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Fall 2009

Electric and Plug-In Hybrid FAQs

As plug-in electric hybrid vehicles (PHEVs) and electric vehicles (EVs) come to market, many consumers will need some basic questions answered before making the switch. Here’s what you need to know:

 

How does an EV or PHEV plug in? Would I need a special outlet?

All of the EVs and PHEVs coming to market are designed to be plugged into a standard 120-volt outlet like those found in your home, garage, or carport. GM predicts that it will take about eight hours to fully charge the Chevy Volt’s battery when plugged into a 120 V outlet, and charging would be even faster using a high-voltage outlet at home, like the one that powers your clothes dryer.

Also, auto companies, private utilities, and the government are working together to build a network of public charging stations that will deliver higher voltage electricity, enabling you to charge your car quickly while on the go. A high-voltage charging station that’s up and running in Woodland, CA, can charge a Tessla Roadster EV in just one hour, and others can charge a car 80 percent in 20 minutes.

In 2009, all of the world’s major car manufacturers agreed to a standard charging port on the vehicle, so drivers will be able to pull up to any charging station for an electric refill. Most of the upcoming EVs are expected to have on-board systems to held you find a charging station wherever you are.

And charging your EV on the go will be even easier because the automobile industry has agreed upon a standardized plug—every EV in the world will have the same plug-in port on the car, so that wherever you are, you can charge your battery.

To see if there is a charging station near you, visit www.evauthority.com/ev-charging-stations.

 

Isn’t most electricity in the US generated from burning coal? So are electric cars really “greener” than cars burning gasoline?

Unfortunately, about half of the electricity in the US is still generated by burning coal. And it’s important to acknowledge that even if your EV doesn’t have a tailpipe, it’s still using energy. However, this isn’t a reason to shy away from electric vehicles. EVs charged with coal power still produce about 30 percent fewer greenhouse gases than conventional gasoline or diesel vehicles. PHEVs charged on the current grid mix would produce 42 percent fewer emissions. And unlike gasoline-fueled cars, EVs can run on renewable energy alone. As the US electrical grid gets cleaner, and more people begin utilizing renewable energy sources like solar and wind, the greenhouse gas impact of EVs will drop dramatically.

 

Chevrolet releases the Volt in 2010, the first PHEV prototype to come out of Detroit.

 

Won’t we need to build new power plants to meet the demands of electric cars?

We won’t need any new power plants to make the change to EVs and PHEVs. According to the National Renewable Energy Lab, since electric vehicles charge mainly at night, we already have the electricity to charge 73 percent of today’s cars, trucks, vans, and SUVs—and renewables can supply the rest. With the smart grid technology that experts say is on the near horizon, cars could be plugged back in at the office to help supply power from their batteries to the grid at peak usage times, or charged with solar energy during the day and then used to power your evening activities at home.

 

What about the batteries in EVs and PHEVs? Do they pose an environmental hazard?

Any battery can pose a hazard if not handled and disposed of properly. However, battery technology used in EVs and PHEVs is more efficient and less toxic than the lead-acid batteries used in combustion-engine cars. And with battery recycling rates for lead-acid batteries above 95%, it’s expected that recycling rates will be similar or higher for newer batteries.

Current EVs and PHEVs have used nickel-metal-hydride batteries, and some critics have noted that the nickel-mining industry is environmentally destructive. And while mining certainly leaves an impact on the Earth, nickel-mining has dramatically improved in the last decades; additionally, the auto industry currently uses only about 1% of the word’s nickel for use in batteries.

Car-makers are expected to make switch to lighter, more efficient lithium-ion batteries for use in EVs and PHEVs. A 2008 study by the California Air Resources Board (2008) predicts that lithium-ion batteries will be commercially available as soon as 2015.

 

I’ve been hearing about “smart grid” technology. Are EVs and PHEVs part of this plan?

Yes, though still mostly in planning phases, there is great opportunity for incorporating EVs and PHEVs into a “smart grid.” This smart-grid technology will have many benefits, including letting people see how much energy they’re using, connecting appliances to a network that will help “off-load” power back into the grid during peak-energy demands, and give solar-powered homes an easy way to put energy back on the grid.

Using the “vehicle-to-grid” technology that is currently being tested in cities like San Francisco, your car could actually put electricity onto the grid when needed. Just imagine a commuter parking lot of cars plugged in during the day while their drivers are at the office. Most of these cars would have been fully charged at night, and then driven a short distance to work, leaving excess power sitting in the batteries. When electricity demand is the highest in the middle of the day, the grid could draw small amounts of power from these cars, thereby reducing the need for extra power plants to meet these peak electricity demands. And the amounts would be small, so the batteries would be fully charged again by the time the commuters arrived back at the garage for their trip home.

 

What kind of tax credits can I get?

The economic stimulus package passed by Congress in 2009 provides a federal tax credit for EVs and PHEVs. The credit for light-duty vehicles (under 10,000 pounds) is a maximum of $7,500. (The credit is a base of $2,500, with an additional $417 for each kWh of battery pack capacity in excess of 4 kWh. The Chevy Volt, for example, would qualify for the entire $7,500.)

The credit will start phasing out after the total number of qualified PHEVs sold in the US hits 250,000.

To find state and local tax credits on EVs and PHEVs, visit www.dsireusa.org.

 

Sarah Tarver-Wahlquist

 

For more on EVs and PHEVs, see our Fuels for the Future issue [PDF], featuring our interactive automobile fuel chart.

 

 

 

 

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