Electric Cars 101, Uncategorized

Electric Cars 101: More EV Myths & Alternative Facts

It happened the other day – I was discussing EVs with a friend of mine, who happens to dislike them quite strongly. Inevitably, she pointed out that one problem she has with them is that when sitting in traffic, they are just wasting electricity…

…which is, of course, ridiculous. How can it waste electricity when it isn’t even moving? “Facts” like this are one of the major hindrances for electric vehicles – although before long, we all know that sustainable transport must, and will, win out. Until then, we need to tackle misinformation.

This article likely won’t conjure up any new or revolutionary information, but I did build an electric car in my garage (mostly before I turned 12) as a hobby. Interestingly enough, EVs aren’t as complicated as people would like to think. In fact, they are so easy to build that a child could do it (with parental supervision, of course). The problem is getting it road-legal. Back on subject, though.

My friend demonstrated to me the real urge that certain incumbent industries have to destroy electric vehicles. Definitely can’t think of any right now…

So without further ado, here is a list of EV myths that I have read or heard, and my response to them:

Electric vehicles leave a bigger carbon footprint

This is a tricky one; on one hand, it is true. On the other, not so much. To take this claim at face value requires a massive leap of faith, and an impressive amount of ignorance. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, electric vehicles produce approximately 15% more CO2 emissions than equivalent petrol- or diesel-powered vehicles. Looks pretty bad, right?

The catch to this one is that I omitted one piece of data – the figures above are manufacturing emissions. The report from which I gleaned this data just happens to be a Life Cycle, or Cradle-to-Grave Analysis. This means that all emissions produced by the vehicle from extraction of raw materials right up until the vehicle is sent for scrap must be considered. The difference in emissions is quite staggering – and it is in the opposite direction to what was indicated in the last paragraph.

Total Life Cycle Emissions from EVs are between 51 and 53% lower than equivalent ICE cars, even in America, where most electricity is produced from fossil fuels. A report commissioned by New Zealand’s Energy Efficiency Conservation Authority (EECA for short) found total Life Cycle Emissions to be 60% less for a New Zealand-new EV. This is because most electricity in New Zealand comes from clean sources.

The University of Innsbruck also found that we may be underestimating the nitrogen oxide output of diesel engines by a factor of four. If this is true, EVs could be up to 90% cleaner than cars with internal combustion engines.

I covered this issue in much more detail a few weeks ago, in my article Electric Cars 101: Oil vs. Battery ‘Myths’.

Wasted electricity due to traffic jams

OK, somebody please tell me where this one started?! My friend raised this issue genuinely believing it to be true. The problem; it’s codswallop!

This “problem” strikes me as petrolheads trying to comprehend a concept that was previously unknowable to them. Filmmakers pull this one on us all the time – every sci-fi movie employs familiar concepts to try and make the futuristic alien world somewhat comprehensible to viewers. In the same way, many a petrolhead feels the need to project familiar traits onto an unfamiliar product. And so, this myth was born. Of course, that is only my theory.

Petrolheads know that the Achilles Heel of any vehicle that uses fuel is idling. The car sits still with the engine running, begging the car to move, but the stubborn metric tonne of steel won’t move until the all-powerful driver says so. The engine gets its revenge by burning up the evil driver’s hard-earned petrol money for no particular reason, except to keep the air conditioning going and the radio blasting AC/DC (see what I did there…)

Therefore, the idea of a car that only uses what it needs simply cannot fit into their heads. Interestingly, very few people get paranoid about their desk fan wasting electricity and unplug it. EV motors are basically the same technology, but a lot bigger, and usually computer controlled. The only power used by an “idling” EV is that which the computer, air conditioning, and whatever else you have plugged in might need.

They seem to think that their EV will just sit and spin like their V8 Jurassic crematorium.

Short range

This one is as old as the hills, or so it seems. People believe that because an EV cannot acheive 3000kms to a charge, it could not possibly be suitable for their daily commute, or the occasional trip to Uncle Walter’s beach house. But let’s look at the data.

In a conversation I had with my banker a few weeks ago, she asked me what sort of EV I would recommend. I asked her a few questions to help inform my recommendation, and found that she drives approximately 600kms per week. She only really drives around town, with the occasional trip to Tauranga or Hamilton – both within reach of a healthy Nissan LEAF. Of course, the use of one of ChargeNet’s many public charging stations would be needed to prepare for the trip home, so a longer range EV such as the Renault Zoe would be beneficial if she is pressed for time.

The fear that your EV will not be able to get you home with the remaining charge in the battery pack is known as Range Anxiety. The strange thing about range anxiety is that it is actually very rare among real-life EV owners.

The major problem most people have here is that they are accustomed to refueling once a week and driving until the petrol light comes on. With an EV, you shouldn’t do that. It is better to treat an EV like your smartphone where charging is concerned. If you want your device to see you through the day, a characteristic I value in a mobile phone, then you need to take advantage of the electric outlet by your desk to charge the thing. An EV needs something a little more substantial than a USB cable though, so make sure to get a dedicated EV charger installed when you purchase your EV. Plug in at night and drive in the day, all for a fraction of the price of petrol.

Batteries won’t last long

We all know that Lithium-ion batteries have a usable life of about 5 years. Then they need replaced. Therefore, a 5 year-old EV is useless as the batteries will be dead. The problem with this belief is that we aren’t talking about cellphone batteries, and we certainly are not talking about laptop batteries. There are numerous types of Lithium-ion battery, so it isn’t that straightforward.

