Electric vehicles and home charging options

By Sandy Long, Chaffee County chapter leader

In 2007, I bought a Toyota Prius and was thrilled to get 43 miles per gallon. However, I needed an all-wheel drive (AWD) car for Colorado so I bought a Subaru Crosstrek in February 2016, the last time the Broncos won the Super Bowl. Perhaps the Broncos will win the Super Bowl in 2023 and I can get a new car — this time, an electric vehicle (EV).

I’ve been doing some research and there are a lot of new options available. Plus, the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act offers tax credits, but there are some limitations. If you are a novice like me or an EV owner, scroll to the sections below that most interest you.

Types of vehicles: As a starting point, there are several types of vehicles:

  • Gasoline – We all know these. Gas mileage can vary. Typically, they have a range of several hundred miles. It doesn’t take very long to refuel at abundant gas stations. Carbon emissions are very high with 29% of U.S.emissions coming from the transportation sector. My Subaru with 34 mpg and $4.00/gallon gas costs $0.12/mile.

  • Hybrid vehicles have a gasoline engine and an electric engine, like my former Toyota Prius. Some get great gas mileage (50 mpg) and some have worse gas mileage than a gasoline engine vehicle (e.g. the Lexus RX Hybrid with 28 mpg). A Prius at 50 mpg and $4.00/gallon costs $0.08/mile.

  • Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) are hybrid vehicles that can go a short distance (20-40 miles) on batteries and then revert to the hybrid gas/electric operation. They are then plugged in to recharge the battery. The Chevy Volt is a great example. If you only go short distances each day, you can stay on batteries and reduce emissions. Is a hybrid, plug-in hybrid, or fully electric car right for you - Consumer Reports. Plug-in hybrids are a bridge from gasoline to electric but one wonders if they won’t be around very long.

  • Electric vehicles (EVs) use large battery packs that must be re-charged. They are easier to maintain since they have fewer components. Most new EVs have a range from 200-300 miles. EVs with the longest driving range, ranked – Car and Driver. See “Types of EV Chargers” below for a description of their recharge times. You typically can get 3 to 4 miles per kWh. At $0.13/kWh, an EV costs $0.04/mile.

  • Electric vehicles with bi-directional charging can charge from the grid and also supply electricity to the grid. This is a fairly new market. You could use your EV to power your home if the grid goes down. Utilities could use EVs instead of installing storage batteries for solar and wind facilities. EV Bi-Directional charging: everything you need to know.  Illuminating possibility: Duke Energy and Ford Motor Company plan to use F-150 Lightning electric trucks to help power the grid - Duke Energy News Center, 8/16/22.

Tax credits available

Colorado: A Zero Emission Vehicle Tax Credit of $2,500 is available for passenger vehicles. Zero emission vehicle tax credits - Colorado Energy Office.

Types of EV chargers: Charging is limited by the charging output and the vehicles’ on-board charger receiving the charging rate.

  • Days: Level 1 is your basic 120V AC home power outlet. It is very slow, taking from 20 to 60 hours to fully charge an EV. However, it is easy to do anywhere there is a common 120V outlet.

  • Hours: Level 2 is a special 240V AC connector, basically the same as a dryer plug. It is typically installed by an electrician. It can take 6 to 12 hours to fully charge an EV. Public charging stations are typically offering Level 2 chargers.

  • Minutes: DC Fast Charging is based on 3 Phase Power which is expensive and typically not available in residential areas. It takes 20 to 60 minutes to fully charge an EV. More public charging stations are beginning to offer DC Fast Charging. Public Chargers: DE-CO - Drive Electric Colorado.

  • Tesla has its own plug and different level charging stations. You can’t yet charge your non-Tesla car at a Tesla charging station, but this may soon change. An adapter is needed for non-Tesla EVs to use Tesla’s destination chargers. Tesla charging: the complete guide to charging at home, in public and autonomously - Plugless Power.

Charging basics – With EVs we have to change our terminology. Instead of having a fuel tank, there is a battery with a size in kWh. Instead of talking about gas mileage, EVs are rated on the number of kWh it takes to drive 100 miles.

  • Let’s assume your EV has a battery size of 64.8 kWh and it takes 30 kWh to reach 100 miles. If you drive 40 miles in a day, that would use 12 kWh. If you used a Level 2 charger that charges your battery at a rate of 7.2 kW per hour, it would take 1 hour and 40 minutes to re-charge your EV battery. Your EV range is 64.8kWh divided by 30 kWh times 100 which equals 216 miles.

