to see more bike commuting in the months ahead,” said Polly Trottenberg, New York City’s transportation commissioner. “We are already seeing people who hadn’t biked before are trying it for the first time. We are going to see a lot more of that as the city starts to come back to life.”

In the Netherlands, research shows that commuters who use bike transit—short-term public bicycle rentals that enable them to pedal the “first and last miles” to more central train or bus stations—arrive at their destinations in the same amount of time as driving. In New York, where bike-sharing and ride-sharing services have already eaten into subway ridership in recent years, COVID has merely accelerated the shift in how people get around. “A change that was going to take five to 10 years has basically taken place overnight,” noted Tom Wright, president of the Regional Plan Association.

“A change that was going to take five to 10 years has basically taken place overnight.”

On-demand “micromobility“ options like electric scooters, e-bikes, and (electric) microtransit shuttle services, which have fewer infection risks than mass transit, are also on the rise. As long as strict health and safety protocols can be put in place (disinfection of vehicles, etc.), these electrified options will continue to supplant public transport in some cases, offering an appealing solution for short-distance travel or as feeders to larger transit hubs.

Then, of course, there are electric cars. Despite a COVID-induced decline in car sales overall, the automotive industry continues to see EVs as the future. As we all know by now, a superior product (in this case a superior driving experience, lower total cost of ownership, zero tailpipe emissions, and more)—can be slowed but not stopped. Passenger EV sales reached 2.1 million last year, and by 2022, more than 500 different EV models are expected to be available globally. Already, EVs are displacing 1 million barrels of oil demand per day, helping to keep our skies clearer.

Combined, these transportation trends—a rekindled enthusiasm for walking and cycling, cleaner vehicles, and safer (eventually) public transit—are all elements of a new mobility landscape. Key to making this landscape sustainable is multi-modality, or making all of the transport modes (bikes, cars, and scooters, as well as public transport) work with each other. Long term, the world is moving away from personal, driver-driven vehicles and toward seamless multimodal travel enabled by electrification, driverless vehicles, and shared mobility (a trend that’s happening faster in Asia and Europe than the U.S.). Mobile apps and autonomous vehicles will further reduce our need for private vehicles.

Ultimately, the transport system that emerges from the COVID-19 crisis hinges critically on the decisions we make collectively—and individually—over the coming months. Do we resume our old ways, or do we embrace new approaches that bring us closer to the new mobility landscape? At the systemic level, a key step would be to push for greater support for electrified mobility in the next federal stimulus bill, both to help with the U.S. economic recovery and to boost the country’s long-term resilience. Like any major crisis, the current pandemic offers opportunities for us to reimagine and reshape the world in which we want to live—so let’s make the smartest choices possible.

Originally published in the 7/15/20 edition of our Flip the Script newsletter

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Fast Charging: The Final Piece Of The Charging Puzzle

March 19, 2020

A version of this post by Mal Skowron was first published on the blog of Electrify Your Ride VA partner Green Energy Consumer Alliance. This is part 3 in a series of posts covering electric car charging. See part 1 here and part 2 here.

Most drivers have probably had at least one experience in which they asked themselves, “Am I going to run out of gas?” Range anxiety, or the fear a car will run out of fuel before it reaches its destination, is not unique to electric cars. It is, however, a commonly-cited reason that drivers use to justify driving gasoline-powered cars when their electric counterparts are cheaper to own, better for the environment, and more fun to drive.

Electric car owners consistently report the adjustment to charging is easier than expected and feelings of range anxiety dissipate quickly. Instead of making a detour to the gas station, drivers learn to plug in at their homes, workplaces, or parking lots. Level I and Level II charging is fast enough to meet the demands of these everyday trips.

But still, sometimes people will need to drive over a couple hundred miles in a day. As more people adopt electric cars, DC fast charging provides an element of convenience and security that can help displace the purchase of gasoline-powered cars. But how exactly does it work, how good is it now, and how much better can we expect it to be?

