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Living for the Long Haul: What are some of the concerns about purchasing an electric car?

Six common concerns of owning electric vehicles.

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In the previous column we considered reasons for buying an electric vehicle (EV). We indicated there are a large number of EVs to choose from, they are cheaper and are more efficient to operate than internal combustion engines, maintenance costs are lower and we can reduce dependence on gas and oil thus reducing environmental pollution.

In this article we will consider some of the questions and concerns about EV’s that may make us hesitant to buy them.

  1. Limited driving range. This is a challenge with battery EV’s but not with Hybrid EV’s that have a gas engine as well as an electric motor. The term given to this is “range anxiety”. We have experienced this. On our Chevy Bolt, the mileage indicator turns from green to amber when we have about 25 miles of battery charge left and then the mileage estimate turns off with about 20 miles remaining. Driving with no estimate of mileage definitely creates anxiety. Driving range is a major consideration here in Northern Minnesota particularly for those of us who live in the country. However, battery technology continues to increase driving range with many EVs now in the 250-300+ mile range. 
  2. Battery life is uncertain. The Federal government requires that auto manufacturers warrantee batteries for 8 years or 100,000 miles. It is difficult to evaluate how long batteries will last because auto manufacturers keep modifying them. In general, batteries do not “fail” but degrade in their maximum battery capacity (i.e. maximum driving range) over time. In a study of battery performance of the Chevrolet Volt, maximal battery capacity decreased about 5% after 5 years of use. 
  3. Batteries can explode and catch fire. Many of us have heard of cell phone batteries exploding or catching fire in someone’s pocket and may think that a car-sized battery may be a bomb waiting to explode. Vehicle batteries are sealed, totally separated from the passenger compartment and many safety protocols are in place. Explosions have not been documented. However, some fires have been documented with the Chevy Bolt. General Motors has recalled these cars, including ours, replacing the entire battery at no cost to the owners, and giving a full 8-year warranty on the new battery. 
  4. Risk of electrocution. Some folks have concerns about being electrocuted if an EV should end up in a ditch full of water, or some similar scenario. EVs operate at 12-48 volts. In the unlikely event that a person is electrocuted, this voltage would certainly be unpleasant to experience but it would not kill you.
  5. Concerns about mining rare earth minerals and battery disposal. At present, EV batteries require the mining of rare earth minerals including lithium, cobalt and manganese.  Mining of these minerals is as disrupting to our earth as other types of mining. Further, the problem of what to do with batteries once EVs are hauled off to the salvage yard has not been resolved. Alternatively, EV battery technology is new and many innovations are being developed. These include:

    1. Substituting readily available minerals, like sodium, iron and glass, for rare earth minerals.
    2. Reusing batteries for other purposes after they are removed from EVs.
    3. Recycling the components of used EV batteries. One company is now doing so.
  6. Incomplete and disorganized charging infrastructure. The distribution of charging stations throughout Minnesota and the rest of the nation (with the exception of Tesla EVs) is both incomplete and disorganized. Although new charging stations are constantly being installed around the state, there seems to be no rhyme or reason to their location. They may be at a school, a church, a motel, etc. and there are virtually no road signs to point you to them. There are also numerous EV charging companies installing these charging stations which means an EV owner must have separate accounts with each one. Fortunately, if you have a cell phone, you can quickly locate charging stations and set up accounts on the spot. 

Despite these concerns, we have enjoyed driving our Chevy Bolt for the last three years and have experienced few limitations. With a little extra planning we have taken trips to Duluth, the North Shore, St. Cloud and the Twin Cities. We feel the benefits of driving an EV outweigh the concerns and limitations. However, the best way we have found to conserve energy and reduce transportation costs is to find ways to decrease the number of miles we drive.
(References to all factual information quoted provided on request and comments and questions are encouraged: weiss005@umn.edu)

Douglas J. Weiss and Barb Mann own Balsam Moon in Pine River, a spiritual place of peace, sustainability and renewal.

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