Watt, Why & How e-Newsletter

Plugging In: Charging Electric Vehicles

Vehicle chargerAll-electric vehicles (EVs) run on electricity only. They are propelled by an electric motor powered by rechargeable battery packs. EVs were among the earliest available automobiles, but their use declined in favor of gasoline-fueled vehicles. With increasing concerns about the environment and dependence on foreign oil, interest in electric-powered vehicles is growing. Popular models include the Nissan Leaf and the Ford Focus Electric. New models from Kia and Volkswagen are due to hit the road in 2014.

When compared to conventional automobiles, EVs have a number of advantages:

  • EVs convert up to 62 percent of the electricity from the grid to power the wheels, while combustion engines use only about 21 percent of the energy stored in gasoline to fuel the vehicle.
  • Electricity is primarily a domestic energy source, which reduces energy dependence.
  • EVs emit no air pollutants, although the power plant generating the electricity may emit them. Renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar, do not produce air emissions.

EVs do have a shorter driving range than gasoline vehicles and typically, they cost more to purchase. EV charging time can take up to 8 hours, depending on the vehicle and the type of charger used. Researchers are working to improve battery technology to increase driving range and reduce charging time.

Getting a charge

One limitation with EVs has always been keeping them charged. Unlike conventional automobiles, there is not a refueling station around every corner. That is starting to change; vehicle owners have a growing number of public charging stations available, as well as increasingly affordable home charging options.

Public charging. Public charging stations are typically found in city-owned parking lots, university campuses, shopping centers, hospitals and other public areas. While finding available charging stations remains a challenge in some areas, the electric vehicle charging infrastructure is growing. There are now nearly 7,700 public electric vehicle charging stations in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Many of these use so-called "fast charging" equipment that can add 80 miles in range in 20 minutes or less. Use the Alternative Fueling Station Locator to find charging stations in your area.

Charging at home. Charging stations can be installed in a garage or outside, if the equipment is rated for outdoor use. Level 1 chargers use a standard 120 volt outlet and add up to five miles of range per hour, providing overnight charging. Drivers with less regular schedules or longer commutes can install Level 2 charging equipment, which increases range and reduces charging time. Level 2 chargers are more expensive and require a 240 volt service. Some homes may require added circuitry by a qualified electrician to accommodate Level 2 equipment.

Tax incentives

Federal, state and local incentives are available for the purchase of EVs and charging equipment. The Plug-In Electric Drive Motor Vehicle Credit provides federal tax incentives of up to $7,500 for the purchase of qualified EVs. The U.S. Department of Energy maintains a searchable database of state incentives for electric vehicles and equipment. 

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