How DC Fast Charging Works

Unlike Level I and Level II charging stations, DC fast chargers are only available for public use (in other words: you cannot install one in your home) because of their higher voltage output—up to 500 volts. DC fast charging stations can reach significantly higher rates of charging than other stations because of this high voltage and because DC power can bypass the limitations of the car’s on-board charger.

The on-board charger in electric cars converts the alternative current (AC) power that comes out of wall outlets to direct current (DC) power the car can use. Charging speed is limited by acceptance rate, or how much voltage the car can take. (If you want to learn more about how this works, read our previous blog post.)

Energy from DC fast charging does not need to pass through the car’s on-board charger. The speed of fast charging is solely managed by a battery management system. Source

However, for the aptly-named DC fast charging stations, the on-board charger is not required to convert the power source from AC to DC. The power coming from these stations is already DC, so electricity from the station can flow directly to the battery, bypassing the limitations of the on-board charger to achieve much faster rates of charging without adding significant weight or complexity to the car.

How Fast Is Fast Charging?

The only cap on DC fast charging is the car’s battery management system, or BMS, which is a software that controls battery performance. BMS can achieve fast charging rates by optimizing charging conditions when the battery is between 20% and 80% capacity. It is in this window that EV manufacturers have the opportunity to achieve much faster rates of car charging.

(EV tip: Batteries degrade faster with frequent cycling between 0% and 100% capacity. If you want to maintain the health of your battery for as long as possible, try to avoid charging to 100% and draining it to 0% before recharging. It’s much better to keep your car around half full for the majority of your driving.)

The fast charging rate of the BMW i3, like all electric cars, depends on the size of the battery, its state of charge, and ambient temperature. Even if the fast charger is able to deliver 50 kW, the actual rate of charging is often lower than that. The graph illustrates that as a battery approaches a full charge, the speed of charging decreases. Source

Many DC fast charging stations available now can support charging rates of 24 to 50 kW, and the maximum charging rate allowed for many EV models is about 50 kW. Considering imperfect battery conditions, the actual average charging rate is around 43 kW for a 50 kW station, which is equivalent to gaining 90 miles of range in 30 minutes of charging.

While there are several EV charging platforms competing on the market today, Tesla’s proprietary network of Superchargers has excelled because of station abundance and power. Tesla Superchargers can deliver as much as 120 kW of power, and they’re getting better because Tesla can make improvements to its’ cars’ BMS through periodic software updates. The third iteration of Superchargers is expected to be capable of charging at a rate of 250 kW, which is enough to add 75 miles of range in 5 minutes of charging or over 200 miles of range in 30 minutes.

Traditional car-makers are designing their cars with the rapid evolution of DC fast charging in mind. The Audi e-tron, a luxury electric SUV to rival Tesla, has a maximum rate of 150 kW for DC fast charging. In the non-luxury class, the 2019 Nissan LEAF Plus is capable of charging at around 70 kW, with a peak rate of 100 kW; that’s twice as fast as the regular version of the 2019 LEAF.

Plugshare screenshot showing EV charging stations across the U.S.
If you’re considering buying or leasing an electric car, check out the closest charger to you on PlugShare.

Since traditional automakers do not own their own charging networks, there aren’t many stations available for charging at rates higher than 50 kW.  But if you look at PlugShare, there are more DC fast charge stations around than most people think. It’s a good sign that EV models will be compatible with faster DC fast charging stations as they appear in greater abundance in the next couple of years.

What’s The Future Of DC Fast Charging?

If fast charging becomes significantly faster, do cars need huge battery packs to support 400+ miles of range? Maybe not; the vision for Lucid, a new electric car manufacturer started by a former Tesla employee, relies on small, 30 kWh batteries, ultra-high efficiency, and widespread, 350 kW fast charging stations. As quickly as the industry is growing, it’s unclear how long such a breakthrough would take or how expensive it would be to develop the necessary infrastructure to make this vision possible. As of 2015, it costs between $10,000 and $40,000 to install a single 50 kW DC fast charging port. They’re not going to appear on every street corner overnight, and it can cost as much as $100,000 for a single charger with a 250 kW capacity.

