By Bob Rietz
The first question is usually the same—“Where do you charge it?”—closely followed by “How far can you go?” My wife and I have often heard these questions since we bought a battery electric vehicle (BEV) last year, lured by the irresistible contribution of $7,500 from the U.S. government.
I enrolled in a course offered by the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute on the campus of UNC-Asheville in 2018 titled, “Does an Electric Car Make Sense for You?” That course taught me the difference between hybrid cars, plug-in hybrid cars, and BEVs, and the advantages and disadvantages of each. The advantages of BEVs have only grown since I took that course.
The answer to the first question is “Just about anywhere.” Asheville, like many cities, abounds with free charging stations. There are six charging stations within a half-mile of our home, and one station is our favorite. It’s located less than a quarter mile away and solar panels power the charging station. We bought the BEV in November and through the end of March, we have yet to pay for a charge.
The answer to the second question is about 200 miles, which is more than sufficient for a city-car that we charge roughly once a month. Did I mention that many charging stations don’t charge a fee? Yes, it does take about eight hours to fully charge the battery when it is completely drained. So, we don’t use our BEV while it is charging—just like we didn’t use our previous car when it was parked outside our home all day.
A BEV misconception is that they are slow to accelerate, making merging onto an expressway dangerous. I disproved that myth to a friend when I took him for a ride. Depressing the accelerator instantly provides power, and lots of it. Then I showed him a YouTube video wherein a modified Tesla (not the brand we bought) beat a Corvette Z6 in a quarter mile. The Tesla also did well at that distance against other muscle cars.
Let’s dispense with one last myth, that batteries wear out quickly, before we move on to the disadvantages of BEVs. Manufacturers now typically warranty batteries to maintain 70% capacity for eight years or 100,000 miles.
I was surprised to learn in the OLLI course that BEVs are “dirtier” to manufacture than gas-powered cars. The mining, refining, and transportation of battery rare-earth raw materials degrades the environment more than manufacturing gasoline-powered vehicles.
However, the difference in pollution is rapidly resolved in the BEV’s favor once it passes into a consumer’s hands. And even a coal-fired plant that may charge a BEV produces less pollution than refining crude oil into gasoline, transporting it, and then burning it.
But worst of all, the BEV has transformed me into an economic bogeyman—a free rider. Our nation’s roads are maintained by a gas tax collected at the fuel pump, which our BEV will never visit.
Five years ago, I believed these myths, and now I chuckle at my prior ignorance. While it’s true that battery technology has improved substantially over that time period, there’s another more likely reason lurking in the shadows. I had previously bought into the beliefs about BEVs without investigating whether or not they were true. Some of these beliefs had elements of truth in them a few years ago—but at what point did they become falsehoods? For example, were they true on July 27, 2017, but then became false the next day? Of course not, but information from the OLLI course suddenly transformed my attitude. What had changed so quickly, the technology of electric vehicles or my preconceived notions?
The terrifying question is: What other beliefs do I hold dear that reliable research would change?
BOB RIETZ is a retired pension actuary who lives in Asheville, N.C. His book, The Cottons of Grundisburgh, relating his forays into genealogy back to a small village in Suffolk, England, was published in March.