Owning an Electric Vehicle: What I’ve learned in the first year

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In July, 2015 I decided to purchase and electric vehicle (EV). This decision was not made without a lot of thought, and research, especially since I waffle a lot when it comes to making a purchase. It took me FOREVER to commit to purchasing the couch I have right now, so deciding on this car was no different. So, here’s a little background on what lead me to making this decision. I work for a well-known utility in California, and my tenure has exposed me to emerging technologies and the opportunity to learn about alternative fuels and the state mandates that help drive these changes. For example, did you know that Governor Brown has dramatically increased California’s climate change goals, committing the state to use renewable energy for 50% of it’s electricity and make existing buildings TWICE as energy efficient by 2030? That’s huge, and I’ve been lucky enough to have worked in both the renewable energy and energy efficiency parts of my utility. I know first hand what goes into making these things happen and lowering our carbon emissions.

So, when the company announced an employee discount opportunity with Ford and Chevy to purchase a hybrid or electric vehicle, I was intrigued. I like to think that everything happens for a reason, and that coincidence is rare. I say this because had I not just paid off my cross-over SUV, I wouldn’t have been in any position to purchase an EV. Since I had just paid off my car, the thought of driving a brand new car that I wouldn’t have to put gas in or take in for oil changes (two tasks that I absolutely loathed doing – not sure why, just found it tedious), I was excited to seriously consider it! Not to mention the very attractive federal tax credit, state rebate, and utility rebate I would expect to receive upon purchase.

The process of getting on the waitlist was easy, however the time it was taking to actually get in the car was long. Dealing with cars salesmen is not high on my list of favorite things…actually I don’t think it’s on the list of things I like even a little (sorry to any car salesmen who might be reading this). I had been checking in on a regular basis to find out the status of the car I had ordered: black, no leather, nothing fancy – so what the heck was taking so long? After the third, “it will be here in a couple of weeks,” I finally asked them to cancel my order. This, as you can imagine put a lot of fire under the salesman’s rear and he managed to get me what I was looking for and asked when I wanted to pick it up. Turned out that the best time to pick it up was that next Saturday (also my birthday). Picking up my brand new car on my birthday was definitely a first. I now have the happy birthday reminder of this super cool purchase every year when the tags are due 🙂

I thought I’d share a little EV history, because while it’s new technology to most of us, it in fact goes back to the mid-19th century. I won’t bore you with the early, early, stuff but by the 20th century electric cars and rail transport were commonplace with commercial electric automobiles having the majority of the market. Electrified trains were used for coal transport, and Switzerland’s lack of natural fossil resources forced the rapid electrification of their rail network. Believe it or not, EVs were among the earliest automobiles. They were produced by Baker Electric, Columbia Electric, and Detroit Electric just to name a few. So, while it seemed as if they were on to something, a number of developments contributed to the decline of electric cars. The increase in road infrastructure negatively impacted the range that an electric vehicle could offer, along with the discovery of large reserves of petroleum in Texas, Oklahoma, and California which led to the wide availability of affordable gasoline, ultimately making gas-powered cars cheaper to operate over long distances. Side note: this is still the characteristic of a gasoline-run vehicle that can be more appealing than an EV (believe me, I know). I am definitely limited to the range that I plan to travel, however it is possible to charge along the way, though quite time consuming.

During the last few decades, environmental impact of the petroleum-based transportation infrastructure, along with the peak of oil, has led to renewed interest in an electric transportation infrastructure. EVs differ from fossil fuel-powered vehicles in that the electricity they consume can be generated from a wide range of sources, including fossil fuels, nuclear power, and renewable sources such as tidal power, solar power, and wind power, or any combination of those. The carbon footprint and other emissions of electric vehicles varies depending on the fuel and technology used for electricity generation. The electricity may then be stored on board the vehicle using a battery. Vehicles making use of engines working on the principle of combustion can usually only derive their energy from a single or a few sources, usually non-renewable fossil fuels. A key advantage of hybrid or plug-in electric vehicles is regenerative braking due to their capability to recover energy normally lost during braking as electricity is stored in the on-board battery. Here’s a perfect example, I’m driving along and see that the light has turned yellow so I begin to slow down. As I’m slowing down, I’m coasting (another opportunity to regenerate energy). If I come to a stop in an efficient way (i.e. not slamming on my brakes), the dashboard rates my braking and will give me back a mile or two of charge. Keeping your speed consistent is also another way to regenerate and save energy while driving.

As of May 2015, the US has continued to have the largest fleet of highway-capable plug-in electric vehicles in the world, with about 335,000 highway legal plug-in electric cars sold in the country since 2008, and representing about 40% of the global stock. California is the largest plug-in car regional market in the country, with almost 143,000 units sold between December 2010 and March 2015, representing over 46% of all plug-in cars sold in the US. I think it is important to point out that California also has the most aggressive renewable energy and alternative fuel goals in the US so it is no surprise that we are the leader when it comes to EVs.

I have to say that I really do love my car. I was scared at first because the thought of jumping onboard with something that not everyone has is daunting. But ultimately, I enjoy not having to stop for gas and having the convenience to simply plug the car in at home. It is quite literally the best commuter car. I take public transportation from the East Bay into San Francisco every day. In general, if I have a normal week that consists of just driving to the train, the gym and home then I can last all week on a single charge!

I predict that EVs will continue to grow and become the go-to transportation for commuters. The best thing that can happen to improve EVs would be better charging infrastructure throughout the Bay Area (which I know is in the works), to comfort drivers and avoid the dreaded feeling of range anxiety. You might ask, what is range anxiety? Well, my friends range anxiety is the fear that your vehicle does not have sufficient range to reach your intended destination. While that may seem like a weird thing, it is alive and very very real. I’ve experienced it a couple of times, and have even driven my car down to less than 5 miles of charge!

To help with that anxiety I joined ChargePoint which operates the world’s largest and most open EV charging networks. I have this nifty little card attached to my keys, and that nifty little card is tied to my debit card, so when I find a ChargePoint station I just scan the card, the charger is unlocked and I can begin charging. How much does something like that cost? I’ve charged my car while at work downtown near the train station, and only had to pay six bucks! Another question I’m often asked is what I do when I have to drive somewhere that is out of my range and maybe don’t have the convenience of charging on my way? Well, I kept my gasoline vehicle. Now, that doesn’t mean I’m a chicken, I think it just means I’m practical. Will I always keep it? Who knows! Will I always drive an electric vehicle? I think I will! I’m confident the technology will only get better. Hello, Tesla?! Tesla’s vehicles already have a better range than the standard on the market so I’ve got my eyes set on one of those babies some day!

I’ve had my EV for a year and because of it I have had the opportunity to share with my two nieces how cool it is to have a car you plug into the wall just like a phone or a tablet, blow my Dad’s mind with the fact that my car has no gasoline, no oil and basically defies all that he knew while he was a diesel mechanic for 30+ years, and totally trip out my friends when they’re in the car because it’s so QUIET! It’s an alternative to a resource that we may not always have, and it feels good to know that I’m not adding nearly as much as I was before to the carbon footprint that I’ll leave behind. I also think I prove that you can care about the environment and what your personal output is without hugging a tree 🙂

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