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Electric vehicles are in your car buying future

By Greg Whiting

What's the quickest way to significantly reduce how much you pay for energy, make the U.S. more energy independent and reduce your carbon footprint?

The answer is the same for all three questions. Buy an electric vehicle, called an EV, and use it as much as possible instead of a gasoline-powered car. (Hybrids will also help, but not as much.)

If you haven't driven an EV, try one. They're fun. With no mechanical inertia, and instant torque at the wheels, a subcompact EV accelerates like an expensive gasoline sportscar.

Energy cost savings are significant. Washington drivers average about 11,000 miles a year. At 25 miles per gallon, a gasoline car needs 440 gallons of gas a year. At $4 a gallon, that is $1,760 annually. An electric car that uses 30 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per 100 miles needs 3,300 kWh a year. At $0.12 per kWh, that's about $400 a year.

Over ten years, an EV would reduce an average Washington driver's energy bill by $13,600, or more if gas prices spike again. Also, EVs don't need oil, belt or coolant changes. Over ten years, that'll save some $3,000. Some new EVs are eligible for a federal tax credit of up to $7,500. Recent legislation offers tax credits on some used EVs.

You can expect to pay $5,000-$15,000 more for a new EV than for a similar gasoline car, before tax credits. Some models have bigger price differences. You'll also want a home charger, which will cost about $2,000-$3,000. However, EV costs have fallen fast with mass production. It is now possible that the net total cost of EV ownership can be lower than the cost of a gas car over the life of a vehicle.

EVs contribute to energy independence by reducing the use of oil, regardless of the status of U.S. oil production. Producing more oil domestically. helps keep gasoline prices down, but U.S. oil production doesn't make U.S. gasoline prices independent of foreign governments' oil policies. If other countries reduce oil supplies, gasoline prices go up here even if this country produces more oil than it uses, and even if we do not import oil from the countries that have reduced supply. Some buyers of the now-unavailable oil will just try to outbid U.S. users for available oil.

Almost no U.S. electricity is generated using oil. Electric vehicles eliminate dependence on foreign oil sources because they use electricity produced from coal, gas, uranium and renewable sources (mostly hydroelectric, wind, solar and geothermal). Coal, gas and uranium are international commodities, but are not as easily affected as oil by the actions of antagonistic governments. Renewable electricity used in the U.S. is produced here.

There's a lot more to energy independence. I'll talk about that concept more in future columns.

Finally, carbon footprint. I just said that EVs use some coal power. How much does that matter?

A car that uses 440 gallons of gasoline a year emits about 8,600 pounds/year of carbon dioxide. A car that uses 3,300 kWh a year of electricity, produced using a third renewables or nuclear, a third gas and a third coal (close to Puget Sound Energy's most recent numbers), would emit about 4,400 pounds of CO2/year, factoring in about 6% in losses for delivery of electricity from the power plant to the car charger.

As the fraction of renewable energy on the grid increases, zero emissions will become realistic. A battery EV in Seattle or Tacoma, both of which have over 90% renewable electricity, already has nearly zero carbon emissions.


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