While visiting my wife’s brother a few weeks ago, he mentioned he saw a Rivian R1T on the road recently and thought it looked pretty cool. So he started asking us about electric cars. After he peppered us with questions for a while, I suggested he write them all down and I would do my best to answer them.
Part of me was hoping he might get busy at work and forget about taking me up on my suggestion, but a few days later the list appeared in my email inbox. And so now I have to hold up my end of the bargain.
One of his questions was why there is no one place a person can go to learn about electric cars. I know CleanTechnica has published hundreds, if not thousands, of articles about electric cars (I feel like I have written a hundred of them myself), but they are scattered all over the place and date back more than a decade in some cases. There is no one comprehensive, all inclusive, “everything you wanted to know about EVs” article. Hopefully what follows will address that gap.
Let The Questions About Electric Cars Begin!
What follows is the list of 16 questions I got in my email, lightly edited. If this article gets too long for convenient reading (I think it might), I reserve the right to break it into 2 or more articles.
The first section contains questions about charging an electric car.
Q. Let’s say I spend about $200 a month on gas for my combustion engine vehicle. About how much per month do I pay to charge my car?
A. Assuming gasoline costs $3.50 a gallon, two hundred dollars will buy 57 gallons of gas, enough to drive about 1250 miles in a typical car or truck. A modern electric car like the Ford Mustang Mach-E can travel 2.7 miles on a kilowatt-hour (kWh) of electricity, according to Google. That means it would need 466 kWh to drive the same distance. The Tesla Model Y is one of the most efficient electric cars. It goes about one third further on a kWh than the Mach-E.
Assuming a kWh costs $0.15, you would spend around $70 for enough electricity to drive as far as you could on $200 worth of gasoline, which is why many people say operating an electric car costs only a third as much to drive as a conventional car.
Obviously there are many assumptions in the calculations above. As the fuel economy of a conventional car goes up, the difference will be smaller. Similarly, as the cost of electricity goes up, the difference will narrow as well.
reddit has a pretty good forum for people interested in electric cars. Recently, I found this comment on one of the threads: “I went from a Ram 1500. (Which was a great truck but not the point) to a Mach E. Literally saving $1000 a month gas vs electricity. I was dropping $1100-$1200 monthly on gas.”
Not everyone will have the same experience, but it is safe to say driving an electric car will save a significant amount of money compared to buying gasoline.
Q, How much does it cost to charge my car at a public charging station?
A. To address this question requires some background. There are basically 2 kinds of public chargers. Level 2 operates on AC current (see our guide to Level 2 charging for more information). Level 3 fast chargers operate on DC current and can range all the way from a low of 50 kW of power up to a high of 350 kW of power.
In general, Level 2 charging is used for cars that are going to remain parked for a while — at work, restaurants, shops, and the like. Level 3 chargers are usually found along highway routes where people want to charge as quickly as possible and get back on the road.
Just as gas prices are higher in highway rest areas, the cost of charging with a Level 3 charger will be higher. Tesla Superchargers typically cost around $0.38 per kWh. Some other charging networks can bill customers $0.80 per kWh hour or more. Obviously, those higher prices make the difference between buying gas and buying electrons a lot smaller.
If you spend your life on the superslab far from home, your cost of charging at Level 3 chargers will be similar to buying gasoline. But here is a good place to mention one significant difference between electric cars and conventional cars.
Fully 85% of all EV charging takes place at home. When your battery gets low, you plug in, go to sleep, and wake up the next morning with enough battery charge to drive for 3 to 5 days of normal driving. No trips to the gas station, no dirty hoses, and no gasoline smell on your clothes. It takes 10 seconds to connect the charging cable and 10 seconds to disconnect it. Sweet!
And here’s something else you may not know. Many hotels, B&Bs, inns, restaurants, and stores want to do business with EV drivers, so they offer free Level 2 charging to their customers. While you spend more to charge on the highway, you may be able to charge for free when you get where you are going. How great is that?
Q. I understand not all EVs can be charged at a Tesla charging station. Are any non-Teslas compatible? If so, who and why?
A. A quick history lesson is in order here. More than a decade ago, when Tesla was just getting into automobile manufacturing, it reached out to established companies and asked them if they wanted to help design a universal charging standard. They declined the offer, so Tesla went ahead and created its own.
Later, those legacy automakers realized they needed a charging standard of their own and they came up with what is called the combined charging standard or CCS. Everyone pretty much agrees the Tesla standard is superior, but ego often plays an outsize role in business decisions, and so today in America we have two common standards — the Tesla Supercharger and CCS.
Tesla has now created an adapter that allows non-Tesla cars to use a Supercharger. Teslas come from the factory with an adapter that allows drivers to use any CCS charger. The federal government is putting a lot of money behind its plan to expand the charging infrastructure for electric cars. Tesla would like to qualify for some of that federal money, but in order to do so, it must make at least half of the chargers at any location compatible with cars that use the CCS standard.
So, the answer is, convergence is taking place in the industry. Decades ago, Sony had two proprietary technologies — Trinitron for color TVs and BetaMax for video recordings. Everyone agreed they were superior, but eventually less expensive color TV systems won the market and BetaMax succumbed to VHS.
We all know that having two different standards is silly, wasteful, and frustrating for drivers. But changes are coming. One of the features of the Tesla Supercharger network that is light years ahead of the competition is called “plug and charge.” When you insert the connector into your charging port, your car and the charging network do an electronic handshake, charging begins within a few seconds, a screen keeps you informed as to charging speeds and how much your charging has cost you so far.
When you disconnect, the total is billed automatically to the credit card assigned to your Tesla account. Other networks are years behind. If you drive an EV that uses the CCS standard and you get to use a Tesla Supercharger (after setting up an account with Tesla), you will never want to go back to using another charging network.
Q. Is anyone working on a universal industry standard for EV charging?
A. See above.
Apparently, I am well on my way to writing an encyclopedia here. My fingers are tired and I have to take a break for dinner. Look for Part Two on this topic coming soon. Stay tuned!
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