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Natural Awakenings Metro Phoenix & Northern Arizona

Plug-In Electric Vehicles Have Rosy Outlook: Kena Fedorschak predicts PEVs will be adopted on a large scale in Arizona. Here's why.

May 30, 2014 11:24AM ● By Kena Fedorschak

Plug-in electric vehicles (PEV) have gained popularity in recent years due to low operational costs, lack of emissions, enhanced safety and capacity to reduce oil dependency. Electric vehicles are classified as either plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV), which rely on both battery packs and a conventional internal combustion engine, or battery electric vehicles (BEV), which derive all their power from battery packs. Sales of both types of vehicles have increased rapidly in recent years; approximately 95,000 PEVs were sold in 2013, compared to just under 20,000 in 2011. Moreover, there are currently 9,600 PEVs registered in Arizona.

This rapid expansion in sales begs the question: What are the primary differences between conventional gasoline-powered vehicles and electric vehicles? First, all PEVs have set range, or distance the vehicle can travel before its battery packs are depleted. PHEVs have an initial mileage period where the electric engine is used exclusively, and then the conventional gasoline engine kicks in. This distance can vary from 11 miles (Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid) to 35 miles (Chevrolet Volt). BEVs have much larger battery packs, allowing for greater travel distances in between charges: The high-end Tesla Model S has a range of 265 miles.

Second, battery packs in electric vehicles must be recharged. Most vehicles can be charged from a domestic wall socket; charging times vary depending on battery size and other variables, but charge times are generally between eight and 20 hours. Charging speeds can be doubled by purchasing an adaptor that increases power delivery from the standard 120 volts on a 15 amp circuit breaker to 240 volts on a 30 amp breaker. Moreover, DC fast-charging stations can supply up to 600 volts of power for rapid vehicle charging. While this technology is generally not available for home installation, stations are conveniently placed along major roadways all across the country. According to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), there are currently 284 electric charging stations in Arizona alone. Furthermore, it is cheaper to drive an electric vehicle—estimates suggest that PEV electricity costs are about 75 percent less than gasoline on a per-mile basis. However, Arizona buyers should note that extreme heat negatively impacts battery life. According to the DOE, high temperatures can decrease the lifespan of the car’s battery by as much as five years. For example, a Phoenix-area Nissan Leaf owner reported that the distance he could drive decreased from 90 miles to 44 within a year of ownership.

Third, PEV engines are small, silent and gearless. Acceleration is not interrupted by gear shifting, so maximum torque can be applied at any speed. Because BEVs do not have conventional gasoline engines, the space under the hood can be used for storage. Additionally, safety ratings of BEVs outrank most traditional gasoline engines because the front of the car becomes a crumple zone in the event of a crash. Furthermore, most BEVs have a lower center of gravity because battery packs are stored underneath the car, which increases vehicle handling and decreases rollover incidents. For example, the Tesla Model S has received a safety score of 5.4 out of 5 from the National Highway Safety Administration—the highest score ever awarded.

While range is still a limiting factor, battery technology will surely increase in the coming years. Before making any purchase, thorough research should be conducted to gain an understanding of how Arizona’s heat will impact battery life. Despite this, it is clear that PEVs are the future and will likely be adopted on a large scale in coming years.

Kena Fedorschak co-founded the Honor Society for Sustainability at Arizona State University. He believes sustainable management practices can be implemented without negatively impacting the bottom line. Contact him at [email protected].


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