  • Here’s a good site to get information on particular cars. Compare electric cars - fueleconomy.gov.  Here’s a site to calculate charging time and cost. Electric car charging cost and time calculator - evcompare.io.

Home power options – Once you get your new PHEV or EV, you’ll need to figure out how you want to charge it at home.

  • Plug it into 120V AC power – This is the simplest. This is a Level 1 charger and will take a long time. Not recommended for EVs but would work for Plug-in Hybrids.

  • Install 240V AC power - You’ll need to pay an electrician to install 240V AC Power and an outlet ($300-$750) and a Level 2 charging station ($300-$750).

  • Solar PV system – If you are concerned that your grid-tied power is not clean enough, you could install a PV system to charge your EV or use your existing PV system. You would still need an electrician to install the Level 2 charging station. Solar panels to charge an electric car - Solar.com. How to set up a solar-powered car charging station for your home - buildwithrise.com.

  • Options for solar PV systems – One option is to install a standalone system that is not tied to the grid. The DC generated by the PV System would still need to be converted to AC to supply a Level 2 charger. This option (standalone PV system) is not recommended because you’d need a large battery backed system to charge your EV at night.

Emissions reductions – If you charge your EV directly from the grid (no solar panels), you will still have greenhouse gas emissions associated with driving your vehicle unless your electricity provider is 100% clean energy. Here’s a site to calculate the greenhouse gasses. Beyond tailpipe emissions - fueleconomy.gov. A Kia Niro charged in Denver will emit 170 CO2 g/mi while one charged in Dallas will emit 120 CO2 g/mi. (This tool asks for a zip code which would imply an electricity provider but it appears to me that the values only change per state.)

Range anxiety is when you worry that your battery will run out of juice before you get to a charging station. Range Anxiety most likely occurs on longer trips since people typically drive less than 40 miles a day and would recharge at night. Smartphone apps (and navigation systems in the EVs) can direct you to public charging stations which are rapidly being built.

What are the best EVs for our climate and conditions? EVs handle well in snow due to their weight but some drivers will need winter tires. Cold weather will also shorten your range. This is dependent on temperature and also battery age, your speed and what accessories you use while driving (e.g., heater). Are electric vehicles good in the snow? - motorbiscuit.com. Does cold weather affect an electric vehicle’s efficiency? - motorbiscuit.com.  There are also several AWD EV models available and I’m very excited about the new Subaru Solterra EV coming out. 20 best all wheel drive electric vehicles for 2022 - TrueCar.

Affordability – Here’s a great plot of the most popular vehicles in the U.S market on a graph of costs versus greenhouse gas emissions: Carbon Counter.

  • Initial purchase price: The most affordable EVs that would qualify for the $7500 tax credit appear to be the Nissan Leaf (starts at $27,400), and the Chevy Bolt (starts at $31,500). These 14 EVs may get a tax break under the new climate bill - Business Insider. If you want an EV with AWD and extended battery range, expect to spend north of $50k. I’m also hearing of dealer mark-ups over $10,000 now with high EV demand and limited supply. Note that Colorado buyers will receive an additional $2500 tax credit on new vehicles. As more EVs come on the market, prices are expected to come down.

  • Total ownership costs: EVs are more energy efficient and less mechanically complex than gasoline vehicles. A typical EV owner could save $800-1000 per year over a gasoline vehicle if they charge at home. Maintenance costs over the life of the vehicle could be about $4,600 less with an EV. EVs offer big savings over traditional gas-powered cars - Consumer ReportsElectrifying transportation reduces emissions AND saves massive amounts of energy - Yale Climate Connections.

  • Lower income considerations: There are several EVs with starting prices at the $27k point which are comparable to a gasoline car. Charging at night will be a challenge for those with street parking or multi-family dwellings. Also, if a taxpayer does not owe enough in taxes, they wouldn’t be able to use the full $7,500 tax credit.

Bottom line – If the U.S. is going to meet our CO2 reduction targets, it means mass adoption of EVs. Just this summer we hit the “tipping point” where 5% of new cars sold are electric. Dr. Hayhoe's Facebook post. EVs are becoming mainstream and affordable, especially with the new tax credits. If your electricity provider does not have a high percentage of renewable power, you may want to look at your own PV system. The next few years will be exciting as we work through new EV models, add more charging infrastructure, and navigate tax credits and supply chain issues.