Many auto makers, fleet managers and consumers are deciding purchase electric vehicles (EVs). When considering large purchases I would recommend you understand all your options. So before answer should you go electric, let’s start the discussion by looking at the different types of electric cars. Each type of EV has advantages and drawbacks which make them appropriate for different applications.
The first EV that was produced in large volumes globally was the Prius. The Prius is an example of a hybrid electric vehicle (HEV). The sole energy source of this type of vehicle is fossil fuels. Even though the HEV is considered an electric vehicle. This is because the internal combustion engine (ICE) is supported by and electric drivetrain. The batteries are charged by a generator that is power by the ICE. These batteries then power and electric motor. The extra power provided by the electric motor allow the ICE to be smaller and run at optimal efficiently. However the having an engine and a motor does add cost and complexity to the vehicle, and the ability of HEV to drive with zero tail pipe emissions is very limited. The HEV is sometimes referred to as a range extended electric vehicle (REEV). The range extender refers to the ICE that charges the battery, which in turn allows the vehicle to drive longer ranges. Some range extended vehicles can be plugged in as well.
Vehicles that can take energy from the grid or fossil fuels are classed as plug-in hybrid electric vehicles or PHEVs. These vehicles have both an electric motors and a range extender. The batteries in PHEV are typically medium sized, between 5-15 kWh. This allows PHEVs to drive short distances without using any fuel, therefore not producing any tail pipe emissions. Most city commutes can be driven electric, and by switching to fossil fuels the vehicle is able to undertake longer journeys as well. The disadvantage of this type of vehicle is that you still have both an engine and an electric drivetrain.
To be classified as a zero emission vehicle (ZEV) the vehicle must not use any fossil fuels. There are two types of vehicles that fall under this classification. Fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) and battery electric vehicles (BEVs).
FCEV are another variant of the range extended electric vehicle. They subsites ICE for a fuel cell stack. The fuel cell is a component that produces electricity from a chemical reaction. Energy is stored in the form of a gas. For zero tail pipe emissions hydrogen gas is compressed and fee into the fuel cell, however, there are many types of fuel cells that can use other gases as fuel as well. A small battery buffers the current from the fuel cells and uses it to power an electric motor. The advantage of FCEV is that they can be refuelled quickly and are better used for long distance travel than battery electric vehicles. The FCEV does have some significant drawbacks. Firstly it is expensive to produce and operate. A key components of the fuel cell requires platinum, which is both rare and expensive. The second major drawback is that a lot of heat is produced by the chemical reaction. This is wasted energy that cannot be used to propel the vehicle.
An electric vehicle without a range extender can go by several names, such as battery electric vehicle, pure electric vehicle, all-electric vehicle or simply electric vehicle. These vehicles make use of very large traction batteries. These batteries can range between 10-100 kWh. To charge these batteries BEVs must be get power from an external energy source via an EV charger. Propulsion comes from the electric motor that drives the wheels. The electric motor is very efficient, much more efficient than the ICE. Only a very small amount of energy is lost to heat with the fully electric drivetrain. The most comprehensive way to compare different drivetrains efficiency is the well-to-wheel efficiency analysis. The results of these analyses demonstrate that the all-electric drivetrain is the most efficient. The efficiency and simplicity of the BEV make it more economical to own and operate than other types of vehicles. This can be calculated with total cost of ownership or vehicle whole life costs analyses. The reason for this is two fold, the electric drivetrain has fewer moving components and electricity can be produce economically. The electricity that powers the vehicle can come from renewable energy. Making the vehicle very sustainable. Studies have shown this is regardless of whether the vehicle is charged with coal or renewable energy. Of course the environmental benefits are greater when renewable energy is utilized. Consumers are also purchasing EVs because it is a more convenient form of transport. With some cities limiting traffic on certain streets and lanes to only zero emission vehicles. Other cities are implementing extra surcharges for vehicles that do not meet ever more stringent exhaust emission standards. Finally it is also more convenient to re-charge a vehicle at home while you sleep than it is to refuel at a gas station. This is especially true for individuals and companies that generate their own solar energy. However battery electric vehicles applications are still limited by economic and technical challenges. The large traction battery required for longer ranges is quite capital intensive. Also long charging times and the lack of EV charging infrastructure result in range anxiety. Still there are numerous applications were EVs make sense. Taxi, bus and last mile delivery companies’ are expanding their margins by implementing green electric fleets. And commutes love not having to stop at the pump with vehicles such as the Tesla model 3, Nissan Leaf and Chevy Bolt.
My answer to the question, “is it time to go electric?” is. It depends. You have to consider the duty cycle or range require for that vehicle. What energy infrastructure and capital is available to you. Often switching to an electric vehicle will secure long term cost savings, but require significant initial investments to implement. For others, the environmental or regulatory factors eliminate any other option. What I can say for sure is that auto makers are getting serious about electric vehicles, and the number to models to choose from is increasing. More choice means more chances that the next car you drive will be electric.