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Green Transportation

Moving toward a transportation system that fuels healthy people and a healthy planet.

Is There an Electric Car in Your Future?

By Dan Chiras 

Tags: electric cars, green transportation, Dan Chiras,

My students at Colorado College are always a bit skeptical when I tell them that they’ll very likely be driving an electric car to and from work and simply to run errands after they graduate. In fact, it is my contention that the electric car may be one of the best solutions to single car transportation. There are many reasons for this bold assertion.

First, electric vehicles (EVs) are much more efficient than gasoline-powered cars. Much more raw energy makes it to the wheels to move you forward.

EV Charging StationSecond, because EVs are more efficient, they’re also cheaper to operate, much cheaper. Expect to pay about one fourth as much per vehicle mile traveled, and that doesn’t even take into account the much lower cost of maintenance.

Third, because they’re more efficient, they’re also much cleaner than gasoline-powered vehicles, even when powered by coal from coal-fired power plants, which are the dirtiest source of electricity. If powered by clean renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind, EVs would be infinitely cleaner than the best gasoline-powered vehicles, even my beloved Toyota Gen II Prius.

Fourth, even if Americans powered EVs with electricity from coal-fired power plants, which I hope won’t be the case,  fueling a massive EV fleet won’t require us to increase the number of coal-burning power plants. Electric cars can be recharged at night while power plants are typically “powered down.”  In other words, we can charge a huge fleet of EVs with the extra electrical production capacity that’s idled at night.

Fifth, electric vehicles are ideal for most of our transportation needs. Studies show that, on average, 90 percent of all trips made each day in America by folks like you and me are less than 60 miles. Even with the current clunky lead-acid batteries, most EVs can easily travel that distance. Newer battery technologies, like the lithium-ion battery, could extend the range considerably.

Sixth, EVs are powerful. When most of my students think about EVs, they imagine clunky, slow-moving electric golf carts. Many modern EVs are fast-moving vehicles that accelerate rapidly so you can safely merge on to the freeway.

It’s for these reasons that I think the electric vehicle may become the predominant commuter car in the not-too-distant future. What is more, expect to see a dozen or so new EVs coming out in the next few years, even some from major auto manufacturers.

For those of us who care about the future of human society and the planet, that’s electrifying news.

Above: Fueling a massive EV fleet won't require the number of coal-burning plants to be increased. Electric cars can be charged with the extra electrical production capacity that's idled at night. Photo by ISTOCKPHOTO/LEE PETTET.

Contributing editor Dan Chiras is a renewable energy and green homes expert who has spent a lifetime learning life’s lessons, which he shares in his popular blog, Dan Chiras on Loving Life. He’s the founder and director of The Evergreen Institute and president of Sustainable Systems Design. Contact him by visiting his website or finding him on .

1/26/2010 7:27:41 PM

My husband and I paid $7000. for our EV, which includes $2.000 for a set of batteries. It is a conversion(from gasoline to electric.) The motor has one moving part -- the shaft. After 100,000 miles it can be rebuilt inexpensively. The least expensive way to acquire an EV is to buy a conversion. They are available online from They are also sold by EV club members. The Web site for the Electric Auto Association is: They put out a monthly newsletter. There are several books about how to convert a vehicle from and ICE (Internal Combustion Engine) to an EV. One of them is "Convert It." EV's do require attention and there is much to learn. They are great as a second vehicle for short trips, which most daily errands are. Imagine driving 100,000 miles without buying gas, oil, antifreeze, spark plugs, tuneups, etc. If you're not into servicing, take it to a golf cart dealer. Owning an EV is an interesting adventure not without difficulties. However, the components of an EV system are few. It's all about learning something new, saving money, and reducing pollution.

1/24/2010 12:34:21 PM

No offense to the professor but he is either wildly optimistic or naive about the true capability of any EV's that will be produced in the next couple of years. The high initial cost of any EV is more than double the price of a comparable gas car, and 75% more expensive than a hybrid. The difference in fuel cost between an EV and a hybrid are insignificant. EV maintenance, based on my experience will be HIGHER not lower than gas cars. Motor failure, battery failure, BMS failure will be inconvienent to new car owners and expensive after the warranty expires. The limited ranges removes one of the most desirable aspects of car ownership: Freedom. You can get in your car and go anywhere anytime and if you get lost, so what. One missed exit, one unplanned errand or one traffic jam with the ac or heater running will cause serious range anxiety. EV's only make sense for a relative affluent family that can afford an expensive commuter car.