When we measure the carbon footprint of an average household in Yorktown, transportation is typically the largest contributor to carbon emissions. In the United States as a whole, gasoline and diesel burning cars and light trucks account for fully 20 percent of our carbon emissions. Making sure your next vehicle is either a hybrid or a fully electric vehicle (EV) is an important step you can take to protect the planet. And don’t worry about battery life. Consumer Reports estimates they are good for about 17 years or 200,000 miles. There are generally three types of electric drive vehicles:
Hybrid Cars (HEV) have a downsized internal combustion engine (ICE) and an electric motor. Hybrid gas-electric cars are simple, fueled by gasoline but use a battery and electric motor to improve efficiency. The battery is not recharged at a charging station; instead, it is recharged by reclaiming energy while braking or driving on engine power. The Honda Insight and Toyota Prius were the first generally available hybrid cars. The ICE provides power at higher speeds and in higher load conditions, and the battery-electric system moves the vehicle at low speeds and low-load conditions. This allows the ICE to work in its ideal efficiency range, thus providing excellent fuel economy, especially in city driving conditions, increasing fuel efficiency by about 50 percent. Hybrids typically have driving ranges of over 500 miles on a tank of gas. They offer a good compromise between efficiency, usability and overall cost. Although the cost is typically higher than a purely ICE-driven vehicle of the same size, it is offset by fuel savings. Note also that the brake systems typically last much longer resulting in additional maintenance savings.
Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEV) are similar to Hybrids, but contain a larger battery, which is recharged with outside sources. The plug-in part of their name comes from their ability to be plugged into an electric car charging station or a household current receptacle (120 or 240v), usually in one’s garage. Depending on the type of vehicle, PHEVs can be driven up to approximately 50 miles on battery before the ICE seamlessly kicks in. They provide exceptional fuel mileage and a range comparable to internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles. The Chevy Volt was the first mass-produced Plug-in Hybrid; it is no longer manufactured, but reasonably priced used models are available. Given their versatility, PHEVs might be today’s choice for single vehicle families; or if your household is among the 80 percent of households in the U.S. which maintain a vehicle that averages only 40 miles per day, a PHEV is an excellent option.
Battery Electric Vehicles (BEV), or more frequently called EVs, have electric motors and are powered by electricity stored in a rechargeable battery. They are powered exclusively by electricity; no gas is used. There is never a need to go to a gas station, and they are much cheaper to operate. There are no tailpipe emissions, so when charged with renewable energy, you cut CO2 emissions substantially. Driving range in today’s cars can vary between 60 and 250 miles, depending on the model. Although the purchase price is slightly higher than a standard gas-powered vehicle, federal tax credits of up to $7,500 may apply. The government is phasing out the EV tax credits as sales increase, on the theory that the high initial cost of adding new technology to a vehicle will come down as economies of scale improve with more sales. The expiration date is separate for each manufacturer and only comes after an automaker sells 200,000 qualified vehicles. Tesla hit the milestone first in July 2018. As a result, there are no federal tax credits for Tesla EVs now.
EV owners realize substantial savings on operation and maintenance. Studies have shown that with a typical driving regimen, a Tesla Model 3 recoups its added upfront cost within three years. And by the way, EVs are fun to drive! They are smooth and quiet, and their high torque—even at low speeds—provides instant accelerator response (typically 0-60 m/h in 3.4 seconds or less), and better performance in snow. Their low center of gravity is good for vehicle handling. Unfortunately, the infrastructure for recharging fully electric vehicles on the extensive highway system of the United States is still in its infancy, so currently an EV may be more suitable as a second family car.
A great way to learn more about hybrids and EVs is to join one of the in-person or virtual events being organized for National Drive Electric Week, (driveelectricweek.org) taking place between Sept 26 and Oct 4. The goal is to share the experience of electric vehicle owners and bring information about the many reasons to adopt electric vehicles to consumers and the general public. Locally, events are scheduled to take place in Bedford (via Bedford2020), Mount Kisco (via Sustainable Westchester) and Mahopac (via Sustainable Putnam). Check out their websites for additional information. You can also find more information on transportation options, EVs and other resources to save energy from the Yorktown100 resources page (yorktown100.org/resources)
Yorktown100 is a 100 percent volunteer group of neighbors working together to reduce our carbon footprint by 5 percent a year through various initiatives. Please contact us if you would like to learn more, or would like to join. We welcome new members! Visit us at yorktown100.org and help make a difference.
Sarah Wilson is a member of Yorktown100 and the Climate Smart Communities Task Force for the town of Yorktown. She is the organizer of Repair Cafes in Yorktown and serves on the Executive Committee of Sierra Club Lower Hudson Group. She and her husband Bob drive a Chevy Bolt (EV) and a Chevy Volt (HEV). The last time she visited a gas station was in May 2017.