EV 101

Understand the basics on Electric Cars

EV 101

An EV is an Electric Vehicle.  A vehicle that powered by an electric motor, not by a gasoline engine . An EV is different from a Hybrid car and a Plug-in Hybrid (PHEV) in that, contrary to them, there are no gasoline engines in an EV. In a Hybrid and a Plug-in Hybrid, in addition to the Electric Motor there is a gasoline engine whose purpose is to either power the car or power a generator to produce electricity for the Electric Motor, or both. Hence, Hybrid Vehicles and Plug-in Hybrids both have a Gasoline Engine AND an Electric Motor.  An EV only has an Electric Motor. EVs are sometimes called pure EV in the sense that they only have Electric Motors and no Gasoline Engine.  They are purely electric vehicles.

Guess what? EVs need to be charged

Since EVs have Electric Motors, these wonderful motors need electricity to move the car. While they would drive fine with an extension cord to your house or using overhead wires like some tramways do, this is not how EVs work. EVs have batteries to power their Electric Motors. Those batteries need to be charged before the EVs can drive to where you want to go.

There are different places you can charge an EV. You can charge at home in a regular electric outlet, like the one you use to plug your coffee machine or your Instant Pot. Most houses have an exterior electric outlet close to the driveway and all garages have electric outlets you can use to charge your future EV.

Charging

Charging at home, level 1 and 2

Charging from a regular electric outlet (also called 110V or 120V) is very slow because there is not a lot of current coming out of it, about 12 to 15 amperes (amps) or 1500 watts (w) or 1.5 kilowatts (kw). Charging your car on a 110V outlet can take anywhere from 9 to 20+ hours depending on the size of the battery you have in your EV. This type of charger is also called Level 1 and it will give you approximately 4 or 5 miles of range per hour.

You can also install a, commonly called, clothes dryer outlet or oven outlet. They are 220V in north america and can output 40 amps, 60 amps or even 100 amps. This can cut down the time to charge your EV to around 5 hours for a complete charge. This type of charger is also called Level 2 and it will give you approximately 30 or more miles of range per hour.

One of the big advantages of an EV over a Gas powered car, also called an Internal Combustion Engine car (ICE) is that with an EV, you can "refuel" at home, you don't have to go to a refueling station. You come home at the end of your day, plug your EV and when your significant other cooks you some eggs in the morning, your EV is fully charged, like magic!  No need to stop by the gas station on your way home or quickly in the morning before your first meeting.

Stopping momentarily to charge on a road trip

On a road trip when you need to drive farther than the range of your EV, you need to charge on the go. In those cases, you can charge your EV at a public charger or fast charger. Those chargers are either operated by governments or private compagnies and they are very happy to allow you to charge your EV, for a fee. You will pay more than the cost of your electricity when you charge at home but....you are not home so what else can you do?  

Those public chargers are never level 1, they would be too slow to be of any use.   They can be of level 2 so they are not necessarily faster to charge your EV than if you were at home. There are also Level 3 chargers which are appearing more and more and are significantly faster. They put out 50 kw of electricity and can allow you to charge your battery to 80% in about half an hour, assuming your EV does not have too big of a battery.

One last option exists only for owners of EVS made by Tesla Motors. Tesla has installed their own charger network across North America, Europe and China. Tesla calls their chargers Superchargers because they can output up to 250 kw, making it very quick to charge a Tesla. This network is proprietary to Tesla and no other EVs can charge there.

Charging for the night on a road trip

In the case where your road trip does not allow you back home for the night, more and more hotels are offering you the ability to charge with a level 1 or 2 outlet during the night.  Some don’t even charge a fee since, this is a way for them to attract EV owners.

Charging summary

You will charge most of the time at home.  When away from home, you can charge at level 2 or 3 chargers, if you are on the road and only stopping to eat or take a bio break.  You can charge at level 2 at hotels and restaurants.  You can charge at level 1 on grandmas plug.

Batteries

Battery size matters

Let's talk about size. Battery size that is. This is quite simple. The bigger the battery you have in your EV, the farther you will be able to drive without recharging.  This is also called the range of your EV. Size of EV batteries or battery pack is expressed in kilowatts-hour (kwh). For example, the biggest battery pack there is for an EV is 100 kwh for either the Tesla Model S or the Tesla Model X which allows the Model S to drive 370 miles before needed to be recharged.

Taking care of you battery pack

This may sound weird but contrary to a good old gas engine car, you need to care of the battery pack. First of all, the battery does not like to stay fully-charged or fully discharged for long period of time because they will deteriorate faster which means that they will hold less and less charge as time goes by. Most EVs allow you to set the maximum amount of charge you want in your battery when you charge, so it is safe to set this maximum to 80 or 90%. If you need to leave for a roadtrip, it is ok to charge your battery pack at 100% but make sure that as soon as the car finished charging, you are ready to go.

