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Electric Vehicles: Just like a regular car…but better!

By Rebecca Spring, Manager of Sustainable Transportation, WWF-Canada

Like a regular car…was a phrase I heard a lot. After the initial excitement about the silence and the cool info displays on the dashboard, we all just settled into a smooth, clean drive. Most seemed surprised by how normal it was and I wonder if they were expecting some compromises by switching gas for electricity. If they were, it was quickly forgotten.

WWF-Canada Sustainable Transportation Manager Rebecca Spring and Special Projects Officer Azza Taha go for a spin in the electric vehicle. Photo credit: Katie Edmonds

 

Of course, while EVs give the appearance of being like a regular car, they’re not. They’re revolutionary and they’re different. While you can get into one and drive it off the rental lot without a second thought, there are some questions and things to think about as you starting driving. I faced a ton of questions while chauffeuring workmates around and I’ve listed the most common ones below with quick answers and links for more information if you want to read more.

How is it different from a hybrid?many WWFers have been in a hybrid and wanted to know how EVs are different. An EV has a MUCH bigger battery that needs to be plugged-in to be recharged by the electricity grid. Also, EVs run exclusively on the electric motor whereas the gas engine kicks in for hybrids to drive at high speeds and accelerate.

–How is it cleaner if the electricity is dirty? – As critical thinking as you would expect, WWFers know that electricity isn’t always clean. They’ve got a point too – while electric motors are more efficient than gas engines, the mix of your electricity grid is important. This is why WWF has a complementary renewable energy program to our EV project. We’ve created a graphic to help you figure out just how clean EVs are in your province.

 

The EV’s plug. Photo credit: Rebecca Spring

–How and where do you charge it? – the simple way to charge an EV is by plugging it in to a regular socket at your house. To speed up the charging process, EV owners install a higher voltage charger at home (it’s the same voltage as your dryer hook up). While still an easy process for people with garages and private parking spaces, people who have a parking space in a larger garage will have to speak with their parking manager.

–What if you run out of charge? – WWFers asked this after noticing the battery symbol that counts down the remaining range (similar to a fuel gauge). My answer – avoid it the same way you do running out of gas! Since charging stations aren’t as common as gas stations, here are a few more reassuring points:

  • Some EVs have a back-up plan: Plug-in Hybrid electric vehicles have a small gas tank that kicks in when the charge runs out.

 

  • Your commute is probably WAY shorter than the range for EVs (~150kms/charge). So charging exclusively at home at night will almost always be enough to get you where you want to go.

 

Fun! Exciting! The Future! Clean! Quiet! Smooth! Cool! Good! These were all exclamations I heard from my co-pilots on Friday. Why don’t you give an EV a chance at the dealership or during your next rental and let us know about your first electric drive!

 


  • How much time did it require you to publish “Electric Vehicles: Just like
    a regular car…but better! | At WWF-Canada, we’re passionate about climate, water and people. l WWF-Canada Blog”? It provides loads of fine material. Appreciate it ,Sharon

  • Pat Walker says:

    I have been driving my electric pickup truck for 5 years here in British Columbia, traveling 33,000+ kilometers. It is quiet and reliable. I am surprised that commenters would put money concerns above wildlife. Their gas cars use more electricity than mine. Refining and pumping petrolium drains the electrical grid more per kilometer than an ev, let alone fuel for that tanker and delivery truck. It is time for us to have a little courage. We need happy ev drivers to tell everyone what they have discovered.

