Letter to a Friend Buying an Electric Car


Air Quality


Published on December 2nd, 2020 |
by Joe Wachunas





December 2nd, 2020 by  


Two friends recently bought electric cars for their families after thinking about it for a long time. Beyond wanting to congratulate them, and click my heels together like Gene Kelly in Singing in the Rain, I felt the need to describe, in detail, just how big a deal this EV purchase is, beyond platitudes like “EVs are so amazing for the world.” So I wrote them a letter.

Me, when I heard about these recent purchases. (Screenshot from 1952 film Singin’ in the Rain.)

Dear friends,

Way to freaking go! By buying an electric car, you are doing good on so many levels, probably more than you realize. Beyond the many personal perks of your new EV — the instant torque, the quiet and smooth ride, the boatloads you’ll save on fuel, the fact that you’ll never have to do much maintenance or visit a depressing, smelly, gas station again — let’s look at some of the reasons your purchase will have a major impact on our world.

Pollution

You probably know that your new car will make the world cleaner, but let’s count the ways. For one, electric cars don’t have a tailpipe and won’t release any local air pollution, like smog, air particulate, nitrous oxides, etc. All these pollutants are linked to lung cancer, respiratory conditions like asthma, allergies and heart conditions like heart attacks and stroke and are often concentrated in low income neighborhoods. A study done by the University of Toronto earlier this year found that each electric vehicle that replaces a gas car will save a community $10,000(!) in cleaner air and improved human health. Cumulatively, our EVs will save hundreds of thousands of lives.

Air pollution in Portland and most cities is concentrated in lower income communities and communities of color. Map courtesy of Metro.

And that’s just at the local level. Globally, your car will fight the ever scarier monster of climate change by drastically reducing, if not eliminating, emissions of carbon dioxide. We have all experienced how scary late summers have become on the west coast. With droughts and mega fires worsening every year, suddenly our land of spacious skies and purple mountain majesty is at risk of becoming uninhabitable. Your cars will emit less than a third of the CO2 of your old cars, and if you buy solar panels, sign up for community solar or green electricity from your local utility, your emissions will go to zero. This is a game changer. Transportation is the number one source of CO2 emissions in our state and country and you’ve just committed to saving hundreds of tons of the poisonous gas from going out your tailpipe. Way to go.

Transportation now accounts for more emissions than electricity production. Graphs courtesy of US EIA.

Helping Clean Technology Scale

Your EV purchase is also a $30,000–40,000 direct investment in clean energy, so thanks for putting your money where your mouth is! For the last ten years, millions of EV drivers, like you, have been investing billions in batteries and the result has been to drastically push down prices and help the technology scale. It’s like we’re crowdfunding the clean energy technologies that will win the future.

From early adopter Tesla and Nissan drivers, a decade ago, to the 1.5 million EV drivers EVs on American roads today, this cumulative investment has created a revolution in battery technology, reducing prices by 87% in 10 years.

Chart courtesy BloombergNEF.

And batteries aren’t important just for cars. They are a complementary technology for wind and solar power, allowing storage of clean energy when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing. They can eliminate the need for fossil fuel plants to be available on cloudy, windless days. So your purchase will also indirectly help renewable energy ramp up and take over the world.

And beyond helping the storage industry, in general, your cars, themselves, will likely someday soon be able to power your houses during an emergency. You now have a huge, 75 kWh battery sitting in your garage or driveway, that has enough energy to power your homes for 2-3 days. In a not-too-distant future, your car can be part of the smart, clean, distributed, interactive energy system of tomorrow. When your car isn’t providing back up power in emergencies, you could make a little money selling its electricity back to the grid, helping your local utility utility to balance peak demand so it doesn’t have to invest in new power plants.

