We’re going to start this off by saying something controversial. Get ready. Climate change is real. This shouldn’t be a controversial statement, but somehow, it is. It’s basic chemistry that carbon emissions play a large role in making our planet warmer over the long run, and according to a 2019 report, the transportation sector is responsible for nearly a quarter (24%) of the carbon emissions globally. In short, we’ve got some work to do! That’s where electric vehicles come in. Though they aren’t a new idea, they are finally becoming more commonplace, and EVs could just change our world for the better. In honor of Earth Day this month, we’re going to take a look at Electirc Vehicles, and how they could help save our planet.
If you ask someone what the first electric vehicle was, they may guess the Tesla, but they’d be very wrong. Others may guess some earlier models like the Chevy Volt or Nissan Leaf, but those aren’t close to correct, either. The electric car made its big debut in the United States in 1890 – no, that’s not a typo, we mean eightteen-ninety – thanks to a chemist from Iowa named William Morrison. He created an electric vehicle which could transport six passengers with a top speed of a whopping 14 miles per hour. That’s not exactly competing with today’s EVs, but hey, you’ve got to start somewhere, right?
The idea of electric vehicles was actually a very popular one in the early 1900s, thanks to the creation of the electric light, and some familiar names were a part of the scene. In 1898, a fellow by the name of Ferdinand Porsche created an electric vehicle called the P1, and Henry Ford worked with Thomas Edison to create an electric car, as well – but ultimately, Henry Ford decided on the combustion engine as the power source of choice, and that decision – along with his now famous assembly line approach to mass-producing automobiles – would decide the fate of vehicles for generations to come.
Electric cars wouldn’t become a topic of conversation again until the 1970s, when the energy crisis of that period sent gas prices soaring. There were several attempts here to get electric cars off the ground, including electric postal delivery vehicles created by the American Motor Company. However, like their earlier counterparts, electric cars just couldn’t keep up with gasoline-powered engines, with typical ranges in the neighborhood of 40 miles, and top speeds of around 45mph.
The real birth of the electric car comes at the dawn of the 21st century, thanks to Toyota’s Prius and Honda’s Insight, the first two hybrid electric vehicles to make the mainstream. By 2010, Chevy’s Volt, Nissan’s Leaf, and a little silicon valley startup called Tesla had joined the ranks, and today consumers have their pick from 23 plug-in electric and 36 hybrid electric models from the tiny two-seater Smart ED to the BMW i3 luxury electric SUV. Electric vehicles have come a long way, and they’re not finished yet!
Electric vehicles run on batteries, much like your phone or laptop, but a lot bigger. In a hybrid electric vehicle, there is a small gas-powered combustion engine which acts as a generator, keeping those batteries charged. In a fully electric vehicle, you’ll charge those batteries the old-fashioned way, by plugging them in. Hybrids greatly reduce carbon emissions thanks to the greatly reduced role of gasoline in the vehicle, and electric vehicles produce no harmful emissions whatsoever, making them the ultimate choice for green driving.
So, electric vehicles sound like a no-brainer, right? Well, not so fast. Remember that those batteries have to be plugged in, and you can’t just find a USB port or wall outlet anywhere. Electric vehicles need charging stations like other vehicles need gas stations, but unlike gas stations, these charging points just aren’t as common. There are about 100,000 EV charging stations in the US, with more to be found in larger cities. If you live in a small town, there may only be one option to charge up – or none at all.
However, don’t be too discouraged, because innovation is still happening. Tesla announced in 2019 that they were developing a one-million-mile battery, essentially eliminating the need to ever charge those batteries, and more charging stations are appearing every day across the world.
So, EVs sound great, is there a downside? Well, maybe. The batteries in EVs are made of Lithium, Cobalt, Manganese, and other rare earth elements. Those metals have to be mined, and this process is, well, not terribly eco-friendly. It takes almost twice the energy to make an EV than a conventional vehicle, not to mention the damage done to the earth by mining, and the emissions created by the production of the batteries themselves.
Is all lost, then? Should we give up and go back to gasoline? Not so fast – according to a report by the EEA, if an electric car is driven for its maximum mileage, it will more than make up for the cost of making it. So, buy electric, and drive electric until it won’t drive anymore! Tesla and Panasonic are also constantly working on ways to reduce the environmental impact of making their batteries. Another great advantage of electric vehicles is a greatly reduced running cost. You won’t need oil changes, belt changes, radiator service, or many of the other regular maintenance items that add to the cost of owning a car.
The bottom line is this: electric vehicles make a difference, and that difference is growing every year. Statistics show that electric vehicles will soon outnumber gasoline vehicles, and they could replace them altogether sooner than we think. In 2019, Volvo announced that all their new models will be hybrid or electric, and they will not be the last manufacturer to make this commitment. The future for electric vehicles is a bright one – so, if you’re in the market for a new car, consider making the green choice and test driving an EV! You could help change the world for the better.