As the train of new electric vehicle models, news headlines, and technological innovations continues to pick up steam, it’s worth checking in on an important question: is it cheaper to go electric or gas-powered? If you look at sticker price alone, you’ll find that EVs are consistently more expensive than their gas-powered counterparts. But whether you’re buying an EV or a gas-powered car, the purchase price is only a portion of the total lifetime cost of owning that vehicle. To understand the full cost of owning any vehicle, you’ve got to consider the additional expenses, such as registrations and insurance, plus operating costs, such as fuel (or charging), maintenance and repairs.
According to a recent study from Consumer Reports, owning an electric vehicle will actually save money over the life of the vehicle, which is great news for consumers (and for our collective future). And the savings can be substantial. In the study, Consumer Reports found that for the typical EV owner, the savings over the life of the EV would range from $6,000 to $10,000.
Owning an electric vehicle will actually save money over the life of the vehicle, which is great news for consumers and our collective future. And the savings can be substantial.
How does the math pan out? Here’s part of it: thanks to a range of federal and state tax credits and rebates currently available, when you buy a new EV, the actual purchase price can end up much lower if you take advantage of these incentives. For example, right now the federal electric vehicle tax credit can save buyers $7,500 off the price of many new vehicles. And depending on where you live, your state may also offer additional tax credits or rebates. Even some energy utility companies are offering discounts and other incentives to encourage more people to switch to EVs.
On top of this, EVs also save big on the long list of maintenance items that you no longer have to pay for, such as timing belts, fuel pumps, radiators, head gaskets, and those super fun oil changes—all only necessary for internal combustion engines. Consumer Reports says that EV owners spend half as much to repair and maintain their vehicles.
And “fueling” the vehicles is another huge source of savings. Charging an EV still comes with a cost, especially if you rely on public charging stations rather than charging at home, but according to the Consumer Reports (CR) analysis, the average EV driver will spend 60% less to power their vehicle than they would for a gas-powered car. CR reports that the average residential electricity rate in the U.S. is roughly 13 cents per kilowatt-hour, which translates into $1.16 per “eGallon,” which is the Department of Energy’s term for the electric equivalent of gasoline. This, of course, would vary based on where you live in the U.S. and the changing cost of gasoline, but with the average cost of a gallon of gasoline over $3.00, powering an EV costs less than a third the cost of fueling a gas-powered car.
Getting personal about it
If you’re considering an EV of your own, your ‘cost of ownership’ equation will vary depending on which EV you want to buy, where exactly you live, how much you pay for electricity, fuel costs in your area, whether you’d install a home charge or not, and of course, which incentives like tax credits are available to you.
EVs also save big on the long list of maintenance items that you no longer have to pay for, such as timing belts, fuel pumps, radiators, head gaskets, and those super fun oil changes.
Thankfully, there are some useful resources to help you dig into these factors. Plugstar.com will help you sort through all of the different models of EVs and plug-in hybrids currently available. To find out what tax credits and rebates you may be able to get, put in your zipcode here to find out incentives available in your state. On the federal level, the current federal tax credits only apply to the first 200,000 units sold by each automaker, so you can check the latest numbers to determine if an EV qualifies for the tax credit. And this useful tool from the Department of Energy helps you compare the overall costs of multiple vehicles at once based on your own annual driving habits.
So, what’s the bottom line? Is it cheaper to drive a battery-powered electric vehicle or a gas-powered internal combustion engine? While there are a lot of inputs to plug into your personal calculation, EVs are now coming out ahead, especially in more affordable car types. Just as solar panels can make your home more valuable even with a higher up-front cost, the lifetime savings of owning an EV more than makes up for the higher sticker price. And as battery technology increases, costs come down, and more and more EVs hit the market, we can expect this trend to continue. This is great news for all of us interested in a healthier, safer, clean energy future.
Just Northeast of San Diego, California, Cajon Valley Union School District boasts an impressive track record for school sustainability. The home of the Braves already powers 26 of their school campuses with solar, introducing over 16,000 students to clean energy in the classroom. Now, three schools (and counting) have electric vehicle charging stations, all warehouse vehicles are being replaced with electric trucks, and the school bus fleet contains 5 electric school buses, with plans underway to triple their electric bus fleet. They even are part of their local utility’s pilot vehicle-to-grid (V2G) program, enabling bus batteries to bolster grid reliability by returning electricity to the grid during times of high energy demand.
We were lucky to connect with Juan Noriega, a school bus driver who was at the frontline of the district’s transition from diesel to electric school buses. His passion for electric buses is infectious, so much so that we’re considering getting our school bus driver’s license so we can experience it for ourselves. Here is that interview, edited for length and clarity. Enjoy!
Pictured: Juan Noriega, electric school bus driver and Transportation Operations Assistant for Cajon Valley Union School District
Generation180: What were your initial thoughts about electric school buses?
