This article was written by Maya Hoon, an NC STEM Policy Fellow with the North Carolina Department of Transportation.
It is true that there are additional energy inputs and emission outputs associated with manufacturing an EV because of its battery. However, even taking into account manufacturing and emissions from the electricity used for charging, EVs typically have lower total GHG emissions over their lifetime compared to gasoline-powered vehicles.
It’s important to note that unlike gasoline-powered vehicles, EVs have zero tailpipe emissions, avoiding significant release of GHGs during operation.
These findings are illustrated in a study conducted by Argonne National Laboratory. Researchers estimated emissions for both a gasoline-powered vehicle and an EV with a 300-mile range. In their estimates, while GHG emissions from EV manufacturing and end of life are higher (shown in orange below), total GHG emissions for the EV are lower than those for the gasoline-powered vehicle.
GHG emissions from a gasoline-powered vehicle’s total lifecycle are almost double those of an EV with a 300-mile range, and a large proportion (74%) of those emissions are produced while the gas car is in use. In other words: the tailpipe emissions.
FEEDSTOCK & FUEL
Over half (65%) of the GHG emissions in an EV’s lifecycle come from the materials used as feedstock to fuel the vehicle — the local energy sources used to generate electricity for charging. North Carolina has increased solar power production in recent years and currently ranks fourth in the nation for solar capacity.
Below, you can see the state’s electricity generation mix — and associated vehicle emissions — using the Alternative Fuels Data Center’s online tool.
In all, almost half of the state’s electricity is generated from zero-emission sources, including nuclear (~34%) and renewable energy (~14%). Renewable energy is expected to further increase with the passage of HB 951, which aims to reduce North Carolina’s carbon emissions by 70% by 2030 and to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. Cleaner energy source additions to the electric grid mean cleaner fuel for EVs.
There is still some reasonable apprehension with EV batteries when it comes to the materials used to develop them. Recycling batteries would reduce the need for new materials and thus reduce the emissions produced when manufacturing an EV.
Several policies have opened avenues to greener battery development. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) invested $6 billion to create a battery material processing grant program and a battery manufacturing and recycling grant program. The IIJA will also be investing $335 million in lithium-ion battery recycling programs over the next five years. These programs will provide key insight into how to recycle critical materials efficiently and extend battery life.
It is also worth noting that EV batteries retain approximately 70% capacity at the time they become unsuitable for propelling a car. This means they still have potential for other uses after being removed from an EV, including as on-site energy storage to support electric grids and renewable energy.
Electricity generated in North Carolina is becoming cleaner and less dependent on coal — the largest GHG-emitting fuel. The carbon footprint of an EV depends on how the power it uses to charge is generated, which varies by region and by state.
Reports show that an average EV in the U.S. results in lower emissions than the average new gasoline-powered vehicle (also see Myth #1). Specifically, driving an EV produces emissions equal to a 91-mpg gasoline-powered vehicle. Given North Carolina’s electricity generation mix, an average EV would have GHG emissions equivalent to a 98-mpg gasoline-powered vehicle. An even more-efficient EV would have GHG emissions equivalent to a 129-mpg gasoline vehicle.
The gasoline mpg equivalent of driving an EV in the U.S. Some EV models are more efficient than others and produce fewer GHG emissions.
In North Carolina, electricity is currently the second-largest source of GHG emissions, behind transportation, but it experienced the largest reduction (35%) in emissions between 2005 and 2018. This was achieved through a shift from coal to renewable energy — which is carbon free — and natural gas combustion — which emits 40% less carbon. However, natural gas is still a fossil fuel, so concerted efforts have been pooled into producing cleaner electricity.
Overall, North Carolina is currently among the 10 states with the lowest natural gas use per capita. 14% of the state’s electricity is provided by renewable energy (solar, hydro, wind, and biomass), and its use is expected to increase with the passage of HB 951, which aims to reduce North Carolina’s carbon emissions by 70% by 2030 and to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.
North Carolina ranks fourth in the country in solar capacity and is 10th in energy efficiency. It also ranked fifth in electricity production from nuclear power in 2020, which accounted for 34% of the state’s net generation.
Offshore wind energy is on the rise as well. Gov. Roy Cooper signed Executive Order No. 218, setting targets of 2.8 gigawatts of wind energy generated off the North Carolina coast by 2030 and 8 gigawatts by 2040.
Cleaner energy source additions to the electric grid mean cleaner fuel for EVs, and North Carolina is well on the path to achieving both.
Fortunately, it is unlikely that you will have to worry about replacing an EV’s battery during the vehicle’s lifetime. Annual battery loss rates are estimated to be around 2.5%, which should outlast the EV’s useful life.
When comparing mileage and durability, reports show that EVs can be just as reliable as gas-powered vehicles. As with gas-powered vehicles, proper maintenance of an EV and its battery is important to prolonging travel and performance reliability and ensuring they last as long as possible. Here are ways to extend battery life:
Optimal operating and charging instructions vary from manufacturer to manufacturer because of differences in battery chemistries and cooling technologies.
