14 September 2022

Considerations when considering an electric car

I'm currently driving an 11-year old car, and while I'm happy with it I need to consider upgrading to something with better electronics and a rear-view camera.  At my age my next car will quite possibly be my last one, so I'm pondering what will follow next in my lifetime sequence of Mustang, Beetle, Sunbird, Eagle, 300ZX, and multiple Subarus.

I had been thinking about an electic car, but a recent article indicates that at my age and with my driving habits, an electric car may not be the best choice with regard to the environment.  Here are some excerpts:
Is a gas guzzler actually better for the environment than an electric vehicle? Sometimes.

To build an electric-car battery, manufacturers need lithium... It’s chemical- and water-intensive to isolate lithium from all that mud, and it takes even more energy to make a functional car battery from it. As a result, building a clean-burning EV battery is twice as greenhouse-gas-intensive as making a conventional internal combustion engine.

The high emissions buy-in of an EV “isn’t a dealbreaker,” Nunes says, because “an electric car is almost always cleaner to drive per mile, compared to a gasoline-powered one. However, to get that advantage, you need to ‘burn off’ the emissions associated with manufacturing the car.” A gas-powered car has an emissions head start, but once the EV is driven enough, it gains a “green lead” with its low per-mile emissions, Nunes says. “It’s this very odd situation where, paradoxically, you need to get people to drive more in order to get an emissions advantage” — the underpinning of his research with Woodley, published recently in Nature Sustainability.

If a household purchases a new EV and drives it as the primary car, it will take 28,069 miles of driving, or about 2.73 years, to gain a green lead. But most EV purchasers right now are wealthier people who use it as a secondary vehicle. Since those cars are driven less frequently, these households need to hang onto the car for about a decade to produce any emissions benefit...

“Electric vehicles offer the opportunity to reduce greenhouse gases, but that’s not necessarily a foregone conclusion,” Woodley says. People who drive frequently or keep their car for many years? “They’re perfect candidates,” he says. But infrequent drivers or those who want an EV as their secondary vehicle? They may want to “think long and hard” before heading to the Tesla dealership.

28 comments:

  1. My 2013 Fiat 500e is at close to 60k miles at this point. I think that given the higher reliability of EVs, you’ll see them in use for longer than the equivalent non-electric versions.

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  2. Meh. I don't have time to pick apart the article, but reading it quickly gives me the impression that they're a bit vague with their methods and numbers. Also they're not environmental folks, but a lawyer and an economist.

    However, they're not wrong that Li batteries have a large environmental cost, and that letting your electric car dust away is a bad idea. So, don't.

    If you replace a regular car with low mileage with an electric car, and use it the same, you are creating a win for the environment.

    It matters a bit how you power your car. If you get your power from an old dirty coal plant, it's gonna take a while before you starting benefiting the environment. However, if you power your car with solar cells on your roof top, you're gonna get there a lot quicker. Or you can sign up with your power company and pay a little extra for green power. In my case that's only 10% more expensive.

    The article is not wrong that there are a lot of "ifs and buts" in environmental policy. And sadly a lot of those "ifs and buts" are determined by local, state and federal regulations that the public has very little influence on.

    However, those long academic policy debates were fun in the 80s, but we have wasted too much time on them. We need to go all in on everything and take every gain we can get. We have wasted the time to get to well-balanced measures. At the moment, we need to do everything we can possibly can, even if it's not ideal.

    Note that people whining about crude-less-than-ideal policies at the moment often have a climate-denying past. This is just the current form of obstruction.

    And note that electric cars are the best for shorter trips as opposed to long distance trips where charging becomes time-consuming. They're ideal for in-and-around-town trips. Note that you will immediately be helping cleaning up the air in your town.

    Go for it man. Do figure out what it'd cost you get set up your charging at home. You'll get to get an electrician out to install some wiring and sockets.

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  3. I live in Texas so I was concerned about range, recharging (our electric grid is not stable), and the reliability of my 13 year old minivan. So I bought a 2021 Toyota Avalon Limited hybrid and I am delighted. On a 4,000 mile road trip, I got 48 miles per gallon. It has a 500 mile range (with another 30 miles on the battery). It is a full-size sedan with the same technology as the Prius. I feel confident that Toyota has got it right after 20 years of refining the technology. Will newly developed EVs have the same reliabilty and dependability? If you want one, act fast because the 2022 model year is the last for the Avalon.

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  4. I've owned a used Bolt EV for two years now. It's easy to drive, almost no maintenance so far, and as I only use it for local errands (sometimes to a town 45 miles each way and back) I get by just fine on the 110 volt charger that it came with- no need to have an electrician wire in a special outlet for a more powerful charger. On the rare occasion I go more than 50 or 60 miles in a day, I just don't drive it for a day, and the slower charger keeps up fine.

