Zap zap, zoom zoom: really?

By Norwood Long

Can the Chevy Bolt, with its affordable price and 200-mile range, turn electric vehicles from something weird into just another car?

Can the Chevy Bolt, with its affordable price and 200-mile range, turn electric vehicles from something weird into just another car?

There are about 255 million gasoline powered vehicles in use today, with an average life of 11 years, and 5 to 10 million new ones are added every year. They consume nearly 1/3 of all the fossil fuel burned in America every year, contributing significantly to noise and atmospheric pollution.

Depending on how the electricity to charge their batteries is generated, electric cars—plug-ins—have the potential to do their job without consuming any fossil fuel. Models are available in a range of prices and model options from several manufacturers. There are electric trucks, electric race cars, even electric hot rods. Many have highly engineered drive systems, boast equivalent fuel efficiencies of 90 to 100 miles per gallon, and drivers praise their economy, quietness, and responsiveness.

Today electric cars make up less than half a percent of the total. What would it take to increase their numbers? What would the consequences be?

The most obvious barrier today is battery charging. A typical electric vehicle has a range of 100 miles, takes from 4 to 8 hours to recharge at home, and commercial recharging stations are sparse in some parts of the country. That makes them fine for local errands, but problematic for long distance trips. Charging stations are beginning to appear, however; there is now a sign at the Quechee/Woodstock exit from northbound I89 to “EV charging station 2 miles.” And the Chevy Bolt, coming next year from old-line manufacturer GM, boasts a 200 mile range in a $30,000 plus hatchback.

Still, an entire infrastructure of gasoline delivery sites has evolved around the automobile, from mom and pop convenience stores to chains of brand-name gas stations—168,000 in America alone. What’s to become of them? How do you brand electricity? Or have price wars?

And what is the minimum practical charging time for a depleted battery? Or the impact of widespread simultaneous rapid charging on the electric grid?

Right now, changing from an internal combustion engine economy to an electric drive one feels daunting, but America has solved these kinds of problems before through changes in buying habits, government action, and private enterprise. Still, it’s hard to imagine a path from mostly fossil fuel cars to mostly electric cars in less than 30 to 50 years. What is the role for biofuels? Solves the fossil fuel problem, but leaves the noise and pollution problems. And how do we recycle 255 million plus obsolete cars?

Sustainable Woodstock would like your thoughts, comments, and questions. From time to time during the coming months we will cover various aspects of the migration from gasoline powered to electric cars in this column.

You can email your questions, comments, and personal experiences with electric cars and the transition from gasoline based transportation to Sally Miller or Norwood Long. Look for a joint session with other local energy committees on “The Road to Sustainable Transportation” coming in 2017.

Do just one thing: Think of your own transportation needs: would an electric car meet them?

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