EVs with liquid-cooled batteries tend to have a better battery life retention since they are able to maintain lower operating temperatures. Aim to store and operate your EV in a more moderate climate. If you live in a warmer climate, park your vehicle in a garage or well-shaded area if possible.
Try to use DC fast/Level 3 charging only when necessary and only charge to 80% of the battery’s capacity. Frequent DC fast charging may negatively impact battery performance and durability over time (also see Myth #10 for more information on different charging levels).
Federal law requires warranties to cover EV batteries for at least 8 years or 100,000 miles. If anything happens to your battery within that period, you can get it replaced. This coverage exceeds the mandated warranty for gas-powered vehicles’ drivetrain, which is 5 years or 60,000 miles.
If you fall outside the warranty, an EV battery replacement can be costly (likely several thousand dollars), but technology advancements will continue to drive prices down.
The Inflation Reduction Act incentivizes EV purchasers with $7,500 in tax credits that are applied if the EV’s battery was domestically processed and developed with domestically sourced materials. This will encourage EV manufacturers to expand production and sourcing in North America.
In addition, being able to reuse, recycle, and supply EV batteries domestically will lower their costs, making EVs more affordable (also see Myth #1 for more information on battery recycling).
Recent Consumer Reports reliability surveys show that EV owners are saving up to 50% on repair and maintenance costs when averaged over a typical vehicle lifetime. In other words, EVs cost half as much to repair and maintain as gasoline-powered vehicles.
This reduction in cost can be attributed to far fewer moving parts in the electric motors and drivetrain components than in internal combustion engines in gasoline-powered vehicles. An EV owner can expect few maintenance requirements aside from keeping up with windshield wipers and tires. EVs do not require many fluid changes, and regenerative braking — a system that recovers lost energy from slowing down — puts less wear on the braking system. This means drivers can go longer between service.
Preliminary studies find that battery EVs have a lower chance of catching fire (0.03% likelihood) than internal combustion engine vehicles (1.5% likelihood).
Furthermore, industries have been pushing to transition towards lithium-iron-phosphate batteries over nickel, cobalt, and manganese incorporated batteries. Lithium-iron-phosphate is considered a safer cathode material that experiences lower temperature rise, reducing the potential for thermal runaway — a process initiated by an accelerated increase in temperature that results in the lithium-ion batteries catching fire.
These findings indicate that fires in EVs are rarer and will continue to be relatively rare as manufacturers use lithium-iron-phosphate batteries. However, since the batteries in EVs are still a relatively young technology, more studies are being conducted to get an even better understanding of the risk.
Source: U.S. Geological Survey
As companies become more aware of the ethical and environmental concerns surrounding cobalt mining, they are working to reduce its use in EV batteries and to source it more ethically. Contrary to popular belief, EV batteries do not need cobalt to work.
Since 2018, lithium-iron-phosphate has been on the rise to becoming the dominant battery chemistry for EVs, over nickel-manganese-cobalt batteries, reaching almost half of the current EV battery market share (40%) globally.
The U.S. has some of the world’s largest lithium reserves and is starting to focus on domestic mining processes to meet the growing demand for lithium-iron-phosphate batteries. With a heavier reliance on these batteries, there will be a decreased dependency on foreign imports.
Through managed charging, it is possible to maintain a reliable and resilient electric grid even with the mass adoption of EVs.
The grid could likely not handle this change if the majority of EV charging occurred during peak hours for electricity use — hours when electricity use is already very high (i.e., during hot summer afternoons or cold winter mornings). However, encouraging charging during off-peak hours can diminish EV demand impacts on the grid. This can be achieved through managed charging practices, which consist of the following:
Not only can managed charging reduce the burden on the electric grid, it can also create downward rate pressure, resulting in lower electricity costs for everyone, not just EV drivers. To encourage more individuals to charge during off-peak hours and experience financial savings, many utilities have started to adopt time-of-use plans with lower electricity rates during off-peak hours.
Electric utilities continue to prepare for EVs and investigate effective ways to plan load management so that they may better accommodate the fluctuations in energy supply and demand in real time. Additionally, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act provide funding for projects that may provide insight into how to make the electric grid more resilient and reliable. Therefore, more solutions and practices to reduce the burden on the grid — including advancements in bidirectional charging — will be coming.
Source: Smart Cities Dive
Individual chargers may be damaged by water and go out of service; however, EV charging infrastructure can be waterproofed to ensure uninterrupted service. Additionally, infrastructure can be built at a suitable elevation to mitigate water damage.
This water-resistant infrastructure will be important to implement in flood-prone areas and communities vulnerable to extreme weather events. However, water-resistant infrastructure raises costs by 50% to 60%. This should be carefully considered by charging station site hosts and will be explored in prioritization strategies by the North Carolina Department of Transportation when allocating funds through the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure program and future federal funding initiatives.
EVs can operate in cold weather, but it is important to practice proper EV battery maintenance since cold weather does put strain on the battery. Here are some ways to maximize an EV’s battery performance in cold weather:
It is important to keep in mind that driving on snow-covered roads requires more energy than dry pavement, so EVs may experience a drop in range in these conditions. Keeping the heater on will also decrease range (though less so in models with heat pumps). However, you can limit this drop by using features such as preconditioning, which can warm the vehicle while it’s still plugged in, prior to driving, to maximize range in cold weather.
