The next car you buy should be electric

Many of us understand the environmental need to immediately move to a non-polluting method of transport. Over its life, an electric car will produce less carbon dioxide — and save you money.

LONDONDERRY — So many of us have discussed whether it would be wise to buy a new electric car or another gasoline-powered one.

And so many questions: Which kind of vehicle would best suit our needs? Is a suitable electric vehicle even available? Which option is most cost-efficient? Which is truly better for the environment? What is the current state of electric vehicle incentives in Vermont?

First, what kind of vehicle would we really need during a typical month?

If we live in a rural place where the snow and mud ruts are deep or if we haul large items, we need a utility vehicle, which until recently has eliminated an electric car from consideration. Starting this year, several manufacturers will be releasing new electric pick-up trucks and SUVs.

If we need such a vehicle only on occasion, it is worth considering the purchase of a smaller, lighter, less-expensive, and environmentally beneficial vehicle and renting that truck or SUV for the few times per year when we actually need one.

The long-term savings could be significant. It might actually be financially wise to add a small electric second or third vehicle that can be used for the majority of our daily travel miles.

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Is an electric car more expensive than a comparable gasoline-powered car? Actually, it is not when all things are considered - even without the inclusion of any tax incentives.

Let's compare two cars with similar specifications: first, a 2019 Honda Accord ($34,000 including a 6.5-percent sales tax, 3,208 lbs., 25 mpg; let's calculate gasoline at $3 per gallon), and second, a 2019 Tesla Model 3 ($42,500, including a 6.5-percent sales tax, incentives excluded, 3,552 lbs., 3.70 miles per kWh; let's calculate $0.169 per kWh, plus Rate 1 daily charge, or 4,054 kWh per year) over 15,000 miles per year and 15 years of ownership.

At 600 gallons per year, the Accord will cost $61,100 to buy and operate over 15 years of ownership. The Model 3 will cost $53,000 - 13 percent less - to buy and operate.

The operational energy required for the Accord would be equivalent to 21.98 MWh per year, compared to 4.1 MWh per year for the Model 3, or 5.4 times as much annually.

With no transmission, exhaust system, emissions controls, internal combustion engine component complications, reduced brake system wear due to regenerative braking, and simplified service maintenance, the cost of electric car ownership can be very attractive. Any federal, state, local, or utility incentive rebate would make it even more so.

Performance benefits of electric cars can include faster acceleration, less noise, and the convenience of home charging.

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Interestingly, the $150-per-month gasoline expense for the Accord could be a monthly payment on a 15-year term for $17,600 using Vermont State Employee Credit Union's Green Energy Loan at 5.65-percent APR, allowing the purchase and home installation of a 5.4 KW solar photovoltaic (PV) system.

This system would provide all of the required electricity to power the Tesla (a 3.1 KW system would do the job), plus a 43-percent surplus for powering a portion of the owner's home. All for the same $150 per month otherwise spent on polluting gasoline.

In addition, federal, state, or local incentives are available for the solar PV system, which could allow an even larger solar array with the same monthly payment.

The clincher for electric car economics is the fact that once the loan is paid off, the owner who charges at home then has a free vehicle and some electricity for home use over the remaining life of the solar PV system.

Current-technology solar PV systems costing about $3.25 per watt (installed) are often warrantied for 25 years, but in reality, they last 40 to 50 years without major component replacements or significant production degradation. This durability is of great benefit to future retirees who may someday be on a fixed income.

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Many of us understand the environmental need to immediately move to a non-polluting method of transport.

Our transportation sector is the largest contributor to atmospheric pollution in Vermont. The climate math shows us that we need to globally get to near-zero human-made carbon dioxide by no later than 2025 in order to avoid the fateful level of 450 parts per million (ppm) of atmospheric carbon dioxide.

While efforts to improve our clean-energy mass-transit systems are our first order of business, lightweight, small, clean-energy cars will also be important for our short-range trips in rural Vermont.

Climate-resolution urgency is clear, but are electric vehicles actually a good environmental choice in this effort? Some say that because of their required embodied energy and material-resource processing, an electric car has more impact on our environment than a conventional-gasoline car.

Comparing our Accord to our Model 3 illustrates that that is not true.

A gallon of gasoline makes about 19.64 lbs. of atmospheric carbon dioxide, while making a kilowatt-hour of electricity from a natural-gas-fired utility plant makes about 1.3 lbs. The pollution created from manufacturing and assembling a solar PV system, adds about 0.125 lbs. of carbon dioxide per kWh. Large-scale wind power adds about 0.03 lbs.

In all, it takes about 36,400 kWh to collect materials, process, transport, and assemble the Honda which makes about 47,300 lbs. of carbon dioxide. Fabricating the Tesla consumes about 62,500 kWh of energy to fabricate and makes about 81,200 lbs. of carbon dioxide from a similar process and plant, or 72 percent more due to the more exotic materials required to make the battery systems.

This, however, does not tell the whole story.

The carbon dioxide produced by the Accord over our 15-year ownership example, including vehicle production, fuel refining/transport, and fuel burning, is about 247,800 lbs. The carbon dioxide produced by the Model 3 for vehicle production, natural-gas-fired-utility electricity creation, and charging is about 160,300 lbs., or only 65 percent of the total carbon produced by the gasoline car.

Fabricating the Tesla from the company's new solar-powered plant in California and charging it from a home-based solar photovoltaic system would significantly reduce the carbon footprint of owning the car even further.

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There have been some attractive changes in the availability of federal, state, and utility incentives to purchase plug-in hybrid or all-electric vehicles. None of these incentives have been included in this cost comparison.

Considering your own personal situation, vehicle need, income, tax status, and incentive options could yield an electric-vehicle cost reduction as high as $14,000 and a free Level 2 charging station.

Although our sanest future transportation investments will still be in long-range, energy-efficient mass-transit systems, these incentives help make an even stronger case for making our next personal vehicles electric.

Then, of course, there is that inconvenient six-year carbon elimination issue - the responsibility that belongs to all of us.

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