The New York Times reports that electric vehicles are better for the environment and cheaper in the long run than gasoline vehicles, despite their higher up-front costs. The NYT author argues that electric cars have lower maintenance costs and the lower costs of charging compared with gasoline prices tend to offset the higher upfront price over time. Another study, an analysis from the Union of Concerned Scientists, found that charging a vehicle was more cost effective than filling up at the pump across 50 major American cities. But, one car dealer who knows his customers and his market does not see it that way.
In order to be able to charge his electric vehicle at home, the car dealer, Geoffrey Pohanka, installed a Level II charger at a cost of about $850. A Level II charger was needed because charging an electric vehicle with a 250-mile range with a normal 120-volt plug requires about 54 hours. Charging with a Level II, 240-watt charger – the same voltage that a home drier uses—with a 64 kilowatt battery—requires up to ten hours, which can be done overnight.
The situation, however, is that charging at home may not be the only place that charging is needed. If the vehicle needs to be charged at a public charging station before returning home, there are a number of issues. First, not all public charging stations are the same. Tesla has a nationwide rapid-charging infrastructure, but Tesla uses a proprietary charging plug that does not work with other makes of vehicles. Volkswagen, as part of its diesel settlement, constructed a large charging network under the name of Electrify America. With the Electrify America charging network, however, there is only a ten-minute grace period once the 80 percent charge is achieved. After that, a 40 cents per minute charge is tacked on to the cost of charging, which limits shopping or other activities while charging, which takes a long time as discussed below.
Pohanka, with about 25 miles of battery range (10 percent of capacity), first tried a fast charger, located in an office park. It had three charging towers, each with two cords, but one of the cords fits only the Nissan Leaf. Pohanka had a choice of four 350 kilowatt chargers and one 50 kilowatt charger. Choosing the 50 kilowatt charger, the dealer plugged in the cord into his electric vehicle, inserted his credit card, and experienced his first public fast charge.
The time it takes a battery to charge depends on four things: the capacity of the charger, the capacity of the battery, the battery discharge condition, and the rate of charge that the battery will accept. The dealer’s electric vehicle would accept up to a 75 kilowatt rate of charge.
Because fast charging above 80 percent of capacity can damage the battery, Pohanka, who had ten percent capacity remaining, needed an additional 70 percent charge that would reach a vehicle range of 190 miles. It required one hour and ten minutes to charge at a cost of $21.07, or 43 cents per kilowatt. The cost would be less—about 34 cents per kilowatt if the dealer joined Electrify America for four dollars per month. Filling his gasoline vehicle for the same range would cost less – about $13. Charging an EV at a fast charger costs more per mile of range than filling up a gasoline-powered vehicle and takes 15 times longer. (The time required was about the same with a 150 kilowatt or 350 kilowatt charger.)
Since it required over one hour to charge the battery and since the dealer drives 80 miles a work-day, he would have to spend over 200 hours annually charging his vehicle without a home charger – the equivalent of 25 eight-hour working days, assuming no wait time for a charger and a charging station nearby office or home. Electric vehicle owners living in a town home, row house or an apartment, without access to a Level II home charger, would have to rely entirely on the public fast-charging network, thus reducing the 250-mile range of the vehicle to 190 miles to ensure the battery would not be damaged.
Based on the above, one electrical cord could charge about 20 cars each day at 80 miles per day driving and 170 miles available driving range. Looking at just the prime times of the day, a more realistic number would be 12 cars a day since it is doubtful many would be charging during odd hours. Ten thousand cars like the dealer’s would require 416 charging cords (or 208 towers with two cords each) at 50 percent capacity. It would require about 14 gasoline hoses (or seven towers) to fuel the same number of gasoline-powered vehicles in a fraction of the time. One hundred thousand electric vehicles would require over 4,000 available charging cords.
The other drawback to EVs is their higher cost. For example, the cost of a 2021 Hyundai Kona Ultimate is $46,985. The same model powered by gasoline costs $31,370, over $15,000 less. One reason for the price differential is the cost of the battery. To manufacture a 1,000-pound battery requires the processing of 50,000 pounds of ore with 500,000 pounds of overburden to get the ore. The lithium, cobalt, copper, and rare-earth minerals required to manufacture the battery largely come from abroad and 80 percent of battery manufacturing takes place in China, which also controls the world’s market for necessary minerals.
Manufacturing electric vehicles has a larger carbon footprint than gasoline vehicles. Further, the electricity for charging an electric vehicle in the United States today is generated mostly from fossil fuels—coal and natural gas, which have a 62 percent share. Some speculate that electric vehicle costs will decline with mass production and lower cost batteries, and that battery-charging times will be reduced with newer technologies. However, demand for necessary minerals will accelerate with the demand for more batteries, and that typically causes prices to increase. Until prices drop, affordability, lack of range, and charging times will be major handicaps to electric vehicle adoption.
For California to ban the sale of gasoline and diesel vehicles by 2035 as Governor Newsome wants, presumably working toward an all-electric market, charging stations will need to proliferate. California will need 1.5 million electric vehicle chargers by 2030, or three times what President Biden promised for the entire nation. The state has 67,000 chargers available today with another 121,000 in the pipeline. Furthermore, a massive 15 percent surge of electricity demand could arrive at midnight, when people are charging during off-peak hours. By 2030—five years short of the state’s all-electric sales goal—the state would need an additional 3,600 megawatts of power during the peak charging period starting at midnight, when solar panels do not work. That would mean absorbing an increase in electricity demand by up to 15 percent on weekdays and 16 percent on weekends. These are non-trivial issues and requires lots of money, which the state does not have because fees on state vehicle licensing and smog checks, which funds infrastructure, is heavily oversubscribed.
Electric vehicles are not a panacea for drivers today because of their high up-front costs, lack of range, higher carbon manufacturing footprint, and length of time and cost to charge. Electric vehicles are part of China’s dominance policy as China controls 80 percent of battery manufacturing and the majority of rare earth elements and critical metals needed for the manufacture of electric vehicles. As the United States under President Joe Biden pushes toward abandoning oil and increasing electric vehicle ownership, the U.S. trade imbalance will increase and its energy independence will decrease as it will be swapping domestic oil and natural gas resources for Chinese imports of supplies needed for electric vehicle manufacture.