  • George Smith says:

    Hi im George Smith, I’m a proud owner of a 2007 Aston Martin Vantage Coupe and as you could imagine, I love my car as much as I do with my most valuable and invaluable things in my life, the issue here is that I need help shipping my car from Ontario to Calgary and I need a good shipping service I looked on particular two: http://www.ehaulers.com and http://www.shipmyride.com

  • Rob Haber says:

    Interesting about the cars but, what about charging facilities and costs? There are a number of new charging suppliers popping up around the world, some are legitimate government subsidized projects others, are more like intermediates aiming for the quick profit and in my opinion will be costlier for a recharge than filling a gas tank and finally some appear to be scams such as: Success Charging, a text book example of a virtual charging network dream. Lack of management & technology development experience. An empty shell. Local management mocked up offices and resumes. How can they claim world leadership when they haven’t established their capabilities on their own turf and are incapable of launching anything anywhere! Could you guys provide us your opinion and guidance? I need to know before investing in an electric car.

  • MangoChutney says:

    Judging by the few comments the headline should read:

    “Electric Vehicles: Just like a regular car…but much more expensive, shorter range and unreliable”

  • Hello Rev Phillip Foster – Thank you for your comment. It sounds like you have concerns about vehicle range and what happens if/when EVs run out of power. While definitely a legitimate concern (EVs take longer to recharge than just using a gas tank), I think this is something that people will manage the same way they manage their gas tank. There are some great tools out there for helping people manage their trips and to warn people that they need to charge in order to make it to their ultimate destination. And while the length of time to charge a vehicle might pose a problem now, there are technology advancements that are reducing that time to a more manageable amount of time for a road-trip pit stop.

    We want to use this blog to let people know about current limitations and to show how Canadians are managing and loving their EVs. We featured a blog a month ago that discussed cold-weather issues, please look it over here: https://blog.wwf.ca/blog/2012/05/04/how-do-you-know-if-an-electric-vehicle-will-work-for-you/. Also, I invite you to check back as our profile series continues and we feature Canadians and their EVs real world experiences in hot to cold climates.

  • Hi Sandy,

    Thanks for letting us know that you would like to see more backup information in the blog. If you check out our conservations pages under Climate and Energy we have quite a bit of information and research on the environmental benefits of EVs (and how we see EVs as a complementary program to our renewable energy campaign).

    WWF Canada has done quite a bit of research on EVs to ensure that the technology does provide the environmental solution we are looking for – reducing GHG emissions from personal transport. To demonstrate the emissions associated with EVs and their electricity source (and to help Canadian’s compare EVs to gas-powered cars), we’ve created a handy graph that you can find here: http://www.wwf.ca/conservation/global_warming/transportation/going_electric/.

  • MangoChutney says:

    @Rev Philip Foster

    good post

  • MangoChutney says:

    Comment first posted on 3rd July 2012 and still in moderation (I’ve removed the link to the Autoexpress dot co dot uk article in case that’s the problem):

    How much does it cost to replace the batteries on a Nissan Leaf? £19000

    Of course we won’t know for a few years, but I’m guessing you won’t be able to give away your brand new electric car once people realise the running costs.

    And of course the 100 mile range is expected to drop to 80% after 5 years, if they last that long

  • Some thoughts on electric cars. “The Leaf in Winter”

    1. Ratio of power to weight for the electric ‘fuel’ compared to petrol is about 1:10. ie the battery weight and volume is ten times that of a tank of fuel for the same mileage.

    2. With a petrol vehicle power does not drop off as fuel is consumed, with an electric vehicle this is invariably the case.

    3. In winter, consider the scenario of an electric vehicle at night up on the Yorkshire moors in a snow storm (I live in the UK, it would be far worse in Canada). The voltage of the battery will have fallen because of the cold, reducing power available to the engine. No heating of any kind is possible in these circumstances as this would rapidly drain the already reduced power in the battery, so inside temperature is dropping rapidly and the windscreen (and windows) frosting up inside and out. Approaching a hill, power availability is becoming critical and will probably fail half way up. The vehicle is now ‘dead in the water’. Recharging is impossible (nearest house is 20 miles) and even if possible would take several hours. So unless the car has a fairly large portable generator (several kw) on board (plus petrol to run it) or a complete fully charged spare battery (costing £10,000) the driver is stranded and possibly unable even to use his mobile phone. Once stranded, the driver is in a very dangerous situation risking hypothermia. His only option is to abandon the vehicle and walk the twenty miles plus to civilization – an equally dangerous option.