In the short term, the installation of new DC fast charging stations should be prioritized along interstate and highly-trafficked routes to accommodate for long-distance driving. Data collected from drivers can help install DC fast chargers strategically to improve access to on-the-go charging and get the most out of investment dollars in cities. But if a driver has easy-to-access options for Level II charging at work, the grocery store, or the gym, then convenience can quell range anxiety without having to invest in as many expensive DC fast chargers.

In fact, there are more DC fast charging stations being built all the time. Billion of dollars of Volkswagen settlement funds are going towards the deployment of fast-chargers across the country. Many states are using large chunks of their VW allotment to build out charging infrastructure; on top of this, VW’s Electrify America is investing $2 billion into developing a fast-charger network accessible to all electric car brands.

At its simplest, DC fast charging is the best way to compete with the 5-minute refueling time of a gas-powered car. It’s a convenience that many long-distance drivers can’t sacrifice, and so more abundant fast charging will make it even harder to justify ever using gasoline. Still, long road-trips make up a small portion of our driving miles, and most electric car drivers will continue to find charging at home most convenient.

 

Ready to learn more about electric cars?

If you live in Virginia, head to ElectrifyYourRideVA.org for more information and discounts on the latest electric models.

Not a Virginian? Don’t worry, you can sign the Going Electric pledge as a first step—then head over to the PlugStar Shopping Assistant, a great place to learn more about electric models currently on the market.

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Better Battery Technology: The Tipping Point For EV Adoption?

October 25, 2019

A version of this post by Mal Skowron was first published on the blog of Electrify Your Ride VA partner Green Energy Consumer Alliance

The 21st century brought us faster processing speeds and smaller processors, spurring a glut of electronic devices. Many of these products are battery-powered and portable, like cell phones, laptops, e-readers, and smart watches, all sporting a longer battery life with each new generation of devices. So where do electric cars fit into our increasingly electrified world, and how much does battery technology need to improve so that they become the new norm?

Electricity consumption and battery storage are not intuitive to think about, so it helps to use something familiar as a reference point. Most personal electronics rely on lithium-ion batteries and require a relatively small amount of stored energy to have sufficient battery lives. A fully-charged smartphone with a battery life of 11 hours holds about 0.0055 kilowatt-hours of energy.

As you might expect, propelling a 3,500-pound electric vehicle (EV) for hundreds of miles requires much more stored energy. All-electric vehicles coming to market now have batteries that can hold 60 kilowatt-hours of energy — nearly 10,000 times more storage capacity than a cell phone. Such electric cars can drive around 230 miles on a full charge.

Range Anxiety

For many consumers, 230 miles of driving range feels lackluster when compared to cars that can drive 300-400 miles on a single tank of gasoline. Range anxiety, or the idea that a vehicle will run out of energy before it can reach a place to charge, is largely a problem of perception, not battery performance. Actual EV owners say again and again that range anxiety dissipates and is mostly a concern for people who don’t own an EV. Once a driver gets used to plugging in, their range anxiety fades. But unlike the personal electronics market, electric cars must compete with a well-established, well-understood industry to change driving norms.

To make this point clear, let’s return to the cellphone analogy. Most cellphone owners are used to either charging at night or charging periodically throughout the day. I rarely let my cell phone drop to 0% before I plug in again.

Electric cars are no different. Plugging into an outlet or charging station means there’s no need to make a detour just for gas.  Yes, it does take more time to fill a battery with power than it takes to fill a tank with gasoline, but plugging in takes just 10 seconds. The average American drives just 30 miles a day and cars spend 95% of their time parked. Plugging in at home for a few hours can easily meet the needs of most drivers while their cars are in the garage anyway. The problem of range anxiety exists because we’re conditioned to think about refueling cars when they’re empty, when really we should think about charging electric cars like we do smartphones.

