Compared To Gas-Powered, Electric Vehicles Cut Greenhouse Emissions Over 30%
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Should you buy an Electric Vehicle (EV), a gasoline-powered vehicle (GPV), or a hybrid? The answer depends:

  • If you care about how much it costs you to own and operate your vehicle, the EV is a better bet than the GPV over the life of the vehicle, according to CNBC.
  • If you use your vehicle for long trips, a hybrid is optimal — since there are so few electric charging stations compared to gasoline stations, concludes CNBC.
  • And if you care most about reducing your vehicle’s greenhouse gas emissions, EV is better than GPV, according to my May 25 interview with MIT professor, Jessika Trancik.

Lifetime Ownership Costs: EV Beats ICE

EVs are less expensive than GPVs over their lifetime. As CNBC wrote, at $90,160, the lifetime cost of an EV — including the price, maintenance, financing, repairs, and fuel costs over an average vehicle’s 200,000 mile life — is 5% lower than for a comparable GPV.

Sadly for consumers trying to minimize costs, the upfront costs of owning an EV are considerably higher than for a comparable GPV. For example, according to Kelley Blue Book, last November the purchase price for the average EV was was $56,437 — nearly $10,000 more than the comparable GPV.

When you buy an EV, you can recharge it by plugging it into a wall in your house. That is fine if you are patient — it can take as long as 40 hours to recharge with a Level 1 charger that comes with the vehicle.

For $2,000, you can buy a Level 2 charger that will reduce the recharge time to about 8 hours. What’s more if you go to a charging station, it takes about 20 minutes to recharge your battery, according to CNBC.

An EV’s biggest cost savings come from refueling costs. With gasoline in the $5 a gallon range, it costs $100 to refill your tank — more than twice the $10 to $45 cost of electricity to recharge your battery.

Another source of cost savings is maintenance. Analytics firm We Predict found that after three years, EV service costs were 31% lower than those for a GPV. One factor contributing to the lower maintenance costs is EV’s greater simplicity since owners to not have to change oil or repair spark plugs.

Another way to look at the costs is to compare the cost per mile over a vehicle’s 15 year life. A Department of Energy study found that at $0.4508 per mile, an electric SUV is 5% less expensive than a similar gas-based model.

Convenience For Long Trips: Hybrid

One big drawback of EVs is that on a long trip, there is a better chance that your battery can lose power and there is no convenient way to get it recharged.

This might not matter if you use your EV for short commutes where you can easily make it to work and back without running the risk of losing your charge. And if you go on a long trip where there are sufficient charging stations, you can still feel recharge your battery while driving your EV.

However, some people do not like sitting around for a couple of hours waiting for their car to recharge, Matt DeLorenzo, senior managing editor for Kelley Blue Book, told CNBC.

And those charging stations are relatively scarce. Last December, at 150,000 there were more than three times the number of gas stations than the roughly 46,000 commercial charging stations.

For people who don’t like to deal with these problems, a hybrid — which can let you switch between an electric and gas engine — is the best option.

As DeLorenzo told CNBC December, “With gas at $5 a gallon [in California the average price now tops $6/gallon], you’d get a car with 30-50 miles of electric range, and if you only commute 15-20 miles, you could use it mostly as an electric vehicle. But if you have a road trip, or there’s a power failure, you have a gas engine to fall back on. If you only have one car, I think you’re better off owning a plug-in hybrid.”

Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions: EV

If you are serious about reducing your contribution to greenhouse gas emissions, one way to help is to buy an EV. That is based on comparing the greenhouse gas emissions between an EV and a comparable GPV during their entire lifecycle.

By lifecycle, I think of everything from mining the raw materials that go into the batteries and steel, to manufacturing and transporting the vehicle to a dealer, to the customer’s operating the vehicle, and ultimately to its recycling or junking.

Something close to that greenhouse gas tracker exists. Trancik’s research group has developed a website — dubbed Carbon Counter — which enables users to “compare personal vehicles evaluated against climate change mitigation targets,” according to an MIT spokesperson.

EVs mitigate a considerable amount of greenhouse gas emissions. As Trancik told me “In most locations, compared to [gas-powered vehicles], EVs produce emissions savings greater than 30%. Most savings are greater depending on the geographic location, the electricity supply, and the vehicle model. End of life [what happens to the vehicle after it can’t be driven] is more difficult to track.”

One such comparison yielded an EV that reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 57% compared to its gas-powered comparable vehicle.

How so? Using the Carbon Counter, I compared the greenhouse gas emissions per mile of the Hyundai Kona Electric ($37,190 and 201 HP

HPQ
) to the comparable gas-powered Hyundai Kona AWD 1.6L ($23,600 and 175 HP).

The Hyundai Kona Electric produces greenhouse gas emissions of 186.4 gCO-eq./mile — 57% below the Hyundai Kona AWD 1.6L’s 432.7. Most of the difference was due to the ICE’s high greenhouse gas emissions from fuel use. Here is the breakdown by lifecycle cost component:

  • Fuel Use > Advantage EV. Kona AWD 1.6L produces 318 gCO-eq./mile compared to 0 for the Kona Electric
  • Fuel Production > Advantage ICE. Kona Electric emits 123 gCO-eq./mile to produce its fuel — 58% more than the Kona AWD 1.6L’s 77.8
  • Battery Production > Advantage ICE. Making the Kona Electric’s battery emits 32 gCO-eq./mile compared to 0 for the Kona AWD 1.6L
  • Vehicle Production > Advantage EV. Kona AWD 1.6L’s vehicle production emits 36.9 gCO-eq./mile — 18% more than the Kona Electric’s 31.4.

Trancik’s research group also has a conclusion about hybrid vehicles compared to GPVs. According to the New York Times

NYT
, “Some hybrids were cheaper and spewed less planet-warming carbon dioxide than regular cars, but others were in the same emissions and cost range as gas-only vehicles.”

If the decision about what kind of vehicle to purchase is not complicated enough, another thing to consider is how long it will take before you can take delivery of your vehicle.

While both kinds of vehicles are struggling with supply-chain problems, GoBankingRates suggests that consumers will have to wait longer to take delivery of EVs due to their heavier reliance on “microchips and specialized battery materials and chemicals” which are in particularly short supply.

Before making a purchase, consumers should research all these topics carefully.

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