Plugging into Electric Cars

Tuesday, August 14, 2012 24 comments
Interview with Mark Thomason of PluginRecharge.com
by Tammy Odierna, Florida Renewable Energy Association

The electric car is anything but dead in Central Florida.  A promising technology that has existed for decades, it is becoming more feasible for Florida residents.  Proponents of electric vehicles (EV) tout that its electric motor powered by rechargeable battery packs are advantageous to typical internal combustion engines.  For example, electric vehicles convert about 59–62% of the electrical energy from the grid to power at the wheels—conventional gasoline vehicles only convert about 17–21% of the energy stored in gasoline to power at the wheels. EVs also emit no tail-pipe pollution, provide quiet, smooth operation, and allow for greater energy independence for the United States.
However, EVs don’t come without their share of roadblocks.  Their mileage is limited per charge, and the infrastructure for charging stations is still being developed.  Batteries are expensive and the initial cost of EVs are far more costly than a traditional gas-fueled vehicle.
Mark Thomason is the former Director of Business Development at Palmer Electric.  As such, he was involved in marketing, selling, and overseeing the installation of over 100 public and private EV charging stations in Central Florida and worked with several companies to install them for theme parks, hotels, local governments, and utilities. Mark now works for Symantec as the Product Strategist for Backup Exec. He is also the owner of a Nissan Leaf and the author of the popular online blog, Plugin Recharge.  Mr. Thomason is an active member of Get Ready Central Florida (GRCF) which is a coalition of state and local governments, utility providers, businesses, and electric vehicle enthusiasts who are committed to preparing Central Florida for the early release of highway-ready, plug-in electric vehicles.
FREA: You have stated that Orlando is “ready for EV.”  Could you further explain what you mean by this?
MT: Here are the BIG things that we’ve accomplished in Orlando since 2009 which made us THE early adopter city for EVs in Florida:

  • Signed an Memorandum of Understanding with Rocky Mountain Institute to become a “Get Ready” city.  This focused our efforts on properly rolling out EVs in our metro area.  (www.PlugAndGoNow.com)
  • Signed an Memorandum of Understanding with Nissan…which made Orlando the launch city in Florida for the Leaf.
  • Held several public Stakeholder Meetings to get people educated and involved.
  • Seized the opportunity to be a “ChargePoint America” city that helped seed our Public Charging Infrastructure.
Because of these early efforts, Orlando is now nationally identified as an early adopter city for Electric Vehicles.  Here are a few examples:

  • The first Chevy Volt sold in Florida was in Central Florida in Q3 2011
  • The first Nissan Leaf sold in Florida was in Central Florida in Q4 2011
  • We’re in the “First Wave” EV Cities in a Roland Berger/Rocky Mountain Institute study.
  • We’re a target city for the launch of the Ford Focus EV in late Summer 2012.
  • We’ve got a Fisker Automotive Dealership which has delivered many Karmas to Central Florida residents.
  • Frito-Lay in Orlando has 10 fill electric Smith Electric delivery vehicles dropping off snack food around town. - At the end of 2011, there were over 150 public charging stations deployed around Orlando.
FREA: In your opinion, what are the three biggest advantages to owning an EV?
MT: EVs are Cleaner to Operate: Much lower CO2 emissions, no oil changes, no coolant flushes, no tailpipe emissions, no off gasses from refueling, no need to truck explosive fuel across the nation, no need to run dirty refineries, no need for inefficient tankers to transport oil across the ocean… and occasionally spill in the ocean, and no need for offshore oil platforms that occasionally spill massive amounts of oil in the ocean which destroy ecosystems and our food and tourism.
EVs are Cheaper to Operate: Even though electricity is currently more expensive than gasoline (~$4.75/kWh for an equal amount of energy in 1 gallon of gasoline), electric vehicles are 5 times+ more efficient than gasoline cars since they don’t waste ~80% of their energy making heat…which gets you nowhere.

Another benefit of EVs making little waste heat is that for people who park their cars in their garage at night, EVs can help lower their A/C cost since they no longer park a very hot engine in the garage.

On the subject of maintenance, EVs have very few moving parts (typically less than 10) which means there’s less to break…they also have no oil changes, timing belts, coolant flushes, spark plugs, exhaust pipes, etc….which means YOU also save time by not taking it someplace to get it maintained either.

