Drive an Electric Vehicle and Never Buy Gas Again

Clean and efficient, the electric vehicle is finally coming of age.

| April/May 2006

Electric vehicles — powered entirely by batteries rather than a gas engine — have been around ever since Henry Ford’s wife drove one in 1914. Today, they offer greener and much more affordable transportation than conventional cars and trucks.

One easy, affordable option that is gaining momentum is the “neighborhood electric vehicle” like the one shown in the Image Gallery — a small, inexpensive car that can travel at 25 mph for up to 30 miles before it must be recharged. These clean, quiet little cars can be a great alternative for short, in-town trips. (And for those of you who are gearheads, see Make Your Own Electric Car[link: ].) At the same time, new lighter-weight, faster-charging battery technologies are making speedier, longer-range electric vehicles (EVs) more feasible. These advances are combining with air pollution concerns and oil depletion issues to make electric transportation a hot topic.

For our oil-addicted nation, electric cars have two unexcelled virtues: They don’t rely on petroleum, and they are remarkably energy-efficient machines. The maximum theoretical efficiency of the typical gasoline engine is about 30 percent; diesels are about 35 percent efficient. But in real-world driving conditions, both numbers drop significantly. Only a tiny fraction of the energy in a gallon of gasoline actually ends up doing useful work — the rest is wasted as heat.

In contrast, electric vehicles are far more efficient than conventional cars. The motors of EVs exceed 90 percent efficiency, and their batteries are better than 85 percent efficient. In addition, some EVs have regenerative braking that can recapture as much as 30 percent of the vehicle’s kinetic energy to recharge the battery. Because they have fewer parts and are so much more efficient, EVs cost much less to operate.

For instance, the EV manufacturer Global Electric Motorcars (GEM) says its low-speed vehicles operate at a cost of just 1 cent per mile. A 2006 Honda Civic sedan operates at a cost of about 8 cents a mile — that’s an 8-to-1 ratio! (See the comparison chart in the Image Gallery.) Furthermore, if you recharge your electric car with wind or solar power, you could power your vehicle entirely with renewable energy. And once you pay off the initial cost of your system, the electricity would be free.

Are Electric Vehicles Really Cleaner?

When talking about the virtues of electric cars, questions often arise about the air pollution generated from power plants (half of which burn coal). Several independent studies have shown that even if all the electricity used to recharge an EV’s battery pack came from an entirely coal-fired power grid, the power plant’s emissions still would be significantly less per mile driven than those from the average gasoline-powered vehicle. For details on these studies, see “Electric Vehicles and Pollution” later in this article.

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