What’s a PHEV?
PHEV is an acronym for Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (a mouthful!). It’s essentially a hybrid vehicle, but, in contrast to a traditional hybrid such as a Toyota Prius, a PHEV has a battery system that can fully power the car over a considerable distance, usually about 40 miles, as is the case with GM’s Chevy Volt.

Why EVs & PHEVs (and not hydrogen, biogas, ethnanol, natural gas, etc.)?
SCD.Com supports all “green” technologies. But some are more green than others. Hydrogen-powered cars capture the imagination of many people, and, at the tailpipe, they are zero emission vehicles (ZEVs). But they have a major downside: it takes a tremendous amount of energy, which, of course, means fossil fuels right now, to create hydrogen. Ethanol suffers from the same problem, and, additionally, requires vast amounts of water to produce. Natural gas burns far cleaner than gasoline, but it requires extensive environmental destruction to harvest. It is also not a renewable resource. Biogas and biodiesel are attractive technologies. However, they still cannot boast the ZEV production of a solar-charged EV.

Finally, and most importantly, none of the other technologies allow consumers to do what EVs do: Independently, and easily, power a vehicle by themselves – off of solar panels on their home.

All of the other possibilities require a fuel delivery and distribution system quite similar to the one we have now: Large companies mine the energy, refine it, and distribute it to consumers, who have little to no control over its price. Solar-charged driving gives you – the consumer – the power to power your own car. It takes the control of car-fueling out of the hands of the big guys, and hands it over to the little guys. It’s difficult to imagine something more satisfying – or potentially revolutionary – than this.

How much do EVs/PHEVs cost?
The “low” price point looks like it will be about $30,000 – and that’s after tax credits and rebates – with the high end, for example, the Tesla Roadster, pushing into six figures.
Are there government rebates and tax credits available?
Yes. And they are potentially pretty hefty, depending on the type of EV or PHEV you buy. According to the IRS web page, Energy Provisions of the ‘American Recovery and Reinvestment Act’ of 2009, to qualify for a Federal Tax Credit,

“Vehicles must be newly purchased, have four or more wheels, have a gross vehicle weight rating of less than 14,000 pounds, and draw propulsion using a battery with at least four kilowatt hours that can be recharged from an external source of electricity. The minimum amount of the credit for qualified plug-in electric drive vehicles is $2,500 and the credit tops out at $7,500, depending on the battery capacity. The full amount of the credit will be reduced with respect to a manufacturer’s vehicles after the manufacturer has sold at least 200,000 vehicles.”

When, and where, can I get an EV/PHEV?
You should be able to buy an EV/PHEV built by a major automaker such as Nissan, Ford, GM, Toyota, etc. by the Fall of 2010.

How fast can EVs/PHEVs go?
Typically, mainstream EVs, meaning those designed for local and highway driving (some EVs are only for local driving), have an advertised top speed of 90 to 100 mph. This isn’t as high as a gas-powered car. But, then again, you shouldn’t be driving 90 or 100 mph. GM is advertising a top speed of 100 mph for the Chevy Volt, a PHEV. The Tesla Roadster has killed the image of an EV as a slow, clunky vehicle. It boasts a 0-60 time of 3.7 seconds and a top speed of 125 mph. And it could go faster if the car was not electronically programmed to prevent drivers from exceeding 125 mph. Of course, the Roadster currently costs more than $100,000 (but so does a Ferrari).
How quick are EVs/PHEVs?
It appears that most mainstream EVs – Nissan LEAF, Ford Focus EV, etc. – will probably have a 0-60 mph time of somewhere between 8 and 11 seconds. In other words, they won’t be super quick, but quick enough, and just as quick as many gas-powered cars on the road today.
What kind of mileage do EVs/PHEVS get?
A mid-sized EV gets about 4 miles per kWh. This means that the typical American driver will need 3,000 to 4,000 kWh of electricity to power their EV for 12,000 to 16,000 miles.
How much more efficient are EVs/PHEVs than gasoline powered cars?
According to PluginAmerica.org, the Toyota RAV4 EV gets the equivalent of 112 mpg, making it about four times more efficient than an average gas-powered car. PluginAmerica.org also claims that EVs use three to four times less energy than hydrogen fuel cell cars. It’s important to note as well that tremendous amounts of energy are lost and wasted in the process of refining oil into gas, and that coal-produced electricity is far more efficient than gasoline in terms of the refining process. Solar panels on one’s home, of course, top coal and oil in terms of direct, plug-in efficiency and green-ness.
What happens if I’m driving and run out of battery power?
You will need to find a way to re-charge your EV to start it again. The most likely scenario would be a tow-truck trip to a place where you could easily, and legally, plug in. This isn’t much different from running out of gas in a gas-powered car — unless, of course, you already have a gas can stored in your trunk, which few people have.