The batteries found in modern EVs are usually optimized for automotive applications (mostly Lithium Nickel Cobalt Aluminum Oxide or Lithium Nickel Manganese Cobalt Oxide), which means a high charge and discharge capacity, improved thermal tolerances, and several added materials that increase the resiliency of the pack, resulting in more charge cycles. Coupled with liquid cooling systems, these batteries can manage quite an impressive lifespan.

To get the longest usable life out of your EV, make sure to get the longest range EV that falls within your budget. This means a bigger battery, which means less charge cycles, which means a longer life (just don’t let the car collect dust in the garage, no battery will survive that for too long). Let me explain…

Batteries have a certain number of charge cycles before they die (one charge cycle is defined as taking a battery with zero charge, and charging it until full, then depleting it back to zero. The battery deteriorates slightly with each charge cycle. In the case of current Lithium-ion batteries, 2200 charge cycles will be completed by the time the battery loses 20% of it’s capacity. This means that an EV purchased today, with one charge cycle every week, will take 42 years before that battery degrades to 80% state-of-health. There are many other factors which impact this, of course, but as you can see, the lifespan of the battery is a bit better than many say.

[Edit]

A 24kWh battery will see more charge cycles than a 100kWh battery doing the same job, and so will wear more quickly (assuming identical conditions otherwise). Therefore, a 24kWh Nissan LEAF will require charging more often than a 100kWh Tesla (the range is determined by the capacity of the battery in the most simplistic way of thinking. Current draw of the motor also comes into play, but let’s keep it simple). The important thing to remember with batteries, though, is that when they require replacing, they will be cheaper than, the amount of petrol or diesel used by an equivalent ICE car in the same period of time. Used EV batteries also enjoy a wide range of ‘second-life’ applications where lower energy density is required, and therefore second-hand EV batteries are ideal.

[End Edit]

Electric vehicles are expensive

This one is at least partially true. Current electric vehicles command a much larger purchase price brand-new than their combustion-powered cousins. But look on the second-hand market, where most of us mortals purchase our cars, and you will find a somewhat less depressing picture. This 2013 Nissan LEAF G, for example, has a similar asking price to this 2013 Toyota Corolla GLX.

We are expecting EVs to reach total cost of ownership parity in mid-2018, which means that from new, an EV will have the same overall ownership costs as an equivalent combustion vehicle over the average life expectancy of 8 years (I don’t make these figures, in fact I am from a country where the average vehicle is around 14 years old, so we could see some interesting figures if we look at it locally).

Electric vehicles are slow

Pfft! Whatever!

Electric vehicles take too long to charge

No, they don’t. With a petrol- or diesel-powered car, you have to take a detour to buy fuel, wait with the car until the fuel tank is full, walk into the store, and pay for it. Unless you have BP’s new BPMe app, which saves me heaps of time fueling my dinosaur crematorium. But I still have to wait with my car. After that, I have to pull out onto an often busy state highway to drive home. On a busy day, refueling my car can take up to an hour.

An EV, no matter where you decide to charge, can be left to charge. At home, you spend maybe 30 seconds plugging your car in, and then you can forget about it until the next morning, when you spend maybe 30 seconds unplugging it, and drive away… and then stop at the petrol station for a cup of coffee, just for the satisfaction of saying “no fuel today thanks” to the polite person at the counter.

So unless you have a tendency to drive beyond the range of your EV, you probably won’t notice the charging time at all.

EVs suck

Not much I can do for that one, but given the amount of money I spend running my combustion vehicle, I feel very much the same way about ICE cars.

In general, the arguments against electric vehicles are mostly just the product of petty hatred for anything that does not burn oil. The arguments presented above are the most common ones that I have heard, and basically all of them make as much sense as the question “why does sawdust smell like wood?”

Do you know of any other EV myths or objections? Share them in the comments below. Don’t forget to like, subscribe, and share this with your petrolhead friends!

6 thoughts on “Electric Cars 101: More EV Myths & Alternative Facts”

  1. You can’t tell people not to treat an EV like a conventional car that they refuel once a week and then turn around and use once a week charging cycle to calculate battery life. If the EV owners recharge the batteries daily then the charge cycle is also daily.
    A better argument, one used by many EV proponents, is that by the time we need to change the batteries the money saved from not having to buy gas would be much more than the cost of new batteries and that battery prices have been trending down a lot so the price of new batteries in five years would be much cheaper than today’s.

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    1. Thank you for your suggestion. A charge cycle is defined by charging from total depletion through to a full charge. Most current EV models are unlikely to complete a full charge cycle in one day, hence my decision to use a weekly charge cycle for this calculation.

      This does result in a very optimistic range, but also accounts for second life applications such as electricity storage in motorhomes where the battery pack would see fewer charge cycle over the course of one year.

      You do make an excellent point, which I would be keen to include in an update to this article with your permission. Thanks again ☺

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      1. You don’t need my permission since the argument is just common sense but it was nice of you to ask.

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  2. Part of the short range myth is the often mentioned ‘range anxiety’.

    I can honestly say, in the two years I’ve had my EV, I have never for a moment suffered from it; quite the reverse. I absolutely know, with a certainty I never had with a low petrol gauge, that I am able to get home. The meter tells me!

    Providing you don’t suddenly behave like some mad drag racer and you have even just a little experience of how your range meter performs, then you have the figure you need. Even if it says you have 25 miles range left and you’re 24 miles from home. Guaranteed to reach!

    It matters little even if you get stuck in a traffic jam, as mentioned in the article, you don’t use much ‘fuel’ at all sitting still. Whereas with an ICE you need to make a decision how often to switch off.

    I’ll never go back to fossil fuel.

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