HomeWorks and EVs
by Charly Markwart
Anyone who’s ever purchased a new vehicle knows there are seemingly countless factors to consider before deciding upon the model that’s right for you. Should you go for space or fuel economy? Manual or automatic? What options should you add? And now, an added key question on the minds of many consumers is this: “Should I go electric?”
For HomeWorks Tri-County Electric Cooperative CEO Mark Kappler, the answer to that question, in reference to both his own personal vehicle and a new fleet vehicle for the Co-op, was a resounding “yes.” Kappler purchased an all-electric Chevy Bolt for himself in the summer of 2017, and approved a purchase of the same model to replace an aging Cooperative fleet vehicle in December.
“I thought it was time to purchase an electric vehicle for the Co-op because the technology has finally matured to the point that the economics work,” said Kappler. “We want to continue to reduce the Cooperative’s carbon footprint, and this was a great way and a great time to do that.”
When it came to buying a new personal vehicle, Kappler and his wife had to carefully consider what their primary use of the vehicle would be, among other factors, before deciding to go electric. But once they did their research and weighed the pros and cons, Kappler says all signs pointed towards the Bolt.
“As we analyzed the way we used our existing small car, for short trips to the grocery store, to work and school, to events at Michigan State, etc., we found that the Bolt’s maximum mileage range of 238 miles per charge would more than meet our needs,” he said. “We worked it out and realized the lower operating costs of the vehicle would result in a cost savings for us. After that, the decision was easy.”
That’s an analysis currently being conducted in many households across America. According to Inside EVs, a newsletter and website dedicated to publishing information about electric vehicles (EVs), U.S. sales of EVs increased by more than 25 percent last year in comparison to 2016. In total, nearly 200,000 EVs were sold in the United States last year (about one percent of the total vehicles sold). That’s an upward trend that HomeWorks Energy Advisor Brandon Trierweiler expects to continue through 2018 and the years to come.
“Going forward, electric vehicles are going to continue to play a more vital role in the auto industry,” he said. “With recent news that other countries like France and China are going to stop the sale of petrol-fueled vehicles over the next couple decades, and with manufacturers increasing the range of electric vehicles to make it possible for the general consumer to consider electric as a viable option, I think the sales are just going to keep increasing.”
EVs have a battery instead of a gas tank, and an electric motor rather than the internal combustion engine that powers traditional vehicles. Most EVs can be charged by plugging into a standard 120 V outlet, but for a faster charge, many owners opt to install a specialized 240 V charging system in their garage. While the driving range varies considerably among models, FuelEconomy.gov notes the average midsize EV has a range of about 150 miles per charge. (The Bolt, a small hatchback with a driving range of up to 238 miles per charge, far exceeds that average.)
“Probably the biggest misconception regarding electric vehicles is the range anxiety that can come from not understanding how people use their current vehicles,” said Kappler. “Studies have shown that most people use their vehicles for shorter trips most of the time. My wife and I have a small SUV that we use for long trips and more carrying capacity, but for short trips, which make up the majority of our driving, we use our electric car exclusively.”
Potential EV consumers especially concerned about driving range might also consider a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV). PHEVs have a battery and an electric motor, but they also have a gas tank and an internal combustion engine to provide back-up power when the battery runs low. Kappler notes that public charging stations are becoming more prevalent, especially in urban areas, making it easier to recharge away from home. (On average, a full charge of an EV with a range of 150 miles takes about 6 hours.) Most EVs have an app built in to locate nearby charging stations, and the app can be downloaded to smartphones, as well.
While some EVs are more efficient than others, FuelEconomy.gov notes the average midsize EV needs 28 kWh of electricity to travel 100 miles. At HomeWorks’ current electric rate, that would make the average cost of driving an EV about $0.04 per mile, and the average cost to fully charge an EV with a 150-mile range about $6.65. Annually, the typical midsize EV driver spends less than $600 to charge their vehicle, compared to the approximate $1,300 the average driver spends on gasoline in a year (based on current Michigan gas prices). In addition, electric rates are historically more stable than gas prices, meaning EV owners typically don’t have to worry about sudden spikes in their driving costs.
Another concern EV drivers don’t have to worry as much about is vehicle maintenance. EVs have no oil, transmission, spark plugs, fuel filter, or other parts known to commonly cause headaches for drivers. Generally, the only parts requiring regular maintenance are the tires and brakes. (Eventually, an EV’s battery pack does need to be replaced.)
“Even the brakes last longer due to the regeneration technology built into the car,” said Kappler. “Electric vehicles are very high-tech, the performance is great, and due to the low center of gravity with the battery, they drive and ride very well. For my wife and I, the experience of going electric has exceeded our expectations.”
Currently, EVs run a bit more expensive than comparable petrol-fueled vehicles, but those prices are expected to even out over the next few years as EVs become more prevalent. There is incentive to get in on the technology ahead of that curve, though. At least through 2018, new EVs and PHEVs may qualify for a federal income tax credit of up to $7,500 (credit amount may vary based on the capacity of the battery used to power the vehicle). Additional state and local incentives may also apply.
And, of course, there are the environmental benefits of driving an EV. With no tailpipe emissions, EVs produce far less pollution than petrol-fueled vehicles. Charging the car still generates emissions, but with our electric power supply from Wolverine Power Cooperative reaching 56 percent carbon-free this year, the total greenhouse gasses emitted to power an EV remain significantly lower than petrol-fueled vehicles.
“As a new EV-owner, I would encourage any HomeWorks member purchasing a new vehicle to consider an electric vehicle,” said Kappler. “Part of the reason for us buying an electric vehicle for the Co-op was so we could speak intelligently to interested members about them and have it available for them to see. I would also be happy to speak personally with any member considering an electric vehicle.”
To reach Kappler, call 517-647-1281. You can also learn more about electric vehicles at www.epa.gov/greenvehicles.