A BRIGHT FUTURE:
A GUIDE TO ELECTRIC VEHICLES
Author: Grant Rowe
Published: February 1st, 2023
Have you been driving lately? You’ve probably seen a Tesla or another car on the road that appeared to not have a tail pipe. Or, perhaps you pulled into a gas station and saw these odd looking “charging stations” and wondered what they are for. As we enter farther and farther into the year 2022, you have most likely heard the term electric vehicle or EV mentioned before. Most recently, you may have heard conversations arise around electric vehicles as a result of increased gas prices due to the recent Russian invasion of Ukraine. Regardless of how you’ve heard of them, it can be hard to understand exactly what electric vehicles (EVs) mean, what the true pros and cons of them are, and whether or not they are worth the money. There are many opinions on both sides of the political aisle and I will leave that last decision up to you, but hopefully this quick article can help you better understand how to navigate the ever increasing world of EVs.
In the briefest description possible, electric vehicles are just like any other gasoline powered vehicle, except they have a battery and electric motor instead of a gasoline tank or internal combustion engine. Because of this, instead of filling them with gasoline, EV owners “fill” their cars with electricity. In more specific terms, they plug their car into charging stations, either at home or at stations on the road. Regardless of the type of EV one owns, most can be charged with a standard 120 V outlet (picture a standard outlet you have at home); however, other types of charging can make this process faster—fast chargers at gas stations for example.
Due to being fully electric, EVs release no emissions at the “tail-pipe.” This just means that the car itself is not putting any harmful greenhouse gases or greenhouse gas equivalents (other harmful emissions) into the environment. However, this does not mean that the cars are completely emissions free (more on this will come later).
In recent years, electric vehicles have become both cheaper and more available, and the availability of EV charging stations has followed. For instance, between 2018 and 2020, over 300,000 EVs were sold annually in the United States. This has led to the more and more EVs being on the road and to the conversations around them, their pricing, subsidies, taxes, and environmental benefits, to be discussed all over the media. Sadly, this has also resulted in a lot of misinformation around electric vehicles. Let’s take a little closer look to get a better understanding of some of these points.
As electric cars grow, it is important that we understand their environmental impact and how it compares to the traditional, gas-powered vehicles that most of us drive today . For example, the transportation sector “accounts for around one fourth of greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions worldwide.” If we want to lower these emissions, we must understand if EVs actually reduce them.
Perhaps the most efficient way to measure this impact is to conduct a life-cycle analysis (LCA). A LCA allows researchers to analyze the environmental impact of a topic of interest by studying all parts of a topic, from “life” to “death.” For vehicles, this means reviewing all parts of the car process, from mineral extraction, to end-of-life recycling efforts. Luckily, for us, many studies have done just this! One recent study, published in ScienceDirect in 2021, compared Life-cycle analyses for both battery-powered electric cars (what they call BEVs) and internal combustion engine vehicles (what they call ICEVs—note these are the standard cars you are likely most familiar with) in Italy). The table below shows the 5 life-cycle areas they used to evaluate both kinds of vehicles:
In this analysis, the authors looked at the CO2 emissions from each of these stages among different types of electric and internal combustion engines, accounting for differences in battery and fuel type (gas vs. diesel for example). The results were a resounding win for electric vehicles. The authors of this particular study found that “specific CO2 emissions associated to EVs [electric vehicles] over the entire vehicle’s life cycle are always lower than the ones associated to a comparable ICEV [internal combustion engine vehicle]). In other words, in almost all circumstances, electric vehicles have a lower environmental impact than gas powered vehicles.
However, you may be wondering? What if the electricity that goes into an electric vehicle predominantly comes from fossil fuels such as natural gas or coal? Or, what if this study analyzed areas outside Italy? Research has also addressed these questions. Starting with the first one, recent research has concluded “that electric cars lead to lower carbon emissions overall, even if electricity generation still relies on fossil fuels.” To the second question, the same study mentioned above also found that “electric cars… are less emission intensive than fossil-fuel-based alternatives in 53 world regions, representing 95% of the global transport.” In short, essentially no matter where you implement electric cars or how you charge them (unless it is perhaps 100% coal), it appears that they are better for the environment than traditional gas-powered cars.
Environmental impacts aside, it is important to discuss the prices of electric vehicles. CNBC reports that while EV prices are decreasing, currently, “in terms of pricing, an EV is equivalent to an entry-level luxury car.” However, some of these high costs can be offset by subsidies provided by both federal and state governments. For example, “the federal government offers a non-refundable tax credit worth $2,500 to $7,500 for newly purchased electric vehicles made after 2010,” although this credit is lost after a certain amount of electric cars are sold by a company. To check on your states credits, visit Pluginamerica.org and select your state.