EVs may also actually be safer than gas-powered vehicles in winter conditions. They have a more evenly dispersed weight distribution on the bottom, making them harder to flip compared to gas-powered vehicles. Some EV models have dual motors on the front and back axles that make them easier to maneuver in general.
Driving up steep inclines or in deep snow may be a challenge, but this is a difficulty faced by gas-powered vehicles as well. A similar solution of attaching winter tires or using snow chains would help.
There are different available charger options that you can use to best fit into your schedule and meet your needs. The time it takes to charge an EV depends on your vehicle as well as the model and throughput of the charger.
LEVEL 1 CHARGERS
One notable benefit of owning an EV is having the convenience of charging at home if you are a homeowner. With Level 1 charging, which uses a standard 120-volt outlet, no special equipment is needed, aside from the charging cord that typically comes with the car. All you do is plug in the EV at night, and you can potentially wake up to a fully charged EV. An EV using Level 1 charging can add around 4 miles of range per hour, so you can expect anywhere from 30 to 60 miles of added range the next morning.
Another benefit to Level 1 charging units is their mobility. They can be easily carried around whenever and wherever you’d like.
LEVEL 2 CHARGERS
Level 2 chargers are the most prevalent type of charger in the U.S. and can provide 12 to 60 miles of range per hour. On average, these chargers are about five times faster than a Level 1 charger and can fully charge an EV in up to 8 hours. All EVs have Level 2 charging compatibility.
Level 2 chargers can be installed at home, too, and are akin to having your own gas pump in your garage. Out of the house, they are often found in public locations — including grocery stores, malls, and retail establishments — where users can plug in and do other activities while the car charges. These chargers can also be sited in workplaces, where employees can charge EVs while at work, or at apartment and condominium complexes.
Residential Level 2 charger prices can range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars depending on the type of electrical upgrades required. However, it’s often a worthy investment if you want a faster charging station with the ease of charging from home. It is important to note that these chargers are typically wall-mounted and cannot be carried around, so they are not portable like Level 1 charging units.
LEVEL 3/DC FAST CHARGERS
Level 3 or DC fast chargers, which are often found off highway and traffic corridors, can charge an EV to about 80% capacity in approximately half an hour. As more research explores ways to advance charging and battery technology, charging times may decrease.
Level 3/DC fast chargers are meant more for long-distance travel, and EV owners should aim to use them only when necessary. While most EVs come with Level 3 charging capability, some do not, so if you want to use these chargers, ask about this feature before purchasing an EV.
In September 2022, North Carolina’s National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (NEVI) plan was approved as part of the funding provided to states through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The focus of NEVI is to deploy Level 3/DC fast chargers every 50 miles along North Carolina’s interstates and highways, leading to a reliable network of high-powered chargers for efficient long-distance travel. Across the U.S., the NEVI plans of all 50 states were approved, so EV owners can expect a stronger, interconnected EV charging network throughout the nation.
Source: Drive Electric Colorado
Smartphones are not always necessary to use a public charging station. Most EV stations, although not all, accept credit cards.
Charging network apps on smartphones and registered accounts through these apps are being used because of the ability to accrue membership points and benefits from charging purchases.
It is true that EVs tend to have a higher upfront cost than gas-powered models — the current price gap is around $10,000 — but as the technology matures and EVs become more mainstream, the gap will decrease. There are currently dozens of models available in North Carolina that vary in price — along with a growing used market — to help customers purchase a vehicle within their budget.
REBATES & INCENTIVES
The U.S. government offers federal tax credits up to $7,500 for new EVs and up to $4,000 for used EVs to drive down their initial price. Automakers, electric utilities, and municipalities also offer incentives, such as discounts on home chargers and electricity rates.
EVs have fewer moving parts than gasoline vehicles, resulting in lower investments in maintenance and reduced need for replacement parts. They also do not require oil changes, which is among the more common causes for service calls.
ELECTRICITY PRICES VS. GASOLINE PRICES
Along with their lower maintenance costs, EVs are cheaper to run than gas-powered vehicles because electricity prices are lower than gasoline. Annual fuel cost savings for an EV in North Carolina is $484. Electricity prices are also more stable than gasoline, which can help with budgeting.
On a full charge, nearly all EVs can drive at least 200 miles, making them sufficient for an average household’s daily travel, which is approximately 50 miles per day. 85% of households do not travel more than 100 miles a day unless they are taking a long-distance trip.
If an EV’s range is a concern, EV owners can rest easy because public charging infrastructure is rapidly expanding. In September 2022, North Carolina’s NEVI deployment plan was approved. Part of the funding available through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the NEVI program requires states to deploy Level 3 (DC fast) chargers every 50 miles along North Carolina’s interstates and highways, leading to a reliable network of high-powered chargers for efficient long-distance travel. All 50 states’ submitted plans were approved, which will provide a strong, interconnected charging network throughout the nation.
If you are not ready to go fully electric, there are also plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) available. PHEVs combine an electric motor with an internal combustion engine. They can usually drive 20-50 miles on electricity and then a few hundred more on gasoline.