Dyer: Buying an electric car

Kristy Dyer is a columnist for Black Press Media who writes about the environment

Should I get an electric car? I get asked this question constantly, and the short answer is “yes”.

Then the follow up questions go like this:

  • I only drive a few kilometres a week…
  • Isn’t making electric cars much worse for the environment than gas powered cars?
  • My gas vehicle is paid for, is it worthwhile to buy an electric car?

So this week let’s tease apart some of these claims, focusing mainly on the financial. First it helps to understand that for annual cost of owning a car, only two items differ between an electric vehicle (EV) and a conventional vehicle: the amount of money you spend on gas, and the amount of repairs.

Only two items differ between an EV and a conventional vehicle: cost of fuel and the amount of repairs.

So the largest cost associated with a vehicle is related to the purchase price: depreciation and the interest you pay on the car loan. Buying an EV means paying less for your “fuel” and expecting fewer repairs (electric engines are much simpler than combustion engines). That still leaves 65 percent of the costs of car ownership identical for EV and gas-powered cars.

I only drive 35 km per week…

Remember “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle”? For cars it should be “Drive less, use public transit, buy an EV”. If you drive very little (or better yet, do most of your errands on a bicycle) you will not see much of an improvement in your carbon footprint from buying an electric car. I recommend that if you drive less than 300 kilometres per month, rather than buy an electric car.

My gas vehicle is paid for, is it worthwhile to buy an electric car?

The best calculator I’ve found to compare total costs of any random vehicle (of any value) to electric cars is the US Alternative Fuels Data Center. You will have to live with imperial units such as MPG and choose Pennsylvania as your location (for the price of gas). However it offers a built-in list of cars back to 2005 and has the ability to add a “custom car”. What you will learn from this site is identical to the advice you would get from Cartalk: it’s always cheaper to repair a vehicle you have paid off, than to go out and buy a new one.

READ MORE: Kelowna student to drive electric vehicle to Ontario conference to raise awareness about climate change

Isn’t making electric cars much worse for the environment than gas powered cars?

The tricky bit of EV manufacturing is the lithium battery that allows EVs to drive 200 miles on a full charge. Currently, if you add up all the bits that go into an EV and all the bits that go into a gas powered vehicle, the creation of an EV emits about 20% more carbon than the gas vehicle. But this is not written in stone. All the countries participating in the Paris agreement are working hard to “decarbonize” their electricity: as that happens each years new EV models will have less and less carbon embedded in their creation. Additionally as we decarbonize the electric grid, you are charging with lower-carbon electricity, and your EV will make up for their lithium-debt after driving fewer miles.

The Union of Concerned Scientists state “Battery electric cars make up for their higher manufacturing emissions within eighteen months of driving”.

READ MORE: Vernon businessmen cruising with e-ride electric vehicle rights

Keep in mind that we already have an active and successful recycling program for your lead starter battery: you pay a core charge when you purchase the battery, and get it back when you return your old battery for recycling. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: Lithium batteries can be reused as is: there are already entrepreneurs waiting for discarded batters to hit the market in large numbers.

What we are not exploring here is the leverage you wield if you buy an electric vehicle now. If you purchase an EV you are voting with your feet. The more EVs that are purchased, the more the price will drop. The cost of building a lithium battery has dropped by about seven percent per year. Owning an EV states to anyone on the road, and your relatives and friends that you have invested in a greener future. OK boomer, there you have it.

Missed last week’s column?

Dyer: The road we didn’t take

About Kristy Dyer:

Kristy Dyer has a background in art and physics and consulted for Silicon Valley clean energy firms before moving (happily!) to sunny Penticton. Comments to Kristy.Dyer+BP@gmail.com

Kristy’s articles are archived at teaspoonenergy.blogspot.com

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