Most Americans could transition to electric cars today with just a minor tweak in their refueling habits, earning back the time and money they now spend pumping gas and performing engine maintenance for their gas-powered cars. However, inertia in the electric car market has proven difficult to overcome; better batteries could be the solution to get people to switch to electric.

Under the hood of an electric car

How Good Are Batteries Now?

To be useful in cars, batteries need to be energy-dense, or have a high storage capacity without taking up a lot of space or weight. Electric car batteries also should perform well in low and high temperatures, be durable and safe, and have a long usable life. And perhaps most importantly, they need to be inexpensive enough to compete with internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles.

Fortunately, battery costs are falling fast. Not long ago, batteries in an EV cost more than all the car’s other parts combined. Now, battery costs account for about a third of the total sticker price, and should drop to a fifth of the car’s price by 2025. Because an electric car has fewer parts than a gasoline car, by that time, the total upfront cost of an EV is expected to be less than a car with a gas tank and engine.

The evolution of the Nissan LEAF, one of the pioneer electric car models, is a testament to how quickly battery technology has developed. Since 2012, the LEAF’s range has improved by 170% while the base sticker price has increased by just 9%.

Taking A Deeper Dive Into Battery Technology

Lithium-ion batteries are the most common type of battery used in electric cars and other portable electric devices. They are energy-dense, lightweight, and increasingly inexpensive.

In 2010, when electric cars were first introduced into the mass-market, lithium-ion battery packs cost about $1,000 per kilowatt-hour of storage. Now, they cost less than $200 per kilowatt hour.

Experts estimate that battery costs need to drop down to $100 per kilowatt-hour in order for EVs to be price competitive with combustion-engine vehicles. If current trends in technological innovation continue, we should hit that target by 2022, if not sooner. That means that high costs, one of the biggest barriers to the proliferation of EVs, will quickly be nulled, especially since the cost of maintenance and fuel for EVs is already so much lower than conventional cars.

Lithium-ion battery costs are falling. That means EVs will be able to have longer driving ranges at lower costs. Source: Union of Concerned Scientists

One technology to watch for is solid state lithium-ion, in which a solid ceramic, glass, or polymer material replaces the liquid electrolyte of the battery. This replacement would make for thinner, denser batteries with improved driving range and charge time, but the technology will probably take 10 years or more to develop commercially.

That’s a long time to wait, and it’s possible that lithium-ion batteries are just a stepping stone to an even more sophisticated battery chemistry that is still years away. Battery, auto, and chemical manufacturers are promising breakthroughs with entirely different battery chemistries, such as fluoride-ion.

The good news is that we don’t have to wait for the perfect battery to make the transition to electric cars. Developing networks of public charging infrastructure are making it easier and more convenient to recharge, so that range anxiety is less prominent. When more people see EVs on the road, know someone who owns an EV, and realize the economic benefits of EVs, then the market can transform quickly.

Ready to learn more about electric cars?

If you live in Virginia, head to ElectrifyYourRideVA.org for more information and discounts on the latest electric models.

Not a Virginian? Don’t worry, you can sign the Going Electric pledge as a first step—then head over to the PlugStar Shopping Assistant, a great place to learn more about electric models currently on the market.

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It’s time to Electrify Your Ride, Virginia

September 6, 2019

Admit it, you’re curious about electric cars. It seems like they’re showing up in neighborhoods all over, they sound like something out of Tom Cruise’s Minority Report, and everybody who drives them love them.

Well, if you live in or near Virginia, you’re in luck: Generation180, in partnership with Green Energy Consumers Alliance and Virginia Clean Cities, is launching a new campaign, Electrify Your Ride VA, aimed at making electric cars more accessible and even more affordable than ever. Over the next nine months, we’ll be bringing easy-to-understand educational information, local events (that are actually fun), and dealership discounts to a Virginia city near you.

