I’ll keep you in suspense about my New Year’s resolutions, but a group called EcoCAR, which is working with young university-based engineers on a contest to design the green ride of the future, has got a few. And combined with Plug-In America’s "Top 12 EV Myths," it makes a lot to ponder as we end a fraught 2009.
First, an abridged version of Zan Dubin Scott’s 12 Myths:
1. EVs don’t have enough range. You'll be stranded when you run out of electricity.
FACT: Americans drive an average of 40 miles per day, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. Most new battery electrics have a range of at least double that and can be charged at any ordinary electrical outlet (120V) or publicly accessible station with a faster charger. At present, all it takes is planning for EV owners, who can travel up to 120 miles on a single charge, to use their cars on heavy travel days.
2. EVs are good for short city trips only.
FACT: Consumers have owned and driven EVs for seven years or more and regularly use them for trips of up to 120 miles.
3. EVs just replace the tailpipe with a smokestack.
FACT: Even today, with 52 percent of U.S. electricity generated by coal-fired power plants, plug-in cars reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and most other pollutants compared with conventional gas or hybrid vehicles. Plug-ins can run on renewable electricity from sources such as the sun or wind. Plug-in hybrids will reduce greenhouse gases and other emissions, even if the source of electricity is mostly coal, a 2007 study by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) and NRDC showed.
4. The charging stations must be built before people will adopt EVs.
FACT: Most charging will be done at home, so public charging isn’t a necessity. And at least seven companies are competing to dominate the public-charging-station market and a trade group representing the nation’s electric utilities has pledged to “aggressively” create the infrastructure to support “full-scale commercialization and deployment” of plug-ins.
5. The grid will crash if millions of plug-ins charge at once.
FACT: Off-peak electricity production and transmission capacity could fuel the daily commutes of 73 percent of all cars, light trucks, SUVs and vans on the road today if they were plug-in hybrids, a 2007 study by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory found. Plug-ins, which can be seen as energy storage devices on wheels, can actually benefit the grid, making green energies like solar and wind power even more viable.
6. Battery chemicals are bad for the environment and can't be recycled.
FACT: Ninety-nine percent of batteries in conventional cars are recycled, according to the EPA. The metals in newer batteries are more valuable and recycling programs are already being developed for them. Utilities plan to use batteries for energy storage once they are no longer viable in a vehicle.
7. EVs take too long to charge.
FACT: The most convenient place and time to charge is at home while you sleep. Even using the slowest 120-volt outlet, the car can be left to charge overnight, producing about 40 miles of range. Most new battery cars and plug-in hybrids will charge from 240-volt outlets providing double or triple the charge in the same amount of time. Charging stations that reduce charging time even more are beginning to appear.
8. Plug-ins are too expensive for market penetration.
FACT: New technologies are typically costly. Remember when cell phones and DVDs were introduced? Also, the government stimulus package includes a $2,500 to $7,500 tax credit for EVs and PHEVs. Some states are considering additional incentives ($5,000 in California and Texas). And EVs require almost no maintenance or repair: no oil or filter changes, no tune ups, no smog checks.
9. Batteries will cost $15,000 to replace after only a few years.
FACT: The battery is the priciest part of a plug-in, but costs will drop as production increases and the auto industry is expected to be purchasing up to $25 billion in advanced batteries annually by 2015. Some car makers plan to lease their batteries, so replacement won’t be an issue.
10. There isn't enough lithium in the world to make all the new batteries.
FACT: Even in a worst-case scenario of zero battery recycling, aggressive EV sales, no new mining methods or sites, existing lithium stores will be sufficient for projected EV production for the next 75 years. See an analysis at PlugInAmerica.org.
11. Lithium batteries are dangerous and can explode.
FACT: Among the many kinds of lithium-ion batteries, lithium-cobalt batteries found in consumer electronics can pose a fire risk in certain circumstances. These risks can be mitigated by the use of advanced-battery management systems and careful design that prevents “thermal runaway.”
12. Most of us will still be driving gas cars through 2050.
FACT: Driving us toward EVs are ever-toughening federal fuel economy standards and state caps on greenhouse gas emissions; projected price hikes for petroleum products as demand increases and supply flattens or drops; broad agreement over the need for America to reduce its reliance on petroleum; and climate change, which is occurring faster than previously thought, according to the journal Science and many other sources.
I agree with that. And those myths are pernicious. Now here a few worthy year-end resolutions from EcoCAR:
Drive smart. Planning trips to avoid traffic and stop lights, maintaining steady and legal speeds, slowly accelerating, limiting use of air conditioning, heated seats, and rear window defoggers, and avoiding unnecessary heavy loads can all improve fuel economy.
Set car-free goals. Whether it is biking to work or running errands on foot, it’s easier to stick to a greener transportation plan if you set goals. University of Wisconsin EcoCAR team member Dan Grice set an ambitious goal for 2010: 3,000 commuter miles by bike. He says, “Bike commuting is my goal. I want to average four days a week which would eliminate 3,000 miles of driving in 2010.”
Try sharing. Car pooling may have been an invention of necessity to dodge traffic, but it’s greener than ever even if it’s still not the most popular option – 77 percent of Americans drive to work alone. Car sharing programs such as Zipcar are worth investigating.
Drop mileage from your food. Country-of-origin labels, wait lists for CSAs and the overcrowded farmer’s market scene add up to one thing: Americans are paying more attention to where their food comes from. A good resolution would be buying local as much as possible and setting a goal, such as resolving to incorporate one local food product into your meals every day.