Thursday, November 12, 2015

Personal Carbon Reduction: Electric Car Very Basic Orientation

I rode to work in a diesel hybrid this morning. And it was a pretty luxurious ride (in comparison with the bicycle I rode Monday-Wednesday). At this point, you are probably thinking to yourself Where did the Mesquite Hugger come up with a diesel hybrid? Well, it's not mine. It belongs to Citibus. And it's a beast! But hey, how many of you can say you rode in a diesel hybrid lately? Or any kind of hybrid lately? How much does the average person even know about hybrids or other big-battery assisted cars? Let's talk about these cars.

This morning's chariot
(If you know all about this stuff, just move along. I just meet a lot of people who have not yet learned the differences and express surprise when you mention the difference between a Volt and a Leaf.)

Let's start with the simplest - the battery-electric vehicle.

The BEV is the simple one here. If you crave simplicity, this is the car for you. These cars require extremely low maintenance because there are so few moving parts. They are also the greenest and most efficient of the bunch. They also keep you out of gas stations - you can fill up at home.
Many detractors make noise about getting power from dirty coal-powered utility companies (which is a legitimate complaint to a very small degree) but two things make this option much greener than most anything else. First, the pollution from extracting, transporting, and burning coal is still less than the same process for extracting, transporting, distributing, and dispensing of petroleum products like gas and diesel. Second, we are seeing impressive growth in the amount of renewable energy being offered by utility companies. As the electric power being offered gets cleaner, so does the environmental friendliness of your vehicle.
If that's not good enough for you, however, there is another option that can make your BEV extremely clean - go solar at home. If you combine home solar power with an electric car, you will have an extremely low carbon footprint (and a much better return on both investments.)
The weakness of the BEV comes in two parts: range and charge time. You need to do a little math and answer a few questions before you commit to a BEV. How many miles do you plan to drive per day? How often do you take road trips? BEV's are especially good for two-car families. A friend and his wife just traded in an SUV on a Nissan Leaf. They have found an overall savings of $600 per month when they factor in fuel, payments, and insurance; and his wife has found the Leaf to be a much more enjoyable drive. Do the math and see how it works out for you.
By the way, battery life (and replacement cost) has been a big worry for early BEV buyers, but that is turning out to be much less of an issue than was feared.
Common and (somewhat) readily available BEVs are the Nissan Leaf, the Kia Soul EV, the BMW i3, all Teslas, and the Mitsubishi MiEV.
Others that are less readily available include the Fiat 500e, the Ford Focus EV, and the Chevrolet Spark EV. These cars have only been offered in restricted numbers and places and are often referred to as compliance cars.
Next, the Hybrid. Environmentally speaking, the hybrid is a big step up from conventional gas-motored cars. And the same is true for their efficiency. Many hybrid models consistently maintain average fuel economy in the mid-40's (mpg). The Toyota Prius regularly delivers averages in the 50's.
There are many models of hybrid out there. Be sure to do a little research before buying one - not all hybrids are created equal. Be sure to learn the difference between a serial hybrid and a parallel hybrid. (I am a bigger fan of the serial models.)  My wife really wants the Kia Optima Hybrid. I keep wishing that Toyota would create a small hybrid pickup or that Ford would send me a C-Max for Christmas.
Some of the more common hybrids out there include the Toyotas - three Priuses, the Camry, the Highlander, and the Avalon; the Hondas - Accords, Civics, CR-Z's, and Insights; the Ford Fusion and C-Max; the Kia Optima; and the Hyundai Sonata. BMW and Lexus also offer hybrid models.
The PHEV: it's complicated, but probably worth it.
So you can't decide between the BEV and the hybrid? You should probably check this category out. Ideally I would like for our household to have a BEV and a PHEV.
Essentially, the PHEV acts as a BEV for a certain distance and then turns into a hybrid when you travel beyond the battery-only range. For instance, if your PHEV has a battery-only range of 40 miles but you take a trip of 60 miles, at the forty-mile mark your gas engine will kick on and keep you going until you reach your destination (or run out of gas).
There are lots of accounts out there of PHEV owners who end up driving their cars for months at a time without filling up. Your results may vary.
The most commonly seen PHEV in my part of the world is the Chevy Volt. The Volt has very high customer satisfaction and reliability ratings. It also offers much more impressive battery-only range than most competitors. There seems to be news of more PHEV's hitting the market all the time. After the Volt, Fords and Mitsubishis seem to be the more common ones. The BMW i3 can also become a PHEV if you order it with the optional range-extending engine. Porsche and BMW also offer some higher-end PHEV's.
I hope this helps. Which one is right for you? Which one would you enjoy the most? What would your dream ride(s) be? May the answers come to you and be the right ones. As for me, I may have found my dream ride:
PS. Did anyone notice that I made it all the way through that article without mentioning my desire for a Citicar?
Living the dream!