This is definitely your best chance to satiate that curiosity—and to start driving an electric car yourself.

Why electric cars?

As you may know, there’s more to electric cars then just cool new tech. Not only are they now an economical choice for millions of drivers, but they can make your life simpler: no more gas stations (80 percent of charging happens at home) and way fewer visits to your auto mechanic, for starters.

Best of all, though, electric cars enable you to play a part in Virginia’s transition to clean energy. Electric transportation is both a major reducer of carbon emissions and a critical piece of the puzzle that’ll get us to a future powered by renewables like wind and solar.

Two kids plugging in an electric car

With regard to emissions, over 45 percent of energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in Virginia come from transportation. By switching from a gas car to an electric one, the average Virginia resident can reduce the emissions of their drive by 70 percent.

While that emissions impact is massive in and of itself, here’s the other half of the story: electrifying everything—especially our transportation—is a crucial part of getting to a clean energy-powered world. Electric vehicles are a huge part of how we get fossil fuels out of our lives.

Plug into the Electrify Your Ride VA campaign

So you’re officially ready to ditch last century’s technology and learn more about electric cars—that’s fabulous. Here’s a quick overview of what the campaign is offering:

  • Connect: Come to a local event near you to check out electric cars and meet the members of your community who drive them every day. During this year’s National Drive Electric Week (Sept. 14-22), we’re holding the following free events:

•  9/14 – Richmond
•  9/15 – Charlottesville
•  9/21 – Roanoke
•  9/22 – Fairfax

  • Learn: Visit the campaign’s educational pages to learn more about electric cars, including how to charge them, what incentives are available in Virginia, and more.
  • Make a pledge: Sign the “Going Electric” pledge to commit to making your next car electric. Driving electric is one of the most impactful actions you can take as an individual, and this is a way to take the first step.
  • Save: Use the campaign’s car-browsing platform to explore the latest models available in Virginia, take advantage of no-hassle discounts that we’ve already arranged, and sign up for a test drive at a local dealer near you.

We’re excited to help drive the awareness and adoption of a crucial clean energy solution in Virginia. Come out to an event this September and say hello—to us and to your neighbors who have made the switch. We’re pretty sure you’ll be glad you did.

Don’t live in Virginia and bummed about it? Don’t worry, we’ve got plans to expand the campaign…

Check out the campaign website at ElectrifyYourRideVA.org

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Electrify Your Ride VA events this September

September 6, 2019

Join us this month for a series of fun and educational events featuring electric cars!  To celebrate National Drive Electric Week, local community members will be bringing their own electric cars to share about the benefits of driving electric. In partnership with cities and a variety of local, regional, and national nonprofits, the Electrify Your Ride VA campaign will showcase currently available models of electric cars, provide access to information about charging stations and give residents an opportunity to check out the cars for themselves.

These free, family-friendly events are open to the public and will feature free refreshments, food vendors, activities for kids, and opportunities for community engagement.

Learn more and register to attend (or bring your electric car to) an event near you:

What’s Electrify Your Ride VA?

Three nonprofits—Generation180Green Energy Consumers Alliance, and Virginia Clean Cities—are showing up in cities across Virginia to raise awareness around the benefits of driving electric, connect local electric car owners with neighbors that want to learn more, and make discounts on the latest electric models available to communities across the state. Sign up for our email list below to stay updated on the latest from the campaign.

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It’s time for schools to hop on the (electric) bus

November 7, 2018

When someone says the words “electric vehicle,” a giant, lumbering, yellow kid-wagon isn’t the first—or the slickest—product that comes to mind. You might not have even known that someone, somewhere, was making such a vehicle.

But here’s the honest truth: electric school buses are here, they’re awesome, and the case for schools adopting them is more compelling than ever.

