Five Electric Car Myths Unplugged

by   |   blovegro@bju.edu   |  
Dr. Bill Lovegrove's Nissan Leaf

Our family recently replaced our second car with a used 2016 Nissan LEAF, an electric car. Electric cars are controversial, and this purchase has sparked a lot of questions. Here are a few answers.

What are you, a tree-hugger?

The primary factor for many people in purchasing an electric car is concern for the environment. They are expensive, but “zero-emissions” sounds like a good idea, from an environmental perspective. So, is that why I bought the car?

As a Christian, I am concerned about the environment. All the way back at Creation, God put us in charge of this planet and told our first parents to take care of it (Genesis 2:15). Theologians call this stewardship.

However, I also am supposed to be a good steward of my finances. “Save the environment at any cost” is not wise stewardship. I am in favor of environmental actions that make sense financially.

And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it. — Genesis 2:15

So, aren’t electric cars really expensive?

New ones are. A 2018 Nissan LEAF starts at $29,990. That’s almost double the price of a similar but gasoline-powered Honda Fit. There are cheaper ways to help the environment, and wiser things to do with my money.

However, used cars are another story. Our used 2016 LEAF was actually cheaper than a used 2016 Honda Fit. The reasons are complicated, but the result is undeniable. This car seemed like good stewardship of my money.

It also costs less per mile to drive. Instead of perhaps $30/month on gasoline, we will pay only $10/month for electricity.

Aren’t the environmental benefits an illusion?

Some people mockingly call electric cars “coal-powered cars.” After all, the electricity has to come from somewhere, and burning coal to make electricity is actually more polluting than burning gasoline, true?

Yes, “zero emissions” is misleading. Zero emissions come from the (nonexistent) tailpipe of the car, but I am causing extra emissions at some nearby power plant.

However, coal is a worst-case scenario, the messiest way to make electricity. Here in South Carolina our electricity comes from a mix of hydro, nuclear and natural gas plants, with solar playing a small but increasing role. All of those are better than burning gasoline.

Furthermore, most of my driving in this car is 1–3 mile trips. At that distance, a gasoline-powered car doesn’t have time to warm up and doesn’t get the optimum fuel efficiency. That’s hard on the engine and my pocketbook. At every stoplight, the gasoline engines continue to puff out exhaust, while my electric car sits still and quiet.

What about life cycle pollution?

Electric cars, especially the battery packs, are messy to make and messy to dispose of. That’s a legitimate concern. However, many parts of the car, including the battery pack, can and probably will be recycled. Nissan recently announced the xStorage home energy storage system, using recycled LEAF battery packs from cars.

You are going to be stuck away from home some day with dead batteries!

The car has a range of about 80 miles, and takes several hours to recharge. It’s clearly not the car for road trips. We have a second vehicle for that. But I never drive 80 miles of errands in a single day. We don’t charge it every night; once every three or four days is enough. For my needs, the range is a non-issue. And I see gasoline powered cars stopped by the roadside with an empty gas tank as well. It’s all about planning, about being a good steward of my vehicles.

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Dr. Bill Lovegrove is the head of the Department of Engineering in the Division of Natural Science in BJU’s College of Arts and Science.