While EVs cost more upfront, it is important to note that some studies have concluded that EVs are cheaper overtime as electricity is often cheaper than gas (this is likely one reason why electric vehicles are in the news currently—because gas prices are so high). CNBC recently reported on a study led by the U.S. Department of Energy in which they stated that “after 15 years, electric cars generally cost less than similar gas-only models, when you factor in the price, maintenance, financing, repairs, the federal tax break and fuel costs.” Therefore, in the long run, it appears the EVs may be cheaper—although upfront costs are still a burden for many.
I refer to this section as quick hitters because it answers some of the last questions (FAQs) and misconceptions people have about EVs. This section and its questions come entirely from the United States Environmental Protection Association (EPA). Any other questions you may have can largely be answered using this resource as well.
Misconception: Electric vehicles have too little range to be useful
The EPA reports that “electric vehicles (EVs) have sufficient range to cover a typical household’s daily travel, which is approximately 50 miles on average per day.”
Misconception: No places exist to charge an electric vehicle outside of one’s home
The EPA reports that “workplace charging is…becoming more widely available, and there are growing numbers of public charging stations. There are currently over 45,000 stations available nationally.”
Misconception: Electric vehicles are not as safe as gas powered ones
The EPA reports that “electric vehicles must meet the same safety standards as conventional vehicles.”
Possibilities for Susquehanna University
Reading all of this information, I hope you feel more knowledgeable and prepared to talk about EVs. You should have a better understanding of how they work, their environmental impact, their costs, and how they compare to traditional gas-powered cars. Below this article, you will find a QR code. This code will take you to a survey asking your opinion about EVs and Susquehanna University. We would like to know if you would support putting an EV charging station on our campus. These chargers would likely be located outside of admissions. They would be available to the public (our area currently lacks any EV charging) and to students—but likely at a discounted price! Please fill out the survey having now learned a little about EVs. Thank you!
 “Explaining Electric & Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicles,” EPA (Environmental Protection Agency, September 15, 2021), https://www.epa.gov/greenvehicles/explaining-electric-plug-hybrid-electric-vehicles.
 “How Do All-Electric Cars Work?,” Alternative Fuels Data Center: How Do All-Electric Cars Work? (U.S. Department of Energy), accessed May 3, 2022, https://afdc.energy.gov/vehicles/how-do-all-electric-cars-work.
 “Emissions from Hybrid and Plug-in Electric Vehicles,” Alternative Fuels Data Center: Emissions from Hybrid and Plug-In Electric Vehicles (U.S. Department of Energy), accessed May 3, 2022, https://afdc.energy.gov/vehicles/electric_emissions.html.
Anh Bui, Peter Slowik, and NIc Lutsey, “Evaluating Electric Vehicle Market Growth across U.S. Cities,” International Council on Clean Transportation, September 14, 2021, https://theicct.org/publication/evaluating-electric-vehicle-market-growth-across-u-s-cities/#:~:text=The%20electric%20vehicle%20market%20in,from%20about%202%25%20in%202019.
Enrique Dans, “The Misinformation around Electric Vehicles,” Forbes (Forbes Magazine, December 16, 2020), https://www.forbes.com/sites/enriquedans/2018/07/03/electric-vehicles-and-disinformation/?sh=27aa60b931e5
 Simone Franzò and Alessio Nasca, “The Environmental Impact of Electric Vehicles: A Novel Life Cycle-Based Evaluation Framework and Its Applications to Multi-Country Scenarios,” Journal of Cleaner Production 315 (September 15, 2021), https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jclepro.2021.128005.
 Mike Scott, “Yes, Electric Cars Are Cleaner, Even When the Power Comes from Coal,” Forbes (Forbes Magazine, March 30, 2020), https://www.forbes.com/sites/mikescott/2020/03/30/yes-electric-cars-are-cleaner-even-when-the-power-comes-from-coal/?sh=48f66aba2320.
 Florian Knobloch et al., “NET Emission Reductions from Electric Cars and Heat Pumps in 59 World Regions over Time,” Nature Sustainability 3, no. 6 (2020), https://doi.org/10.1038/s41893-020-0488-7.
 Mike Winters, “Here's Whether It's Actually Cheaper to Switch to an Electric Vehicle or Not-and How the Costs Break Down,” CNBC (CNBC, December 29, 2021), https://www.cnbc.com/2021/12/29/electric-vehicles-are-becoming-more-affordable-amid-spiking-gas-prices.html.
“Electric Vehicle Myths,” EPA (Environmental Protection Agency, December 2, 2021), https://www.epa.gov/greenvehicles/electric-vehicle-myths.