By Mat Carlile
Utah will be celebrating Alternative Fuel Vehicle Awareness Month
in November, making it the perfect time to learn more about electric vehicles (EVs)—and even consider joining the growing number of car buyers who have made the switch to this zero-emission, energy-efficient vehicle option. EVs are becoming more popular, due in part to recent advances in technology and infrastructure that have extended their driving range and made them easier to charge.
EVs have come a long way from their humble beginnings in the 1880s. Electric cars were quite popular in the late 19th century and early 20th century, with consumers preferring clean, quiet EVs over noxious-smelling gasoline vehicles. By 1910, EVs could travel between 50-100 miles on a single charge. Advances in the internal combustion engine, the mass production of gas cars, lower gas prices, and the growth of a refueling infrastructure gave gas cars a distinct advantage over EVs, and by the 1920s the United States stopped producing electric cars.
Interest in EVs resurfaced during the 1960s and 1970s, when concerns about air pollution and dependence on foreign oil led car manufacturers to look for alternatives. Electric cars still faced some of the same issues that had plagued them since their beginnings: battery charge times, driving range, and maximum speeds. In the 1990s, new clean-air and energy legislation renewed manufacturer interest in EVs, but consumers remained more inclined to purchase an SUV than an EV.
The announcement in 2006 that Tesla Motors had developed an electric sports car that could travel more than 200 miles on a single charge sparked renewed interest in EVs and the possibilities for a new generation of electric vehicles. Today, there are more than 23 plug-in EVs available to car buyers, with even more models in development, including small wagons, SUVs, and mid-size cars.
Technological and infrastructure advancements over the past few years have increased the feasibility and practicality of electric vehicles. Funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) helped the Department of Energy develop a nationwide charging infrastructure for EVs that has grown to over 8,500 electric stations and 21,000 charging outlets across the country. New battery technology, including the development of lithium-ion batteries, has improved battery performance and reduced battery costs by 50 percent over the last four years.
These improvements are translating into increased sales. People are
finding that they can meet their commuter driving needs with an EV, charging their vehicle at home with either a conventional 120 volt outlet or a dedicated 240 volt outlet or charging station.
Utah’s growing network of charging stations make it even easier to charge EVs, and websites and apps help travelers find fast-charging stations along the freeway. Interestingly, Utah is at the forefront of innovation in EV charging: Utah State University recently began construction on a test track for “in-motion” wireless charging of EVs that will reduce consumer “range anxiety” between charges.
Economy-minded car buyers find that electric cars cost less to fuel than their gasoline counterparts. In Utah, you can even claim a $605 nonrefundable tax credit for the original purchase of a new, qualifying electric vehicle. This tax credit for EVs will increase to $1500 on January 1, 2015.
Want to learn more? The Department of Energy has compiled some interesting facts about electric vehicles, and the Environmental Protection Agency has put together a short, informative YouTube video that will get you up-to-speed on the advantages of electric cars. Visit the Division of Air Quality (DAQ) Clean Fuels Program webpage to learn more about alternate fuel vehicles, tax credits, and DAQ’s clean fuel vehicle grant and loan program.
I have worked with the Utah Division of Air Quality for 10 years. I have a Master’s degree in Public Administration from Brigham Young University. My wife Carrie and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary in June. We have four children. I love reading, investigating history, traveling, and playing basketball, volleyball, football, and ultimate Frisbee.