Climate protection: An electric vehicle without the electrician

A battery-electric car at a charging station. (Photo courtesy Washington State Department of Ecology)

This month a mega-wildfire is burning through Texas, burning something like 500 homes and farms, thousands of livestock, mostly cattle; and the hay that surviving cattle would have eaten over more than a million acres. Costs to Texas ranchers will add up to billions.

There was some warning that the fires were coming: temperatures set new records for February the week before. Like in Canada, Oregon, and here in Washington State, record-setting temperatures produce record-setting drying, and that leads to record-setting wildfires.

These are the sort of costs people think about when it is claimed that America can’t afford to replace worn-out gasoline cars with electric cars or replace worn-out gas furnaces with heat pumps.

My family in Iowa reports that the temperatures there are swinging back and forth from 70 degrees one day to highs near freezing the next, followed by 70 again the next day.

Climatologist Katherine Hayhoe has suggested we not call it “global warming,” and we call it “global weirding.”

On our end, our work is to stop the global overheating pollution that we have been adding to the air. For that, we can keep driving the gasoline cars we have and keep heating our homes and water with gas, and when our cars and furnaces need replacing, we replace them with electric cars and heat pumps.

If your gasoline car is now wearing out, you might wonder how you’re going to charge an electric vehicle.

Most drivers charge their EVs at home overnight. Electric vehicles come with cables and adapters to plug them into regular 120V wall sockets.

A 120V outlet adds about five miles of driving range each charging hour. If you got home by 6 p.m., by 8 a.m. the next day, 120V charging could add 70 miles. Most Americans drive less than 40 miles a day. That doesn’t cover road trips. It does cover commuting to work and some errands on the way home.

A 10-year-old used EV with an 85-mile range and a regular wall outlet can be all you need to get to work and do some errands on the way home. And you can completely charge back up overnight with a regular 120V outlet.

Not everyone has electricity in their garage. Even if you did, you might want to replace your current outlet with a 240V outlet. A 240V outlet could add 250 miles of charge in 13 hours.

If your EV is pretty new, it can probably hold about 250 miles of charge. You could live in Everett and work in Vancouver, BC, (a 2-hour commute each way) and only charge at home, as long as you had a 240V outlet.

If your electric panel is in your garage and has spare capacity, you might be able to have an electrician install a new outlet for less than $1,000. If your electrician has to add a sub-panel in your basement and run a wire under your lawn to a detached garage, the project could be much more expensive.

Many people rent. It’s not reasonable to expect renters to pay hundreds of dollars to add new outlets to their apartment buildings or rental homes.

Renters need a way to charge away from home. The same goes for people with homes that would require expensive electrical work: they need a way to drive an electric car without the electrician.

In Lynnwood, most households rent. In Edmonds and Mountlake Terrace, almost 50% rent. In a decade or two, every apartment will come with a wired parking space, but today, renters need a way to charge away from home. Charging away from home also makes electric cars easier for folks whose homes would require expensive electrical upgrades.

The solution is that there are charging stations. Tesla has installed a network of charging stations to support road trips. Many Tesla stations have superchargers that are much faster than 240V chargers. A Tesla supercharger can add as high as 15 miles every minute of charging.

Adding 250 miles to a Tesla model 3 at a supercharger takes about a half-hour. Tesla provides this map of their supercharger locations; there are two superchargers in Lynnwood.

Tesla also provides this trip planner to map out how to go on a road trip. A 3,500-mile trip from Edmonds to Key West starts with a two-and-a-half-hour drive to Yakima and a 20-minute stop to charge before driving two hours to Pendleton and charging for 15 minutes. This is healthy; after two hours behind the wheel, it’s time to get out and stretch.

You can find closer charging stations on the PlugShare website, and you can ask Google Maps for “EV charging near me.” The Federal Department of Energy maintains this online map of charging locations. The site shows the chargers at WinCo, Campbell Nissan, Seaview Park, the Mountlake Terrace Police Department and Alderwood Mall.

Last month, the Washington State Electric Vehicle Charging Program announced that they were adding about 5,000 new charging stations, including six new public chargers at PCC in Edmonds, a bunch at Edmonds College, and 78 near the highway in Mount Vernon.

The program is also installing over 200 chargers in apartment house parking spaces, and over 200 for local governments. These chargers will all become active over the next year or two.

I hope that all these chargers are installed where people can keep an eye on them. Years ago, Burien added about 10 chargers to their park-and-ride. I stopped by to charge and found that all the chargers had been vandalized. I think the problem was the chargers were installed inside the building, out of sight of anyone who wasn’t inside parking their car.

I have charged at Wawas in Pennsylvania. (A Wawa is like a 7-11.) Every Wawa has at least four public chargers. I saw no sign of vandalism. I think the reason is that the convenience store is right there, watching.

How does this work for renters? Let’s say that you have a 30-mile commute round trip; 150 miles a week. With a gasoline car, you would have to fill up about every two weeks, spending about $26 per week on gas if you drive an all-gasoline car (with about 25 MPG), and about $13 per week if you drive a hybrid (about 50 MPG).

If you drive a new EV, you’ll have to charge up every week. Charging at a supercharger might take about nine minutes, depending on your car. Most non-Tesla charging stations provide what are called “level 3″ chargers that are faster than regular 240V charging.  A level 3 charger will take about 50 minutes. However you add charge at a station, adding 150 miles will cost about $10.

Friends have asked me whether I’m saying they must trade in their current car today for an EV. I don’t ask anyone to do that unless they were ready to get a new car.

I say “buy only electric.” Drive your car as long as you want to and then buy an electric vehicle. That will get us pretty close to zero global-overheating pollution by about 2050, because you will probably want to replace your car before 2050.

Once we have stopped burning gasoline and natural gas, we will have stopped almost all our greenhouse gas pollution.

— By Nick Maxwell

Nick Maxwell is a certified climate action planner at Climate Protection NW; teaches about climate protection at the Creative Retirement Institute; and serves on the Edmonds Planning Board.

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