    Driving an EV is a much better experience than driving an ICE car- its acceleration is linear, it uses far less energy, it's quieter, there's less maintenance, there's no pollution, and you never have to go to the gas station, which is wonderful. If you live in a very cold climate, you can lose some range, but also if you don't drive far or frequently, that doesn't matter.

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  5. Evereybody's different (driving habits, needs, etc.) but I'd recommend a Hybrid if you're not sure you want to go all-electric.

    You get the benefit of savings at the pump with the freedom of not having to worry about plugging in / distances.

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  6. Not to mention that if a forest fire was headed your way and the electricity in an area was down because of it, you couldn't recharge your car to flee the forest fire.

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    1. Okay, I'll bite. Notwithstanding that I have a solar installation and backup generator with a transfer switch so my house can run off grid, my electric car can still effectively flee a forest fire. Every morning starts with 80% charge, which is good for at least 200 miles. Even if somehow we were without power for a week, and drove more than our essential errands, the car would still have 40% charge or better.

      Say we just couldn't do without all those ice cream stops, and just had to take a sightseeing drive (to see the forest fire getting closer). Even after all this neglect and getting stuck with the car at 5% charge, that's still more than enough to get tens of miles away from the forest fire, and probably stop for ice cream a couple times on the way over to the fast charger in the next town over.

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  7. Currently switching to electric cars and we are loving them, although they are probably going to get driven more and longer than you. However, maybe you should consider an older electric car with a more limited range. If you are just driving around town it might be the best of both worlds.

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  8. From what I can see, the article is using old information. There are several recent articles I've read from solid studies that indicate the longest turnover is just a year. Most of the studies take into account the "long tailpipe" of EVs and energy generation, but are using very old information regarding the grid. Some are even using the worst possible data (Wyoming and West Virginia). By contrast, none of these studies look at the process of finding, acquiring, and transporting oil, then refining and delivering it to the gas pump. They also don't take into account oil spills, outgassing, PM 2.5 on human health, nor myriad other problems with pulling up, moving, processing, and burning fossil fuels. There is no comparison. Even if all EVs were powered by electricity from coal power plants, they would have 25% less impact on the global environment over about 5 years. This doesn't even touch on the human health effect. In the worst case scenario, EVs are not spewing caustic fumes down neighborhood streets, lowering lifespans by years, even over a decade in some locations.
    They're also incredibly convenient in most cases and fun to drive.

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  9. Subaru finally released an electric vehicle, too. But anyways, get an electric car. All of the oils, fuels, grease not being used because it's a direct drive is another benefit. Have you driven one, yet? They are phenomenal, whether the Chevy Volt or all the way up to the Tesla Model S.

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    1. Too bad the Subaru Solterra is so ugly. And only 220 mile range? As a previous Subaru owner I'm disappointed.

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  10. On the grand scheme of things, it doesn't really matter who owns the car. Even if you don't drive the required miles to make up for the battery production, the next owners will. What matters at this point in time is the adoption rate. By buying an EV you are essentially replacing one legacy combustion engines, meaning they will phase out sooner. In the same line of argumentation, the next best thing would be to buy a used car with combustion engine and have it scrapped after you're done with it.

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    1. This is the best answer I've seen so far. You may or may not reach the "breakeven" point with your low usage, but someone will, eventually.

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  11. As a geoscientist who's longed for a way to reduce his contribution of CO2, but really does (I really do) go on 1500 mile trips at times, I longed for a solution. That showed up for me in the form of PHEV's (Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles). My Honda Clarity gives me between 35 and 50 miles of electric range to start (nicely covering my daily 34 mile round-trip commute) and has routinely given me 45-49 MPG after those miles are used up. I've been to the gas station only 6 times so far in 2022 and bought no more than 20 gallons of gas. I find it astonishing how PHEV's have not been produced and advertised; they routinely are discounted in the "auto" press as the worst of both EV and internal combustion worlds, but in fact they're the best from the standpoint of current times- a way to dramatically reduce carbon production without abandoning the "road trip" world most of us old farts grew up in. In your case? I recommend you look at Toyota's plug-in RAV4 hybrid, you'll be in love. Small SUV suitable for upper midwest winters? Check. Owners are routinely getting about 40 "free" miles of EV and then if you need to go another hundred miles (because of that legendary forest fire) you can do that too. I'd get one of those if my Honda Clarity wasn't doing so well (and using things for their full lifetime is part of being green too).