    Compare this with a petrol vehicle. Yes, it might indeed struggle in a snow storm, but power itself will not be reduced (arguably marginally increased due to a lower outside temperature for the exhaust), heat is ‘freely’ available at all times from the waste heat of the engine. (Even if the car is stuck he can keep warm for several hours using the engine on idle). Should he be unfortunate enough to run out of petrol, he will likely have a spare can in the boot and it’s a matter of minutes to put in the extra gallon which could take him the necessary 30-40 miles to civilization.

    4. Electric vehicle batteries, costing, as they do, £10,000 each, are easy targets for thieves. The idea of battery swopping at garages is equally a tempting target for thieves.

    5. In an accident, these batteries present a huge hazard of fire and electrocution, water adding to the latter hazard.

    To pay £25,000 for a mini which is only usable around town in clement weather is a ridiculous waste of money. You will need a second vehicle for nearly everything else anyway. The claim that it only costs £2 to go 100 miles is like the claims made for solar and wind power. The cost of back up – in this case a second conventional vehicle far outweighs any supposed advantage of the fuel cost saving. The Yorkshire moors scenario unfortunately can be reproduced even in London in a hard winter. On a crowded road when a Leaf runs out of power it’s stuck. Traffic will back up behind it… other Leafs will run of of power waiting… there will be grid lock with stranded vehicles littering the streets! A new nightmare of ‘Leafs in the road’.

    6. Hybrid vehicles however, though expensive, do have some merits. As with the diesel-electic units used on the railways, they can maximise the efficiency of the petrol/diesel engine used to generate the power for the electric motors. At the moment this has probably not been fully exploited. The Prius is not that fuel efficient suggesting there is some way to go yet with making this technology a serious competitor.

    It is often said that electric cars are a new technology and therefore need to be given time to develop. This is a myth. Electric cars are as old if not older than the internal combustion engine vehicle. They were tried and utterly failed to compete. Today even the electric milk float is a rare sight on the streets, most milkmen prefer an ordinary diesel vehicle.

    — Rev Philip Foster MA 1 Barnfield, Common Lane, Hemingford Abbots, Cambridgeshire PE28 9AX UK 01480 399098 .

  • MangoChutney says:

    Hmmm, maybe my fault – I’ll try again:

    How much does it cost to replace the batteries on a Nissan Leaf? £19000?

    http://www.autoexpress.co.uk/news/autoexpressnews/271129/leaf_battery_could_cost_19k.html

    Of course we won’t know for a few years, but I’m guessing you won’t be able to give away your brand new electric car once people realise the running costs.

    And of course the 100 mile range is expected to drop to 80% after 5 years, if they last that long

  • MangoChutney says:

    Hi,

    It’s been 3 days since I made the above comment and it is still in moderation. What’s the problem?

  • MangoChutney says:

    How much does it cost to replace the batteries on a Nissan Leaf? £19000?

    http://www.autoexpress.co.uk/news/autoexpressnews/271129/leaf_battery_could_cost_19k.html

    Of course we won’t know for a few years, but I’m guessing you won’t be able to give away your brand new electric car once people realise the running costs.

    And of course the 100 mile range is expected to drop to 80% after 5 years, if they last that long

  • Sandy Thomas says:

    I am amazed that the WWF would endorse battery electric vehicles (BEVs) without qualification.
    BEVs may be clean in parts of Canada with large quantities of hydroelectricity, but, as shown in the report at this link: http://cleancaroptions.com/Marginal_grid_mix_and_GHGs_for_AFVs.pdf, each BEV that replaces a gasoline-powered hybrid electric vehicle (HEV) in the US will actually increase greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 7.4% compared to a gasoline HEV, and every plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) will increase GHGs by an average of 10%, due to our large component of coal-generated electricity.

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