Juan Noriega: The personal vehicle that I drive is a Prius, so I had experience with efficient cars, but never with electric vehicles. I was excited, but very worried about how long the batteries would last. That was my main concern, because if the battery was to run out, I would be concerned about the wellbeing of the students. Otherwise, I didn’t foresee any problems.
Generation180: What adaptations did you have to make to drive electric?
Juan Noriega: The transition was not that difficult at all and not extreme, like I thought it would be. Once you’re actually driving, you don’t focus on the specifics of the bus. You just switch from considering mpg to kw/h. The electric buses are very well manufactured, drive smoothly, and perform well.
As long as you drive carefully, like you’re supposed to for the kids (i.e. you can’t speed, can’t stop or accelerate too quickly), you are maximizing the performance of the bus and that lends itself to maintaining the electric battery. Acceleration was great, stopping was the same, and going uphill is a bit different.
I really enjoy driving electric buses. It’s something different, something new. The kids that get to ride in them are the “select few” since only 5 buses in our fleet out of 40 are electric; so they feel different and special.
Generation180: Is there anything you missed about diesel buses after making the switch?
Juan Noriega: I don’t miss having to fill them up! It’s wonderful not having to visit the diesel pump every day and have to inhale those fumes. As long as you plug them in at the yard, you’re set. It’s super easy, plus mess-free and smell-free.
So, I don’t miss anything really about diesel buses since electric buses handle everything as well, and more. While there are some routes we can’t use the electric buses on because they don’t have the range for it (we have 100 mile range buses), overall, they serve our needs. As long as we plan ahead, as the fleet operations team does, it’s not an issue.
Generation180: What do you like most about the buses: smooth to drive, acceleration, safety, noise?
Juan Noriega: Quietness. Definitely. With that said, we do have a small noise it makes on purpose for 0-15 mph so people know we’re there. It’s a fun jingle, so everyone jokes that the electric school buses are like an ice cream truck.
The noise factor makes a big difference. Diesel is just so loud, and starting up close to a neighborhood at 5:30 am with 40 buses turning on would negatively impact the community. Now we have fewer community concerns and complaints, as electric buses make no sound to start.
Plus, the AC works really well.
Generation180: What did parents and students say – did they like them?
Juan Noriega: The buses look different (yellow and blue, not yellow and black, for fire safety reasons), so everyone knows who rides on the electric buses. Kids these days are very used to screens, so since the dashboard is a screen, they easily relate to the control panel and often ask questions. All of the kids are excited by them, whether they ride them or not. When dropping kids off, parents and students alike often remark “woah, it’s electric! I’m curious, can I look inside?” The community accepted and welcomed the buses, wanting to learn more about electric transportation.
I also drove a lot of students with learning disabilities, and a major benefit for the majority of students was the lack of noise from the diesel engine. Plus, in the long-term, it’s improving their health by cleaning up the air they breathe every day.
Generation180: Do you have any advice for bus drivers that might be wary about giving up a vehicle they are comfortable with for an electric model?
Juan Noriega: Take the plunge! It’s a very easy vehicle to drive. It is basically the same in terms of drivability, so you’ll slip right in. You have to be aware of what you’re doing and your basic principles are the same. You just have a different motor and you have a different range.
I work for dispatch now and plan the routes, so it’s not on the driver. We manage the routes and range of the buses, and we would not send them on long routes or field trips they can’t handle. Technology is improving, as are bus charge points. For now we have limitations, and we use fleet management to address them.
It’s a matter of having an open mind and trying it, so get behind the electric wheel!
Interested in bringing solar, electric school buses, or other clean energy technologies to your school? Explore our resources and answers to common questions at our Help Desk and get started!
Visit any big city, and you’ll witness how shared transportation options have grown, from electric scooters tossed along sidewalks to bike and car sharing services. These can be a (relatively) cheap and easy way to zip around city streets. But the real potential of these shared services goes well beyond cities and well-heeled urbanites. In the case of car sharing, if the program is designed strategically—including prioritizing the use of electric vehicles (EVs)—there are prospects for a triple win: convenient transportation, lower emissions, and more affordable mobility options for under-resourced populations.
Cost savings and convenience
Car sharing has a lot going for it. Worldwide, membership in car sharing organizations like Zipcar and Getaround—which offer users access to a fleet of ready-to-drive cars, typically via an app—doubled between 2016 and 2018, to more than 30 million. People are flocking to shared cars for a lot of reasons, but the main ones are convenience and cost savings. Car sharing (which is different from car rentals or ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft) offers the benefit of using a vehicle without the high costs associated with private car ownership, like insurance, gas, maintenance, and parking. Usually, vehicles are stationed in locations like residential neighborhoods or near public transit stations and universities, making them convenient for a wide range of users.