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  12. Any article that quotes a breakeven point of 28,069 miles, or any other number with such excess precision, when there are so many variables, both known and unknown, should immediately be called out for BS. No doubt there is a breakeven point, but are you considering an ICE that gets 15 mpg or one that gets 45. Are you looking at an electric with a 100 kW-hr battery or one with 300 kW-hr capacity. (Not necessarily YOU but the person doing the breakeven calculation (but you knew what I meant.)) Just saw what is realistic; the breakeven is in the range of 15-35 k-miles unless you closely specify your parameters.

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  13. The Guardian, a generally respectable newspaper with an environmental bent, has had several articles in recent years on the environmental cost of producing a new car. Based on that reportage, I have generally concluded that my best option environmentally is to continue to repair my 22/30 mpg car as long as I can, continuing to amortize the environmental sunk costs of production rather than pay then anew. Your mileage (pun intended) will obviously vary with your circumstance.

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  14. There are several things I like about driving an EV, and a few that I don't. Overall the good balances out the bad.

    The thing I like the most is the car is energy agnostic. The electricity can come from all sorts of places, the car does not care. Coal, LNG, hydro...it does not matter. Since electricity is fungible, I prefer to think the electrons I pay for came from the nuclear plant nearby.

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  15. We have a Tesla Model Y. It replaced a Toyota Sienna minivan. We have over 50,000 miles on it now and have replaced the wipers, fill the washer fluid and replaced the tires at a little over 45,000 miles. That's it for maintenance so far.

    Over 95% of the time charging takes 4 seconds of my time. 2 seconds to plug in at the home garage at night and 2 seconds to unplug before heading out in the morning. When we do travel long distances charging is generally 20-30min and during the time we get a restroom break, a walk to stretch our legs and maybe a snack. Beware of those indicating long charge times in articles, either the car model they are talking about is a poor charger (not all EV's charge the same rate, the tech and battery quality inside really counts) or they are giving the time to charge to 100% and that is very rarely necessary to do. As you approach 100% the charging slows considerably. The 20-30 min time I mention is for going from 20% to 80-90%. More than enough to get to the next rest break and charger.

    Cost to charge: Filling the battery at home costs us about $6 for 300 miles of range, at a Supercharger it varies on location but generally is between $12-20 for the same 300 miles. Now we only use our other gas vehicle if we need to go different directions, otherwise it is always more economical to take the EV.

    We are in SE Wisconsin and it handles the winter just fine. There is range loss in cold driving but nothing that is easily accommodated. The ground mount solar panels that assist in fueling it also handle and shed the snow just fine. They supply us with a little over $1,200 worth of sunshine fuel each year.

    side thought - before EV's really started making inroads in the car markets no one really thought about the green breakeven point on cars, it just wasn't a thing because gas cars are inherently not green. They will consume and burn one-time use petroleum products their whole lives. EV's? The longer you drive them the greener they get.

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    1. Wow. Thank you for all the hard data, and for your insights. And my thanks also to all the other comments above. Lots for me to think about before I make my decision.

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  16. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iyp_X3mwE1w

    This guy is very odd, but he is usually extremely comprehensive, precise, fair minded, and thoughtful on any subject he covers.

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  17. Interesting that initial cost of the vehicle is not part of the consideration discussion.

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  18. I highly recommend the Kia e-Niro. It's more like a regular car than a Tesla, which was the selling point for us. I need knobs and buttons rather than a giant touchscreen. Also, we wanted a not-obviously electric car because when we bought our Prius way back in 2005 there was a lot of backlash, which led to our car being keyed, etc. And, finally, the price tag is WAY smaller.

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    1. ?? what kind of people would get angry enough at electric car owners to key the cars??

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    2. Coal rolling man babies. Somehow seeing a car that is faster than than their pickup truck and doesn't cost north of $100 at each fill up drives them a little bonkers.

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    3. I had to look up the term -

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rolling_coal

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    4. Cyclists and runners are well-acquainted with rolling coal. A fairly common practice when drivers of pick-up trucks don't like bicycles using "their" roads. It is illegal in just 6 states: Maine, Utah, New Jersey, Maryland, Colorado and Connecticut

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    5. Another new term is ICEing: when a regular (Internal Combustion Engine) car is parked to purposely block access to an EV charging station. These people are out there and they are angry.

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  19. The problem is that we're trying to have the same lifestyle and "be green." It's a fool's errand. No one talks about cutting our travel footprint by 80% (given that the average American is using five earths); instead the notion that there's an electric "free lunch" dominates. This is cultural (material excess entitlement culture) and will prove fatal IMO. The whole discussion about batteries hinges on "range." More range = huge, heavy batteries = massive environmental impact. The spoiled brats of the world can't begin to imagine doing without anything. The "solutions" are therefore heavily weighted with the disease of avarice and this is not a technical problem, but a moral problem.

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