Your Battery pack does not like to have cold feet or hot flashes

Your battery pack loves to be around 72F. When it becomes colder, it will not release all the electricity it has stored. This will reduce the range you can drive in the winter. When it becomes hot, this will slowly permanently damage your battery. For these reasons, most EVs have thermal management system, which is a fancy term to say that they incorporate a battery heater and most of the time a battery cooler also. One thing to note is the Nissan Leaf, does not have a liquid-cooled battery. The battery pack relies on air that is passing underneath the battery to "cool" it. During the winter months, the battery stays cool but in the warmer months and especially on road trips, the battery tends to heat up. If the battery is too hot, the Leaf will charge at a lower rate to further damage the battery so this may make your roadtrip even longer because you will wait longer for your EV to recharges. For this reason, I cannot recommend anyone to acquire a Nissan Leaf unless they plan to use it very rarely in hot weather or on roadtrips.

Batteries are heavy

A battery pack can weigh up to 1000 lbs, a third of what a small car weighs.  For the same amount of current they hold, batteries will get lighter and lighter each year but for now, EVs are heavier than their counterpart.  They tend to need bigger brakes and tend to wear out the tires more.  They are also less nimble unless they have a sophisticated suspension to compensate.

Batteries are expensive

Batteries are still quite expensive.  This is improving every year but an EV will cost more than the regular equivalent gas car for the foreseeable future.

Batteries have a limited life

Batteries age as we charge and discharge them.  The less we charge them to 100% or discharge them to 0%, the longer they will last.  Right now, most manufacturers guarantee their battery pack to last for 8 years and 100,000 miles.

Advantages of EVs over Combustion Engines

Now the fun part.  Electric Vehicles have a lot of advantages over gasoline cars.

Silence

The first thing people notice when driving an EV is....nothing, as opposed to engine sounds.  EV are very very quiet, especially at low speeds. Since electric motors don’t combust or burn anything, there are no explosions or vibrations that need to be hidden with a muffler or sound proofing.  There is also very minimal friction that causes noise. Occasionally depending on the EV you may hear a slight turbine noise, like a faint whistle sound that will make you think you are flying a spaceship.  I personally find this sound very nice.
At higher speed, we can hear the tire noise on the asphalt and the wind noises when it hits the car.  This sounds are still there and EVs still need sound-proofing for those.

Torque on demand

The second most important thing is that EVs all of their « push » right from the start as opposed to gasoline cars who need to be in the right engine revolution in order to give their maximum push or torque.  EVs can still accelerate with close to the same force at any speed.  This is especially great when taking over other cars or accelerating to merge into a lane.  By the time you push on the accelerator, we cannot call it a gas pedal anymore, your car will be well ahead of the one you were trying to pass.

Continuous torque on demand

On top of torque on demand, because electric motors can rotate at extremely fast speed, it is possible and all EVs do so, forego of the variable transmission.  There is no gear change in an EV.  When you push on the accelerator pedal, you will get continuous acceleration without any hiccups or interruptions like you normally do in a ICE car.  This feels really great.

Instant continuous torque on demand

Torque is also nearly instantaneous.  When you press the accelerator pedal in an ICE car, there is a computer that receives the signal, which tells the fuel injection to send more fuel in the cylinders, then more fuels is sent (slow), then the air and fuel are compresssed (slow), the they are ignited (slow, then you feel the push.  The last few steps are relatively slow because they involve mechanical motion, and this why we feel a few tenths of a seconds of delay.

In comparison, when you press the accelerator pedal in an EV, the computer receives the signal, it tells converter to send more current, the current is sent to the motor(fast), it propels the engine.  Contrary to an ICE, everything from the push of the accelerator to the actual push of the motor is accomplished by electricity which travels at the speed of light.

Less maintenance

Basically, an electric motor has a battery, a converter, a very simple motor and a fixed transmission.  Electric motors are notoriously maintenance free, the oils in the transmission will need to be changed eventually.  The batteries are usually guaranteed for 8 years and 100,000 miles.

More room for the passengers

Since electric motors are inherently simpler and don't need a variable gear transmission, there take less room. This means that the "engine bay" can be significantly smaller and the passenger compartment can also be bigger since the transmission is usually found between the two front passenger seats.

This advantage is not reflected in all the EVs available on the market though. Most EV manufacturers are converting internal combustion engine cars with their big engine bay and placing in it smaller electric motors. This is a cheap way for them to offer EVs without creating completely new cars from the ground up. BMW and Teslas for example, have created fully new EVs from scratch.

Cost of ownership

The cost of ownership of Electric cars is typically lower than that of Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) cars. Here is a study made by Loup Ventures, that studied the total cost of ownership of the Tesla Model 3 against the Toyota Camry LE and the Audi A5. Most people only consider the purchase cost of cars when making a buying decision but with the advent of EVs it is very important to consider all the costs of ownership in the equation because even though EVs are most expensive than comparable ICE cars at purchase, they are much less expensive than ICE cars to maintain. Take a look at this :

As you can see, if you buy a Model 3 and sell it after 5 years, you will have paid in total $34,792 for the car including everything. This is lower than the Camry which is $14,300 less expensive than the Model 3 at purchase. Even if EVs are more expensive initially, if you count everything, EVs can be cheaper to own than less expensive cars. Please consider the cost of ownership before you dismiss EVs as still being too expensive.

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