EVs use Domestic Fuel: The US generates electricity using many domestically sourced fossil fuel (uranium, coal, natural gas) and a growing number of renewable electricity sources (wind, solar, geothermal, hydropower), which means we don’t have to export billions of dollars each month to other countries.  This greatly improves our trade deficit and national security while lowering the need for defense to secure the oil coming to our country.
FREA: What would you say are the biggest disadvantages?
MT: Range: Outside of the $90,000 Tesla S which has a 300 mile range, most affordable EVs only go 70-100 miles on a charge.  While 70-100 miles is MUCH more than most of us travel in a day, owning a car that limits you to this range is not acceptable to most people.

Recharge Availability: For people with a single family home, owning an EV is great because you can conveniently charge at home.  However, for the people that live in an apartment or condo, getting access to a charging station means convincing someone to install one…and that can be a challenge until EVs are more popular.

Price: Just like flat panel TVs were much more expensive than tube TVs 15 years ago, first generation EVs are more expensive than gas powered cars…and just like flat panel TVs are very affordable now, EVs will follow suit.  The main reason EVs are expensive now is because the batteries they use are built in new manufacturing facilities, are highly engineered, are tested in all environments.  However, most of this investment is upfront costs, so EVs will fall in price quickly if people adopt them.

As a forth reason, EVs are New & Different and the people are very conservative in this economy: Buying a car is the typically the second largest purchase people make, so people want the most from their investment and want it to do everything they want…that’s why many people bought big SUVs.  While owning and driving an EV is very similar to a gas powered car, they are more limiting than gas powered cars. You just have to appreciate the advantages more than the disadvantages.
FREA: It’s said the EV is great for the environment since it’s not fossil
fuel dependent, leading to less CO2 emissions. However, opponents state that electricity plants needed to charge the cars are mostly coal powered, which still leads to C02 emissions. What would you say to this?
MT: Quoting a recent study by the Union of Concerned Scientist on this very topic: “Nearly half of Americans live in the BEST regions where charging an EV on the electricity grid emits LESS global warming pollution that driving even the best hybrids (>50 mpg)”. Only 18% of the population lives in a region where electricity is dirty enough that equal a car getting 31 mpg…and there are very few cars that get 31 or better MPG.
Unlike gas powered cars that get more inefficient with each mile you drive them and generate MORE CO2 as they age, EVs get cleaner as they age. This is because the US is shutting down more old dirty coal power plants and installing more renewable energy power plants.
FREA: Approximately how many miles can you drive before needing to charge?
MT: Just like a gas powered car, range varies widely by the way you drive. I have a Nissan Leaf and I can comfortably drive 75 miles around the city and not worry about recharging.  The longest trip was 110 miles using a short 2 hour charge at my destination.  Most days I don’t go more than 40 miles, so I rarely have to use public charging.
FREA: How long does it take to re-charge an EV and how do you envision a future highway charging infrastructure will look?
MT: On a typical day driving 30-50 miles, it takes my Nissan Leaf less than 3 hours to recharge. Since I have a single family home with a charger installed in the garage, I plug my car in at night when I get home and it’s ready with a full battery in the morning.
On the topic of highway charging, I think that fast charging stations (DC) will slowly be added near highways to quickly recharge drivers who want to keep driving. It will be an incremental change. You can see this in action on the West Coast starting in Oregon here.
FREA: Currently, how many charging stations exist in the Orlando area?
MT: There are over 150 public charging stations in the Central Florida area. You can find a map of charging stations here.
FREA: What are the maintenance costs associated with owning an EV? How often do you need to change the batteries, and what is the cost?
MT: The maintenance cost requirements for a Nissan Leaf are very small – just semi-annual tire rotations and annual brake fluid replacements; no oil changes, coolant flushes, belt replacements, automatic transmission fluid, air filters, etc. As for battery life, most new EVs sold today have long warranties on their batteries…  for example, the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt both have 100,000 mile/8 year warranties…  so there’s less risk that you’ll be stuck with a defective battery.  As for replacement cost, I’m guessing the batteries will be 60% cheaper in 8 years…  if not more.
FREA: What type of rebates and incentives are available in FL if you purchase an EV?
MT: Florida doesn’t have any incentives for purchasing an EV (unlike many other states including Georgia). So Florida residents can only take advantage of the Federal Tax Credit worth up to $7500.  If you lease an EV, most manufacturers factor the tax credit into your lease payments.
FREA: Where should those interested in purchasing EVs go to get more information?
MT: The best thing someone should do is to GO DRIVE ONE at your local Chevy or Nissan dealership. That experience will change your mind about EVs. Outside of that, there are MANY good resources on the Internet, including local resources like www.PlugAndGoNow.com and my blog atwww.PluginRecharge.com.  Other good resources are www.gas2.organd www.plugincars.com.
FREA: This is great, Mark. Many thanks for taking the time to share this info on the state of EVs in Florida!
Interview by  Tammy Odierna