Good news: Electric vehicles now take you the distance

By Belinda McFadgen
Guest author

If you’re tired of the exhaust fumes, noise, and climate-damaging emissions from your typical gasoline car, the electric vehicle is a great option for your future ride.

Good reasons exist for going electric. Switching from gas reduces air pollution and carbon emissions so electric vehicle engines run cleaner and quieter than gas cars. Electric cars also have lower costs because they require no routine maintenance: no oil changes are needed or spark plugs replaced like in gasoline engines. It is also cheaper than ever to make the switch, with an Oregon rebate of up to $2,500 to supplement the current federal rebate of $7,500. Low-income earners might qualify for an additional $2,500 to assist in purchasing costs.

However, abandoning the familiarity of using gasoline takes a leap of faith, especially for drivers who travel long distances. Electric charging stations are abundant in major cities throughout the United States to cater for the growing number of electric vehicles, but drivers may still be concerned about the car’s reliability for long distance trips across state lines.

Eliminating “range anxiety”

A major concern for consumers who are thinking of going electric is the limited driving range, sometimes called “range anxiety.”

A gas car will provide 400 to 500 miles from a full tank, but electric vehicles have until recently only been pushing the 100-mile mark before needing their batteries charged. That distance suffices for zipping around town, but it doesn’t provide for the vast distances people travel from state to state.

Fortunately, seven car manufacturers have started selling electric vehicles this year that range over 100 miles, making long distance travel a lot more realistic. Tesla is offering a maximum range of 315 miles, with Chevrolet providing 238 miles. The table below lists the latest options of car makes with range over 100 miles, as listed on plugincars.com:

From gas stations to charging stations

As well as waiting for battery capacities to equal gasoline mileage, range anxiety can also be reduced by the availability of charging stations on the open road. Drivers can use several tools to locate charging stations, including the online map PlugShare, which maps out charging stations from all station networks around the world.

PlugShare helps drivers plan their trip along road networks with the most conveniently located charging stations. From the Pacific Northwest to Southern California, public charge stations and Tesla superchargers are plentiful. While there are fewer charging stations further inland, there’s sufficient number along major transport arteries.

Kim MonBarren stands next to her Tesla Model S 90D during a recent road trip. (Photo courtesy of Kim MonBarren)

To gain insight into the use of electric vehicle infrastructure over long distances, we spoke to OEC friend, Kim MonBarren. Kim owns a Tesla Model S 90D, and she has driven across Oregon, Idaho, Nevada, California, and Arizona in the last year. In her experience, planning a trip is easy because her car provides her with a map of Tesla supercharger stations. She just punches in her destination and her car suggests a route.

The length of time it takes to charge an electric vehicle compared to filling up a gas tank produces a different fuelling experience for electric vehicle drivers. Drivers must wait an average of 20 to 30 minutes while their car recharges at public and Tesla charging stations. Kim recalls plenty of dog walking opportunities and chats with other Tesla drivers on her trips. PlugShare really helped, she said. The tool allows users to comment on the available charging stations, so other drivers can learn about amenities, length of time to charge, etc.

The hospitality industry has not missed an opportunity, and Kim described several instances where Tesla’s chargers were situated at restaurants and hotels. She has planned legs of her trips around meal times, choosing restaurants that provide charging infrastructure so she could recharge her car while dining.

The length of time it takes to charge an electric vehicle can be a problem if a charging station is popular and drivers must wait to start refueling. Kim explained that her car will advise on the current usage of a nearby charging station so she can plan accordingly. “Idle fees” of 40 cents a minute are imposed on Tesla drivers who fill up but fail to disconnect after five minutes of their battery being fully charged, which encourages drivers to keep on schedule and not hold up others.

Moving into the mainstream

Compared to 2016, electric vehicle sales increased by 50 percent in 2017, according to the industry website Clean Technica. The surging interest is heartening, and charging infrastructure must be built to keep up with demand.

As the market grows, co-sharing of charging infrastructure must also be agreed to between manufacturers so that all makes and models have easy access to a charge. Lawmakers might want to consider developing guidance on this, so that space is used efficiently.

Electric vehicles are better for the environment than gas cars, and that benefit will be maximized over time as the Clean Electricity and Coal Transition bill (passed by the Oregon Legislature in 2015) works its magic, reducing the use of coal and ratcheting up renewables, making the source of electricity for electric vehicles cheaper and cleaner.

It’s encouraging to know that traveling beyond the local grocery store in an electric car has finally become a reality. Impressive technological advances have driven the development of electric vehicles so that they now almost match gas vehicles for range, speed, and reliability. Government incentives have also helped get people behind the wheel.

Kim emphasised that her electric vehicle is “the future” because it lacks the polluting tendencies of gas cars. It emits no smell and makes no noise. Most importantly to her, it reduces her reliance on fossil fuels while being excellent fun to drive.

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