It’s not hard to figure out why electric buses are awesome. Here’s an easy place to start: remember waiting for your school bus and performing that daily dance to avoid the choking fumes churning from the tailpipe? With electric buses, that diesel dance is history.

If that fact alone hasn’t completely sold you on electric buses, then keep reading—we’re just getting started.

A key solution

U.S. school buses transport more than 25 million children each day, traveling a total of 4 billion miles annually along standard routes. While current diesel bus fleets get the job done, they expose young passengers to concerning levels of diesel fumes. Transportation as a whole contributes to a wide range of health and pollution problems and is also the top source of greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for nearly a third of the nation’s total.

Electric vehicles are a key solution. Compared to diesel and natural gas options, electric buses account for far fewer emissions, even when charged on today’s grid powered largely by fossil fuels. Replacing all of the nation’s school buses with electric alternatives could prevent the emissions equivalent of 1.1 million cars.

Even better, converting school buses to electric will bring us closer to a fully electrified future, powered by 100 percent clean energy. As the grid transitions to higher shares of renewables, we’ll see more and more schools using rooftop solar to charge their fleets of electric buses, providing emissions-free transport to kids nationwide.

A day’s worth of range, a lifetime of savings

A common concern about EVs is their range, or how far they can travel on a single charge. The good news is that today’s electric buses, with a range of around 100 miles, can cover 80 percent of existing school bus routes with a single overnight charge. If they’re also charged at mid-day, they can cover 90 percent of routes. Manufacturers like Blue Bird, Lion Electric Company, and GreenPower already offer models that achieve this range, and as technologies improve, ranges will only increase.

What about cost? On average, a new diesel school bus costs around $110,000, whereas a new electric school bus—plus the necessary charging infrastructure—costs around $230,000. Although the upfront costs are higher, the savings from going electric come over the vehicle’s lifetime. The extra cost is recouped after around 13 years of operation due to the lower fuel and maintenance costs.

Electric buses don’t depend on costly fill-ups, and they don’t need most of the parts that traditional diesel buses require (plus, electric parts tend to last longer). On average, electric buses can save school districts $2,000 in fuel costs and another $4,400 in reduced maintenance costs each year. With additional infrastructure, electric buses can even help schools save on their overall electricity bills, with the bus battery serving as storage that can feed power back to the grid during periods of peak demand.

Extra support for going electric

For some schools, transitioning to electric buses might be possible within the standard budget. But more likely, schools will need an additional boost to make the buses more affordable and to increase the savings.

Some states are applying for funds from the Volkswagen Mitigation Trust—established in 2017 after the automaker was found guilty of cheating on U.S. vehicle emissions tests—which allocates a total of $2.9 billion for projects that reduce diesel emissions. California, for example, plans to spend $130 million to replace eligible school, transit, and shuttle buses with electric alternatives, and Illinois will dedicate up to $10.9 million of its allocation to replace diesel school buses with electric and install charging infrastructure.

 States are also providing their own funds to go electric. California’s Hybrid and Zero-Emission Truck and Bus Voucher Incentive Project offers school districts vouchers of up to $220,000 for each electric school bus they buy and another $15,000 if the school is in a disadvantaged community. The state’s Rural School Bus Pilot Project is among several initiatives helping to deliver dozens of electric school buses to rural communities.

At the federal level, the School Bus Rebate Program is providing more than $9 million to school districts to replace old buses in 2018, or about $15,000 to $20,000 per bus.

A win for Twin Rivers

The case for electric buses might best be summarized by the experience of Twin Rivers Unified School District in Sacramento, California. Thanks in part to proceeds from the state’s cap-and-trade program, the district now has one of the largest electric school bus fleets in the country. Its 12 electric buses travel 50 to 70 miles a day on a single charge—with power to spare—and have reduced fuel costs by around 82 percent.

