Buying an EV: Thoughts on Battery Degradation and Charging Infrastructure
With rising gas prices and an increasing interest in reducing their carbon footprint, more and more consumers are buying electric vehicles (EVs). While the growing adoption of EVs promises immense and desperately needed emissions reductions, your everyday consumer has some practical electric vehicle considerations to make before making the switch. Given that this transition is in its earlier stages, there are infrastructure related challenges associated with EVs, specifically related to charging infrastructure and battery degradation despite significant government investment. For some the environmental advantages of EVs make these inconveniences worth it in the short-term. For others these inconveniences might steer one clear of EVs entirely. Either way, these are things to be aware of.
Electric Vehicle Considerations
The charging infrastructure for EVs is an essential aspect of their adoption and use. With the increase in production of EVs there has been difficulty in keeping up with the demand of charging stations. Even though the quantity of charging stations is growing, charging infrastructure is still not as convenient as gas stations. This is particularly an issue for drivers who live in areas such as Louisiana and Kentucky (who rank the lowest in the US for the amount of alternate fueling stations), with limited charging stations or who need to travel long distances.
There are three main types of EV charging: workplace charging, public charging, and home charging. Despite the fact that most people charge their vehicles at home, workplace charging and public charging can be more convenient for driving longer distances or for people who do not have access to a home charger.
Many employers are looking into installing charging stations for their employees but it is still up for debate as to whether or not the best solution would be to charge the employees or allow them to use the chargers free of charge. It is recommended to charge employees at a rate slightly above local residential electricity rates. This will discourage employees who do not need to charge at work to avoid congestion. Level 2 stations are the most commonly used at workplaces. This type of station allows you to charge your electric car 5 to 7 times faster than a level 1 station and is capable of charging more than one vehicle per day. Companies such as United Airlines and Marketo, who already provide charging stations for employees, state that their employees love this opportunity and they believe this will also attract future employees to them.
Technically, all EVs are compatible with your standard household electrical outlet. This is level 1 charging, where you might get 50 miles of range overnight. Many folks choose to install a level 2 charger (240v), which is the same type of outlet as your clothes dryer. This might give you 180 miles over an eight hour night of charging. Level 3 chargers, which work in minutes, cannot be easily installed at home as they would require an overhaul of your average house’s electrical system.
Cost of installation for chargers is not exorbitant and there are options that allow one to set their vehicle up to only charge at times electricity is cheaper.
So, while it is relatively easy to keep your vehicle charged if you have an at-home charger, it still is not instantaneous in the way that filling up gas is. Having an EV requires at least some degree of foresight, a thinking ahead that is more than just ‘I need to find a gas station before my tank is empty’.
Public charging is becoming more of a need than ever. According to a poll by AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, 50 percent of people indicated that not enough charging stations is a major reason they will not purchase an EV, while 27 percent said it was a minor reason. This inconvenience will continue to deter the sales of EVs until the public is reassured. The poll also lists battery technology not being ready yet as another main reason consumers will not purchase an EV; 41 percent list this as a major reason while 30 percent list it as a minor reason. This brings us to our next consideration: battery degradation.
Battery degradation refers to the gradual loss of battery capacity over time, which can result in reduced driving range and performance. This is a big issue for consumers as an electric vehicle’s battery is, by far, the most expensive part of the car. Some factors that can contribute to battery degradation are high temperatures, vehicle age, and charging behavior. Just like with your cell phone, car batteries degrade over time with bad charging habits. Fast charging or charging to 100% can ruin your battery as it causes the battery to overheat, so much so that many level 3 chargers have a built-in safety feature that keep the battery’s level of charge between the optimal percentages of 20 and 80 percent.
Lithium-ion batteries, which are the most common type of battery used in EVs, are known to degrade gradually over time, with a typical lifespan of 10-20 years or 100,000–200,000 miles. In attempts to address this problem car manufacturers are offering battery warranty programs that guarantee a minimum level of battery capacity over a certain period of time. For example, Tesla offers an 8-year or 150,000-mile battery and drive unit warranty, while Nissan offers an 8-year or 100,000-mile battery warranty on its Leaf EV. Recently, Tesla released their 2022 impact report. This report showed that the company estimates only 12 percent of their batteries will lose their capacity after 200,000 miles.
All this to say, automakers are not intending for users to have to replace their car batteries as part of regular maintenance; the vehicles are meant to last through the car’s full life cycle. The chart at right shows how true this is thus far. While consumers are protected against significant battery degradation by company policies, there is also the question of accidents that damage vehicles’ batteries. Having a single part of the vehicle that costs so much means users have to fear facing the cost of it if anything were to go wrong.
Buying an Electric Vehicle: On the Bright Side
Despite these challenges, EVs offer huge benefits that we’d be remiss not to mention. Most importantly, EVs are more environmentally friendly than gas-powered vehicles, as they produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions by not running off of fossil fuels even when taking manufacturing into consideration. They also offer a quieter and smoother driving experience, as they lack the vibrations and noise associated with gas-powered engines.
As EV technology continues to advance, there is potential for even greater benefits, including increased range and faster charging times.
In conclusion, even though there are significant benefits associated with EVs, there are also some challenges that should be considered. By working to address the challenges associated with the charging infrastructure and battery degradation, and continuing to improve the technology behind EVs, we can help to ensure that they play an important role in the green transition.