The electric experience

What is it like to own and drive an electric vehicle?

By Kristi Jacobsen Brodd

The electric experience

Imagine some morning when you oversleep your alarm and need to shower and pack a lunch for yourself and your kids. You also have to send some e-mail, fill up the car with gas and drop off the kids at school all before your 8 a.m. meeting that is a half-hour away. You jump in your new car thinking, "I'm so late!" when you realize that you actually don't need to stop at the gas station anymore. Just last week you bought a new car that runs on electricity and it has a full charge from being plugged in overnight. You take a sigh of relief because now you will be on time.

Electric vehicles are a growing market for new car purchases. As of November 2014, there were 265,319 plug-in electric vehicles in the U.S. These vehicle owners made the switch from the gas station to an electrical outlet to fuel their vehicles. The change is a large one and can take a while to get used to, but electric vehicle drivers across the country and North Carolina are saying that it's a switch that they will never regret making.

Electric vehicles use electricity as their primary fuel or use electricity along with a conventional engine to improve efficiency (plug-in hybrid vehicles). Almost every large automobile manufacturer is currently developing or selling an electric vehicle. In North Carolina, residents can purchase electric vehicles from Chevrolet, Ford, BMW, Tesla, Nissan, Mitsubishi, Smart and Cadillac. Estimates from the Electric Power Research Institute indicate that there will be over 700,000 plug-in electric vehicles on the roads in North Carolina by 2030.

The driving range

A large adjustment drivers have to make when they purchase an electric vehicle is to plan their trips around charging. Electric vehicle driving range varies by make and model, but is usually between 80 to 100 miles per charge for an all-electric vehicle. For most drivers, this range works well with their usual patterns. The U.S. Department of Transportation has found that the national average miles traveled per day is 36 miles. For those whose driving patterns exceed an all-electric range, a plug-in hybrid can still offer the benefits of driving electric. Plug-in hybrids drive on electricity for around 20 to 40 miles before switching to gasoline. For many, the range limits can cause anxiety when thinking about driving an electric vehicle, but as more charging stations are installed and vehicles are equipped with better range calculating equipment, drivers will begin to feel more confident. As Lance Pickup, a Raleigh electric vehicle driver, explained, "While the car has plenty of range for most days, it helps to combine trips and plan stops long enough to get a meaningful charge. I would not say it has limited me in any way, but I do have better daily itineraries now, and that saves me time as well."

Charging

Electric vehicle charging is available in three levels. All vehicles come with an adapter to plug the car in at home to a standard 120-volt outlet, known as Level One charging. Using Level One charging usually provides three to five electric miles per hour of charge. Level Two charging uses a 240-volt outlet (usually intended for large appliances, water heaters, air conditioners, etc.) and a station that can either be installed at home or in commercial locations. Level Two charging is three to five times faster than Level One and provides 10 to 20 electric miles per hour of charging. A third level of charging is DC Fast Charging. These charging stations are capable of charging an electric vehicle's battery to 80 percent capacity in under 30 minutes. In North Carolina, there are over 600 public charging stations available. Drivers use apps like PlugShare (plugshare.com) and the Alternative Fuels Data Center's Station Locator (afdc.energy.gov/locator/stations) to find charging stations convenient to them and to plan trips around charging locations.

Savings and maintenance

You can realize a lot of savings by fueling at the outlet instead of at the gas pump. Lance Pickup drives a Nissan LEAF, and in his first year of driving he saved $2,200 on gas and maintenance. Raleigh resident Tom Doe owns a Ford C-Max Energi, a plug-in hybrid vehicle, and has used only 48 gallons of gasoline during the 18,000 miles that he has driven so far in his car. His previous vehicle would have used 857 gallons for the same amount of miles. Both drivers also have seen a relatively low electric bill increase for charging at their homes. Lance pays around $37 a month in electricity for an average of 1,500 miles a month in his vehicle. Tom pays less than $25 a month to charge his plug-in hybrid at home.

Along with decreased gas expenses, electric vehicles also require less maintenance. Pickup explained: "The only maintenance I have done in the past 42,000 miles is rotating my tires and getting a new set of tires installed." Tom still needs to have the oil changed in his plug-in hybrid, but the frequency is greatly decreased. He is planning to change the oil at 20,000 miles, but of the 18,000 miles that he has on his vehicle, only 2,000 of those have been non-electric driving, so he still has a while to go until the first oil change.

Besides a comfortable and reliable driving experience, along with a decrease in fuel and maintenance costs, Pickup says, "The greatest benefit is simply the amazing drive. It's quiet, smooth, fast and fun. I just love driving my electric vehicle, and most owners feel the same."

 

About the Author

Kristi Jacobsen Brodd is outreach coordinator with Advanced Energy, a Raleigh-based non-profit organization that performs design and implementation, consulting, training, testing and research for electric utilities, governments and other partners.

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