Traditionally, our personal vehicles have been powered by gasoline. Sure, we have all seen pictures of old silent movies showing people winding up a car with a giant crank in the front, but in reality every viable car marketed to date has been powered by diesel or gasoline. Of course, in recent decades strides have been made in bio-fuels, allowing even some common commercial cars to run off of corn based ethanol or vegetable oil based bio-diesel. But today a new option in driving is emerging – the electric vehicle.
A Developing Concept: Called the electric car, electric vehicle or EV, these transportation units are run off of energy that is stored in recyclable batteries. Hybrid vehicles have been used for a few years now, utilizing rechargeable batteries that receive their charge from energy produced during breaking, but these hybrids use the energy only to run accessories or some light driving, relying on gasoline for most of the actual power. In a true electric vehicle the rechargeable batteries are charged by household current, either utilizing standard 110 outlets or specially installed 220 outlets (similar to those used to power electric stoves).
While EVs have existed for some time they have not been commercially viable as options for everyday people until just recently. Past attempts at electric vehicle design have been very limited in driving range between charges and subject to excessively long charging times. Furthermore, consumers, while desiring energy efficient vehicles, have been nervous about the viability, safety and dependability of EV technology. Similarly, automotive manufacturers have been slow to commit to electric vehicle development, preferring the familiarity of designing gasoline powered vehicles and thus focusing improvement efforts on developing hybrid gas / electric engines rather than true EVs.
Benefits and Limitations: Today, EVs are becoming a reality. One electric vehicle is in the marketplace now and another is on its way soon, actually available for order today. More are not far behind as additional car companies strive to jump on the electric vehicle proverbial band wagon. With modern technology comes a variety of benefits to electric vehicles, but also some limitations.
Electric cars run without the need for petroleum products including gasoline or diesel. They do not even require corn based ethanol. Thus, because these vehicles are not burning fossil fuels these cars are zero emissions – they do not pollute the environment or emit greenhouse gases. This means that the vehicles do not store gas (making them lighter and safer). The cars simply plug into outlets, charge the rechargeable battery, then hit the road.
Electric vehicles are amazing in that they reduce our reliance on foreign oil and reduce our carbon footprint. However, they do have some drawbacks. First, EV technology is new and thus unproven. As with any new model vehicle, there are always kinks to be worked out, so no one really knows about the longevity of these vehicles. Second, electric vehicles are not yet widely available and they are somewhat expensive. Currently, they are not in reach of every consumer logistically or economically. Third, electric cars have limitations in range and functionality. Most cars can only run around 100 miles on exclusively electric power. Finally, while EVs are emissions free, because they do use electricity to charge their batteries it means that they do use fossil fuels, it is simply that these fuels are used indirectly as coal and natural gas is used to create the electricity that then travels down the wires to the auto’s plug and battery.
Despite the disadvantages, electric vehicles are an amazing and exciting option that is becoming more available to us. Technology will likely continue to improve, but today we have access to a couple of electric vehicles, as detailed below.
Models Available Today – or Coming Soon: There are two electric vehicles that are on the market today. First is the Chevy Volt. Available for purchase now and starting in the low $30,000 range, the Volt is the first all electric passenger car to come out of a major automotive manufacturer. The Volt gets 35 miles on an electric charge, but does work with a gas powered motor to provide hundreds of miles of driving with an amazing mpg. The Nissan Leaf is available for order now. Starting in the high $20,000 range, the Leaf will reportedly get up to 140 miles to a charge, with zero emissions and able to be charged overnight.