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Electric Vehicles

Vehicles that utilize electricity for their primary fuel, or to improve the efficiency of conventional vehicle designs, are called electric drive vehicles. They utilize battery storage that can be recharged by plugging into the electric grid, or by electric generated features in the vehicle, such as regenerative braking. Electric vehicles are not a modern marvel. At the turn of the 20th century they were the most popular vehicles in the U.S. automobile market. However, as internal combustion engine (ICE) technologies improved, gasoline and diesel vehicles gained popularity and dominated the transportation sector for the next century. By the turn of the 21st century, as environmental concerns became a top priority, the auto industry saw a resurgence of electric vehicle interest.

There are currently three types of electric vehicles on the market:

Hybrid Electric Vehicles (HEVs) combine an internal combustion engine (ICE) with batteries, regenerative braking, and an electric motor to provide high fuel economy. They rely on a petroleum-based or alternative fuel for power and are not plugged in to charge. Instead, HEV batteries are charged by the ICE or other propulsion source and during regenerative braking. This design allows the vehicle to travel much further on one gallon of gas, approximately 40 to 70 miles, depending on the make and model. Hybrid vehicles also have the potential to use other fuels, like ethanol, biodiesel, or natural gas. Of the electric drive vehicles, hybrids are the most competitively priced.

Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs or PEVs), like regular hybrid electric vehicles, combine an internal combustion engine with an electric motor and a battery. Unlike traditional hybrid electric vehicles, PHEVs batteries can be recharged by plugging directly into the grid. The use of electricity cuts petroleum consumption and tailpipe emissions, and due to larger battery sizes PHEVs can drive almost entirely on stored electricity (all electric charge range of 10-40 miles). When running on traditional fuels, PHEVs perform like HEV’s, realizing the same fuel economy and emission benefits.  

All - Electric Vehicles (EVs), also known as Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs), are propelled by electric motors that are powered by rechargeable battery packs. Batteries are recharged by plugging into the grid, and through the use of regenerative braking technologies. No petroleum based fuel is consumed while driving EVs. General driving range on a fill charge is approximately 100 miles, depending on driving habits and conditions.  

Electric drive vehicles offer a wide variety of benefits. When operating with an electric motor, 75% of the chemical energy from the batteries is harnessed to power the wheels, as opposed to the 20% of energy that is harnessed from gasoline by ICEs. Additionally, when operating on electricity, no tailpipe pollutants are emitted. Although emissions are produced from electricity generation, that can be mitigated by increased use of renewable energy sources. Using electricity for vehicle propulsion is efficient, environmentally friendly, and utilizes a domestic energy source. The motors provide quiet, smooth operation, stronger acceleration, and require less maintenance than ICE vehicles. They are also inexpensive to operate, fuel (especially if drivers take advantage of off-peak rates offered by many utilities) and maintain. Although purchase prices can be significantly higher than conventional vehicles, costs can be offset by lifetime cost savings – which are estimated to be 60%-75% less – and by the many federal and state incentives in place to encourage the use of electricity as fuel (Vehicle Cost Calculator).

However, electric drive vehicles do face significant battery-related challenges, including driving range, recharge time, component costs, weight and charging infrastructure availability. Currently, extensive research and development resources are be dedicated to improved battery technologies.

Electric Vehicle Charging

Electricity can be used to power all-electric vehicles and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles directly from the power grid. A majority of electric vehicle charging will take place at the vehicles “home base” – residential locations and fleet facilities. In addition to home charging, public charging networks are developing throughout the county, creating convenient charging options and reducing range concerns. Available Equipment

Level 1: delivers electricity through a 120 volt AC electrical outlet, and can be accomplished almost anywhere. This form of charging typically adds 2 to 5 miles of driving range per hour of charging.

Level 2: delivers electricity through a 240 volt (residential) or 208 volt (commercial) electrical outlet - most homes have 240 V service available. This typically requires extra installation for the increased voltage outlet, and a dedicated 20 to 80 amp circuit. Level 2 EVSE adds about 10 to 20 miles of range per hour of charging time, depending on the vehicle, and can easily charge a typical EV battery overnight.

DC Fast Charging: delivers the equivalent of 480 volts and enables an EV to fully charge in approximately 30 minutes, adding approximately 60 to 80 miles of driving range in 20 minutes.

Utah Electric Vehicle Charging Stations
U.S. Electric Vehicle Charging Stations

Electricity fueling costs for electric vehicles can be significantly less than traditional gasoline, depending on location, type of generation, and time of use – especially if consumers take advantage of off-peak rates. For average U.S. electricity prices, see the Energy Information Administration's Residential Electricity Prices: A Consumer's Guide.

Range & Battery Life

Much like fuel economy for traditional vehicles, driving habits of the vehicle operator and environmental conditions can drastically affect driving range. Speed, aggressive driving and vehicle weight will all factor into the range a vehicle will release on a full charge. Likewise, the ambient temperature affects range. Heating and cooling of the vehicle cabin is an additional draw on battery storage, and the battery temperature affects power output. Tips to maximize range.

Additionally, although the battery packs are designed for extended life, overtime they will wear out - much like the engines in conventional vehicles. Currently, Nissan and General Motors are offering 8-year/100,000 mile warranties for the batteries in the Leaf and the Volt, and it is recommended consumers specifically address battery life and warranties with their dealers. Although manufacturers have not published pricing for replacement batteries, if the batteries need to be replaced outside the warranty, it is expected to be a significant expense. However, battery prices are expected to decline as the benefits of technological improvements and economies of scale are realized.

Maintenance

HEVs and PHEVS both have internal engines, and therefore maintenance requirements are similar to those in conventional vehicles. However, the PEV electrical system (battery, motor, and associated electronics) likely will require minimal scheduled maintenance. Because of regenerative braking, brake systems typically last longer than on conventional vehicles. In general, EVs require less maintenance than conventional vehicles do, because there are usually fewer fluids to change and far fewer moving parts.

Safety

PEVs must undergo the same rigorous safety testing and meet the same safety standards required for conventional vehicles sold in the United States. In addition, a PEV-specific standard sets requirements for limiting chemical spillage, securing batteries during a crash, and isolating the chassis from the high-voltage system to prevent electric shock. Electric drive vehicle manufacturers have designed their vehicles with safety features that deactivate the high-voltage electric system in the event of a collision. Additionally, EVs tend to have a lower center of gravity than conventional vehicles, making them less likely to roll.

One safety concern specific to PEVs and EVs is their silent operation. This makes the vehicle less likely to be heard by pedestrians. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is studying ways to address this issue, such as requiring PEVs to emit audible sounds at low speeds. This option is already available on some PEVs, including the Volt and the Leaf. In any case, PEV drivers should be trained to use extra caution in pedestrian areas.

Additional Resources

UCCC Electricity Page
Utah Drives Electric
Alternative Fuel Data Center - Electric Vehicles
Plug in America
U.S. Dept. of Energy - EERE - Vehicles
FuelEconomy.Gov - Hybrid Vehicles

FuelEconomy.Gov - Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicles
FuelEconomy.Gov - Electric Vehicles

History of Electric Vehicles
Electric Auto Association
EV World
The EV Project

Electric Ride Colorado
EV Everywhere Grand Challenge
Rocky Mountain Power EV Page
The State of my State’s EVs

Resources referenced on this website are presented for informational purposes only,
UCCC does not necessarily recommend or endorse these entities.