Electric Cars: Are We There Yet? – 9/7/16

There has been a lot of fanfare surrounding Tesla’s Model 3, but electric cars have been on the market for so long that many don’t understand why.

Personally, it is not the Model 3 that is exciting so much as what it represents: an affordable electric car with a decent range that could actually go mainstream. And by mainstream I mean a vast majority of people could replace their current vehicle with it. According to a study recently published in the journal Nature Energy, 87% of cars in America could be replaced with electric vehicles.

Researchers found that electric vehicles, such as the Ford Focus Electric (MSRP: From $29,120) and the Nissan Leaf (MSRP: From $29,010), could meet affordability needs for most Americans since, by comparison, the average new car in the U.S. today sells for about $33,000. And operating costs would be lower than for conventional cars which run using relatively complex combustion engines.

They also found that current battery technology would provide plenty of range for electric cars on just one charge a day, either overnight at home or during the day at work. Though electric vehicles drain faster in extreme temperatures where temperature control systems are run more frequently and intensely, most new models would enough battery power in their 200 mile range to get the average U.S. commuter to work and back without using any gasoline.

Charging stations are also expected to multiply rapidly. ChargePoint currently claims 30,000 stations in its public network while there are about 90,000 publicly accessible gas stations in America, according to the Gasoline & Automotive Services Dealers of America.

The number of commercial charging stations can grow quickly in part because they’re relatively cheap at $3,000 to $7,500 per port with minimal operating costs. Gas stations are much more costly requiring a significant investment of capital in property and equipment as well as a host of legal and environmental issues related to storing and distributing gasoline.

On the environmental side, the study showed that by owning one electric car and one conventional vehicle, a household could meet nearly all its driving needs while significantly reducing gasoline use and emissions. There would be an estimated 60% reduction in total U.S. gasoline consumption and about a 30% decrease in greenhouse gas emissions relative to all emissions by all American transportation in 2014. In the U.S., transportation accounted for around 25% of all U.S. emissions in 2014. Though the actual reduction in emissions would depend on the source of electricity used to charge the cars, continued replacement of coal power with natural gas or renewables is expected.

Given the number of affordable electric cars will be available before 2020, most people will have plenty of options the next time they are ready to buy another car. Now all that’s left is to see how many actually do.

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