Car sharing, if done well, can also be a great way to tackle rising emissions from transportation, the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. Studies show that when people gain access to a shared vehicle, they may get rid of their private car or avoid buying a new one; they also tend to walk, bike, or take public transit more. This brings other cascading benefits, including reducing the overall vehicle miles traveled and lowering traffic congestion and the demand for parking—all of which help slash driving-related emissions. Overall, the research points to a decrease in net greenhouse gas emissions among car sharing members, although it can depend on the context.
When electric vehicles enter the picture, there’s no question that car sharing is a win for the climate. Over their lifetime, emissions for EVs are three times lower than for internal combustion vehicles. While specific data on the emission savings from EV car sharing aren’t available, studies show that if you replace a conventional ride-hailing vehicle (like an Uber) with an EV, this can result in three times the emission reductions compared to a conventional vehicle. When EVs are powered by clean energy, like solar and wind power, they can contribute near-zero emissions. That’s why some ride-hailing services are starting to roll-out EVs.
The equity opportunity
Car sharing also has real potential to provide more equitable access to transport. So far, car sharing companies have focused on urban centers, but rural communities can actually benefit most from these services, due to the lack of density to support traditional public transit, biking, or other options. The typical car sharing user today tends to be young, with more education, a higher income, as well as easy access to the Internet, a smart phone, and banking services. Many popular car sharing services, which rely on an app linked to a bank account, end up excluding populations like the elderly and low-income households.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. If designed with these audiences in mind, car sharing presents an opportunity to provide mobility to people who may not be able to afford the high cost of owning a car, or who simply don’t have access to other good transportation options. By making these services available to more people, including in lower-income and more remote neighborhoods, we can go even further in reducing emissions. Strategies for broadening access and improving equity in car sharing services include providing subsidies for low-income users, making these services more accessible to the “unbanked” and those without smartphones, and developing more inclusive and adaptive services.
Getting car sharing right: a few examples
To optimize the potential for car sharing to both reduce emissions and meet the needs of diverse and under-resourced communities, it has to be “done right.” So far, car sharing has been mostly led by private companies. But in recent years, non-profits and governmental agencies have also gotten in on the action, forming alliances and partnerships focused on shared mobility while keeping in mind equity and the benefits of electrified transport. Here are a few examples of car sharing that tick these boxes:
- In 2016, the City of Los Angeles, California, signed a contract for an electric car sharing pilot project aimed at serving low-income residents. As of April 2019, BlueLA had deployed 80 EVs and 26 charging stations, all located in disadvantaged neighborhoods throughout Central LA. The goals of the program include: 1) recruiting at least 7,000 new car sharing users, 2) avoiding the purchase or sale of 1,000 private vehicles, and 3) reducing 2,150 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions.
- In the Twin Cities area of Minnesota, the car-sharing nonprofit HOURCAR is developing an all-electric car sharing service and a network of charging hubs in historically underinvested communities. The EV Spot Network, set to launch this year, is a collaboration with Xcel Energy and the cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis, and aims to add 150 shared EVs and 70 charging stations on city streets. The planning process has been largely community-driven. Based on feedback from local residents, HOURCAR has upgraded its system to approve new users quickly (within 24 hours), cut membership costs by 40 percent, and provide materials in several languages, including Somali and Hmong.
- In Hood River, Oregon, Forth Mobility aims to show how EV car sharing can serve rural communities while also benefiting low-income residents and local businesses. The Clean Rural Shared Electric Mobility (CRuSE) Project is one of the first efforts in the country to bring lower-cost car sharing to a rural area. Under the three-year program, five EVs are stationed at affordable housing sites, the city center, and tourist destinations in Hood River. To make the program more accessible, the platform is providing iPads at the affordable housing sites to help people sign up, and is creating a Spanish version of its app. It also offers alternate payment options to support users without access to credit or banking, and tiered pricing (including subsidies) for different user groups.
Innovative transport solutions like EV car sharing are needed to help decarbonize the transport sector in an equitable way. By shifting away from private vehicles and toward less carbon-intensive (but still convenient!) modes of transport, by adding EVs to the mix, and by targeting programs at under-resourced communities, we can move even closer to that goal.
Generation180 is joining electric vehicle advocates, climate organizations, and public health experts nationwide to urge the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to restore state leadership on vehicle pollution regulation through the Advanced Clean Car Standards.
Not sure what that means? That’s okay! We’re here to walk you through it. Long story short, the Advanced Clean Cars Program is one of the most effective policies states can pass to accelerate electric vehicle (EV) adoption, but states need permission from the federal government to implement this program. The previous administration rescinded this permission, but now the EPA is considering reinstating it. To ensure that this authority is restored and accelerate EV adoption nationwide, the EPA needs to hear from EV advocates like you!