Other than home, where I can I charge an EV?
There are a growing number of public plug-in stations in places like Portland, Oregon, Berkeley, California, etc. There are even a few plug-in stations fully or partially powered by solar panels. SCD.Com will work to map these solar-powered plug-in stations for you, and will also work to promote them, so that they become a everyday site at shopping malls, etc.

Do the batteries lose some of their re-charging capacity over time?

Yes. However, the most likely scenario is that this will not happen until at least the 100,000 mile mark. This scenario depends on a number of variables, most notably the type of battery that your EV has. The nickel metal hydride (NiMH) batteries in Toyota’s RAV4 have been known to last as long as 150,000 miles. The distance life for a lithium-ion battery is somewhat unclear right now. For more, see the following story on treehugger.com, How Long Will Tomorrow’s Automotive Lithium Batteries Last?

Does an EV slow down as the battery loses its charge?
No. However, when the battery is nearly fully discharged — about 99 percent discharged — many EVs will switch to “crawl” mode, or a mode in which they can still travel for a short distance, but at a very slow speed.

Can an EV travel just as far going 70 mph as it does going 30 mph?
Generally, the answer is no. The longer you travel at a high speed, the poorer mileage you will get in your EV. However, there are a number of variables to consider, most notably the amount you are braking; EVs have regenerative braking systems which recharge the battery through the act of braking.Typically, most EVs get about 4 miles per kWh. However, just as with gasoline-powered cars, this mileage varies according to car, battery, and, most notably, speed, weather conditions and types of driving and drivers (a pedal-to-the-metal driver will substantially reduce his or her mileage in any type of vehicle).


What about battery disposal – are Lithium-Ion batteries toxic for the environment?
Carmakers such as Nissan, Ford, Toyota, etc. are saying they will work to create a battery recycling system. It’s also important to note that our current gas-powered cars present a battery disposal issue, as virtually all contain a lead-acid battery. According to PluginAmerica.org, “even with its low value as scrap, the recycling rate for lead-acid batteries is about 98% in the U.S.” PluginAmerica also notes that Lithium-Ion is more valuable than lead, and therefore anticipates a near 100-percent recycling rate. Finally, while Nickel and Lithium do impact the environment, they are far less toxic than lead. Li-Ion batteries are used in more than just cars, they’re in laptops, cell phones, and many other portable electric devices. For more on the environmental impact of the Li-Ion “revolution,” check out this COMPUTERWORLD article.

Do EVs, PHEVs & hybrids present a worse hazard to rescue workers than gas-fueled cars?
There is a persistent myth that battery-powered cars, whether fully or partially powered by a large battery, are far more dangerous to rescue workers than gas-powered cars.

The extra danger, it is claimed, stems from the risk of electric shock. The Toyota Prius, which has a large battery with a significant charge, has an electrical system that is designed to cut out in an accident. Even if it does not do so, properly trained and well-informed rescue workers can work to disconnect and disable the power distribution of the battery pack.

So far, there have been no instances of rescue workers being electrocuted by Toyota Prius’ involved in a crash – and there are approximately one million Prius’ on American roads today.

In fact, all vehicles involved in crashes pose potential hazards to rescue workers. For instance, gas-powered vehicles can burst into flames.

In short, the evidence does not support the myth of EVs and PHEVs posing an extreme or unreasonable danger to rescue workers. Indeed, one might argue the myth is symptomatic of humans’ basic resistance to change and fear of anything new, and, of course, EVs are new and different than gas-powered cars.

The bottom line: Rescue workers always need to be well-trained and careful. They must constantly stay abreast of new technological developments, whether this has to do with cars or factories. They will simply need to train for rescues from a new type of vehicle.

How much lithium is there? And where does it come from?
According to a well-written and well-documented position paper published by PluginAmerica.org:

“Extensive research into sources of lithium production and supply suggest that there is no shortage of Li for, minimally, the next ten years. This is more than enough time to jump start an EV revolution and once under way, 1) it does not (and should not) have to be entirely Li reliant and 2) the economics of battery recycling will improve with volume to the point where the Li retained in the energy cycle reduces the need for further input to the point of sustainable levels.”

Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, the United States and China have the biggest reserves of lithium, according to the same position paper. The paper also notes that, “Scientists at Saga University estimates that globally, seawater contains an estimated 230 billion tons of lithium”.

Finally, the paper notes that all human activity has an environmental impact and that it is not a matter of whether, but how much, impact energy production has, and that energy diversification, including diversification of battery materials, along with extensive recycling are all a crucial part of mitigating negative human impact on the environment as a consequence of energy production and driving.