In total, the Twin Rivers district saves an estimated $8,000 to $15,000 a year on energy and maintenance. Cost savings of that scale, paired with the improvements in community air quality and health outcomes, are giving the district plenty of reasons to feel good about its investment. Here’s to hoping its experience inspires school districts across the country to hop on the bus to a cleaner, healthier future.

Want to dive deeper on electric buses? Check out our recent webinar on the topic with U.S. PIRG’s Transportation Campaign Director here.

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Why we need to electrify everything

October 24, 2018

What does it take to get fossil fuels out of our lives? A big part of the answer is “the electrification of everything”. No, it’s not just industry jargon—it’s a key concept worth understanding, as it’s playing a key role in our transition to a society powered by clean, renewable energy. 

At its simplest, “the electrification of everything” means that more of the things we use that require energy—from our water heaters to our weed whackers to our cars—can run on electricity rather than directly burning gas and other fossil fuels that we pump or inject into them. When you swap out your old gas-powered hot water heater for a tankless electric system, you’re taking part in the “electrification of everything”.

The (grid) game has changed

For decades, the conventional wisdom was that we needed to move away from electricity because it was inefficient and dirty—and still today, around 68 percent of electric power comes from burning fossil fuels. Together, electricity production and the transportation sector are responsible for more than half of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to the climatic changes that are affecting communities nationwide.

But as our power grid integrates more renewable energy and as cleaner, electrified products enter the mass market, there’s now broad consensus that using electricity for more of our activities—including transportation—is a critical step toward reducing overall emissions. 

Across the country, utility companies have begun integrating renewable energy sources like wind and solar into the electrical grid, reducing the emissions impact of the power we draw from our electrical outlets. Additionally, we can now generate renewable power locally from our own rooftops or from nearby wind and solar farms. Residential and community solar systems, combined with more affordable energy storage options, are helping to make our electricity supply cleaner and more efficient.

As we move toward a world where zero-carbon electricity is possible, it makes sense to “electrify everything” rather than to continue to rely on fossil fuels. When we all switch to using cleaner electric power, then everything we connect to this power will be cleaner as well.

POST3_STILL3

The electrified home

So what does it look like to electrify everything in our lives?

Already, manufacturers are replacing combustion engines of all sizes—in appliances, power tools, and vehicles—with electrical technologies. “We’ve seen a dramatic increase in interest in electrification from electric utilities, equipment manufacturers, and others,” said Trieu Mai, a senior researcher at the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory. “Widespread electrification could have major energy, economic, and environmental impacts to the entire U.S. power system and broader economy.”

While most of our cooling systems—like air conditioners and refrigerators—are already electrified, many of our systems for water and space heating aren’t. To heat our homes, we can replace natural gas- or oil-fired furnaces with energy-efficient electric heat pumps. And many households are replacing bulky storage water heaters that run on natural gas, propane, or oil with tankless electric water heaters that provide hot water on demand. 

Then, of course, there are electric cars. By replacing our internal combustion engine vehicles with battery electric vehicles (EVs), we can immediately eliminate the need for gasoline or diesel to fill up our tanks. If we also plug our EVs into power networks fueled by renewables (such as solar from our rooftops), then we’re charging them with clean energy, too. EV batteries can even serve as energy storage, feeding power back to the grid during periods of peak demand. By helping to stabilize the grid, EV’s can make it possible to integrate even higher shares of renewables into the electricity system.

Going electric might seem like a costly proposition—but you’d be surprised. The prices of these technologies are dropping by the day, and the federal government and many states offer rebates and tax credits for installing residential solar, smart appliances, and energy-efficient climate control systems. Electrification is a key way that we’re going to get fossil fuels out of our lives—and we can start today.

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The new face of energy

April 24, 2018

The energy transition is happening. Across the world we are seeing radical shifts in how we produce our energy, and how we use. Energy democracy has come to the American household in the form of new products like electric vehicles and affordable solar panels. Products like these provide us with energy independence, more money in our wallets, and a healthier future. This is the new face of energy.