Submit Comments to Support EV Adoption
So how can you get involved? By helping us tell the EPA that it’s time to get more EVs on the road and restore the clean car standards! Comments are due by July 6th, and we’ve made it easy for you. Simply copy the text below and go to this link to submit your comment. Easy peasy!
Script to copy:
As an American who supports our nation’s transition to clean energy, I know that electric vehicles are an important solution to addressing the climate emergency. Therefore, I’m writing to express my support for the EPA’s restoration of the Clean Air Act waiver for state greenhouse gas pollution and zero-emission vehicle standards for cars and trucks.
The transportation sector is the largest source of climate pollution in the U.S., accounting for nearly one-third of our nation’s greenhouse gas emissions. The transportation sector also contributes significantly to pollution that negatively impacts public health, and these impacts are felt disproportionately by low-income communities and communities of color.
The previous administration’s decision to undercut state authority to tackle air pollution from vehicles took away a crucial tool for addressing climate and air pollution. It’s imperative that the EPA restore the clean car standards so that states can continue to lead in fighting climate change and transition to a clean energy economy. Enabling states to adopt and implement clean car standards will ensure we are protecting our communities and driving further investment in pollution-free transportation solutions.
Together, we can ensure that the U.S. enjoys zero-emissions vehicles, cleaner air, and a clean energy future for all.
Have a neighbor who owns an electric vehicle? Ask them to tell you about it—or better yet, to let you take it for a spin. Pretty soon, you may be headed to the dealer as well. Studies show that word of mouth is one of the best ways to speed the EV revolution, and that current owners are among the top advocates for the low-maintenance, emission-free vehicles.
Peer influence—a.k.a. “the neighborhood effect”—is shown to have a bigger impact on the uptake of clean energy tech than things like glitzy advertising, expert knowledge, or even social media reviews. A recent survey by Autolist.com found that personal recommendations from friends, family, or coworkers had the most influence on a person’s vehicle purchase, with 52 percent of respondents saying it had governed their buying choice. “When someone in your immediate circle has a good or bad experience with anything, it makes you feel better about making the same decision,” an Autolist analyst explained. “Because cars are such a huge purchase in our lives, word of mouth means that much more here.”
Studies show that word-of-mouth is one of the best ways to speed the EV revolution.
Steve Hanley, a self-proclaimed “ambassador for the electric vehicle lifestyle,” noted that, as the first EV buyer in his area, he was able to dispel common misconceptions that his neighbors had about the Nissan LEAF, including its 226-mile battery range. “When I explain it is adequate for 90 percent of my driving needs and can go several days without recharging, they begin to see how an electric car could fit their needs as well,” he said. Just driving around town helps to break down the barriers to greater EV demand, Hanley explained, as “fear of the unknown subsides and people become more receptive of the newfangled oddity in their midst.”
Automaker Tesla has been a perfect test case for the power of peer effects on car buyers. The company is notorious for avoiding traditional marketing and advertising, but it still outsells all other EV brands, partly because Tesla owners love to convert people they know into EV drivers. In a study involving 5,000 purchasers of Tesla’s all-electric Model 3 sedan, 99 percent of the participants were satisfied with the car and were willing to recommend it to friends and family. In Hawaii, researchers found that for every 26 Tesla EVs sold in a zip code, the peer influence of just seeing the vehicles in the vicinity generated at least one additional Tesla sale. “What we’re seeing is that word of mouth is more than enough to drive our demand in excess of production,” said Tesla CEO Elon Musk.
Largely because people have enjoyed their interactions with EV owners, more and more carmakers are capitalizing on word-of-mouth sales. At the 2019 Los Angeles Auto Show, the CEO of Mercedes-Benz USA said: “It’s a question of experience. I think it’s getting cars on the road and having people speak of their experience positively.” Similarly, GM’s president acknowledges that, “Word-of-mouth will be critical” to increasing the demand for EVs. (It also doesn’t hurt that the nation’s EV charging network is expanding rapidly and that battery costs are plummeting, making the vehicles more convenient and affordable by the day.)
Sure, there’s still the challenge of bridging the gap between a person’s expressed interest in buying an EV and their actual following through with the purchase. But as more models come on the market and as more people “know someone (or know someone who knows someone)” who has an EV, this will quickly change. Watching more of our neighbors zipping to work or to the grocery store in their clean energy vehicles—and talking to them about their experiences—will make more of us want to go electric (you could be next!). And if you’re already a proud EV owner, you’re more valuable than you think: just keep singing the praises of your silent ride, and you may soon see all your neighbors plugging in.
Want to learn more about going electric? Join Generation180 for Electrify Your Ride Week (Sept 27–Oct 3), a full week’s worth of virtual events all about electric vehicles, including an e-bike giveaway, myth-busting trivia, and discussions ranging from how to drive on sunshine to workplace charging and effective government policies.
Originally published in the 9/23/20 edition of our Flip the Script newsletter
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.)
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.)
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.
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.