One guy’s electric car experience. Probably for the best for long-term, widespread EV adoption that a ton of people didn’t buy a Leaf... Still some major hurdles to overcome for most people to feel comfortable choosing an EV: decent range in something that’s not cost-prohibitive, expanded infrastructure, more shops willing to do maintenance & repair as these cars age.
Driving an electric car requires adjustments in your lifestyle. It’s what a Wichita State University professor learned when he acquired an EV nearly a decade ago.
Bill Wentz recently talked with Wichita Eagle reporter Sara Spicer.
A distinguished professor emeritus of aerospace engineering at Wichita State, Wentz has always loved the environment. He has taught a class on sustainable energy and climate change at WSU for 10 years, and decided he wanted to reduce his carbon footprint, so he bought a Nissan Leaf, a fully electric vehicle.
In the U.S., Americans are less likely to buy electric cars because they are worried about the price, range and lack of charging stations. However, all of those things are changing, and if most people think about how they use their vehicles, they might see that electric cars are not a bad option, according to Wentz.
The biggest obstacle to owning an electric car is the price. There isn’t much of a used market for them yet and Kansas does not have a tax credit for them, like some other states. The federal tax credit, up to $7,500 according to the IRS, can help with the cost.
The price gap between electric and gasoline cars is shrinking, electric car owners are also saving money when they aren’t filling up the tank.
“The cost per mile is a little bit lower than in a gasoline car,” said Holger Meyer, an associate professor at Wichita State who teaches nuclear physics and owns an electric car. “It’s both the ease of mind of emitting less carbon from an electric car, but it’s also the cost. It’s actually cheaper to own, per mile, than a gasoline car.”
On average, fueling an electric car is half as much as a traditional gasoline vehicle, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. A gallon of gasoline in Kansas costs about $2.06 and an electric eGallon costs about $1.25.
A recent study from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory found that electric cars can save customers thousands of dollars over several years compared to gasoline vehicles, but understanding how much money is saved can be difficult.
“Our sense is that consumers are also not very used to looking at the cost of electricity,” said Matteo Muratori, senior engineer and co-author of the study. “If you tell someone ‘Hey gasoline is $3 a gallon,’ that means something to people. If you say ‘electricity is 13 cents a kilowatt-hour,’ they’re like ‘okay.’ It’s just a metric that drivers are not used to.”
One of the things the study found is that one of the biggest ways owners of electric vehicles can save money, compared to gasoline vehicles, is charging their cars at home.
There are three kinds of charging plugs for electric cars. Level 1, which charges 2-5 miles of use in an hour, is most often used at home. Level 2, which charges 10-20 miles per hour, can also be used at homes and businesses, according to the U.S. Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.
The DC Fast Charge plugs can give cars 60-80 miles in 20 minutes and are usually found in public charging stations and along highways and interstates. These charging stations can get expensive as they charge by the minute. There is no flat rate, however, the four stations located at Town East Square cost $0.89 per minute for “fast charge” versus plugging in at home which costs about $0.13 per kilowatt-hour.
“Recharging your electric vehicle at home at night, can be twice or more as cheap as if you do it in the middle of the day at the public station,” Muratori said. “That’s something that consumers are not really used to. I never think about what time of the day it is when I go to the gas station. But electricity is more complicated than that, and so starting to get into this mindset where you charge, when you charge, do you use this slow changer or the fast charger, matters.”
Electric car owners refer to “range anxiety,” which is when they worry about not being able to make it home or to their next stop, due to the lack of charging stations.
“Sometimes I try to drive conservatively to make sure I get home before I need to plug in or you know make little concessions or I just plan ahead,” Meyer said.
While charging at home is the cheaper option, sometimes that isn’t always possible. While Meyer knows people who have regularly driven their electric cars across the country, when he needs to go very far, he rents a car or borrows one from a friend.
“If I do need to go somewhere over the 100-mile range, I just trade cars for the day with a friend,” he said. “I drive a gasoline car when I really need it. It happens a handful of times a year.”
The idea that you can’t just hop in a car and drive long distances is an adjustment for some.
“The mindset most people have is ‘I’ve got a car. I can go anywhere. I can drive around town. I could go to California tomorrow if I wanted. I just have to pay for the gas,’ and you just have to adjust to that,” Wentz said.
Instead, thinking about buying a car that meets your everyday needs, going to and from work and around town, instead of all the possibilities of what you might need, might help and save money in the long run, advocates say.
Wentz drives a 2019 Nissan Leaf and is familiar with what causes the vehicle’s range to go up or down, such as running the air conditioning.
“I don’t get range anxiety because I know, despite what that says, I cannot go 200 miles 60 miles an hour in the country,” Wentz said. “I just keep an eye out and it tells you how much you have left… It’ll go down when we’re driving fast. It’s computing all the time so it updates itself.”
Environmentalists in Wichita are preparing for an online event on Oct. 3 during National Drive Electric Week to raise awareness of how electric vehicles have changed and their importance in reducing carbon emissions, which cause climate change.
“The stone age didn’t end for lack of stones and the oil age won’t end because we burned the last gallon of oil,” Meyer said. “For me, personally, really the carbon emission was the most important factor, and being able to live with a clean conscience about climate change and leaving a healthy planet for my children.”
Wichita’s virtual celebration of Drive Electric Week is expected to feature videos and information for those considering going electric as well as an electric vehicle drag race. Find more information on the Facebook page, National Drive Electric Week ICT.