Charging Technology

Your purchase will also help advance charging technology. EVs have to compete with petroleum’s 100 year head start in fueling infrastructure, and we’re still a ways from matching the convenience of the 100,000+ gas stations currently fouling up our nation’s soil and groundwater with leakages and spills. To be sure, the vast majority of your charging will happen at home (which gas cars can’t do) but on trips you’ll need to fast charge. And by going electric, you’re creating demand for more charging infrastructure that will drive a glorious increase in chargers. All the current trends are already heading in the right direction, with chargers being built at an amazing pace, but you’re helping to accelerate their construction. 

Charging station growth. Graph courtesy of NREL.

Local Energy

Rather than sending your energy dollars to autocratic petrostates, tar sand producers or Bakken oil fields, you’ll now be investing those funds in local energy sources that are dramatically cleaner. Our local utility, PGE, just closed its last coal plant in Oregon and announced it will be emissions free by 2040 with huge investments in wind and solar in the state.

And even get the bug, to become your own energy provider and install solar on your homes, experiencing the ultimate joy of powering your transportation directly from your rooftops with locally harvested sunshine.

All of this will create an economic boon for the local economy, from solar panel installers to wind technicians to farmers getting paid to lease small portions of their land for wind turbines or solar arrays. You’ll be supporting them over the oil fracking, leaking pipelines and noxious refineries that your gas guzzlers and energy dollars used to sustain. 

Cars Aren’t a Panacea but Are Still vitally important

To be sure cars, even clean EVs, aren’t a panacea to all the world’s problems. American over-investment in the automobile hollowed out many of our cities, created uniform, ugly, sprawling suburbia and have a strong hand in keeping us isolated and obese. I didn’t buy my first car until I was in my late thirties for all these reasons and because I hated growing up in the sterile suburbs. We need to double down on our societal investments in mass transit, electric trains, bikeways, sidewalks, and all the exciting types of electric micromobility (e-bikes, e-scooters, e-mopeds, etc.) that have burst onto the scene in the last several years and are growing rapidly. In many places we should be making it harder to drive so that cities can become more dense and preserve the outlying forests, farms and green spaces.

But cars and trucks offer a convenience and freedom that aren’t going away. By electrifying them, we can have our cake and eat it too, work to reduce car use in many communities and clean up their emissions by electrifying them at the same time.

Don’t let anyone tell you that your new car is just as bad as gas cars for one reason or another. Scientists have weighed in and EVs are dramatically cleaner than their combustion counterparts and are getting cleaner every year as our electricity supply continues to add renewable energy at a dramatic pace. Auto manufacturers can and should be held accountable for where and how they get the metals that make up electric car batteries and how easily we’re able to recycle them and we’ll continue to need activists to push hard on these points. But let’s not let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Fossil fuels are the number one threat to our climate, we need to get off them ASAP and EVs help us do that in a big way.

Influencing others

Finally, I’m excited for all the other people you’re going to influence with the purchase of your electric vehicle. Since we purchased our Tesla in early 2019, we’ve had a major hand in helping seven other families (including yours!) making the switch to EVs. You will become influencers in your networks, and I hope you’ll show off your new cars as much as possible.

And it won’t be just your friends, family and colleagues that you’ll influence by going electric. I’ve had everyone from my garbage collector, to complete strangers, come by my house, ask about my electric car and how to charge it. Last summer, we took a trip to visit the remote John Day Fossil Beds National Monument in Central Oregon. While driving with confidence across deserts and painted hills, we got looks, waves and thumbs up that our 300 mile range EV could easily handle the arid, desolate and spectacular landscapes. As we were pulling out of a parking lot in Fossil, Oregon (after looking for fossils) another family was walking to their car and said to us, “I didn’t know an electric car could make it all the way out here.” I responded with something like, “Easy breezy, and we still have hundreds of miles ahead of us today.” 

So congratulations on your new cars, friends. Now go drive them all over the place and spread the good news. And be sure to send pics.

Your friend and fellow EV driver,

Joe

EVs conquering the painted hills of Oregon, by Joseph Wachunas.

 
 

 


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About the Author

lives in Portland, Oregon, and works for the nonprofit Forth, which promotes electric transportation. He is also involved with Electrify Now because he believes that electrifying everything, from transportation to homes, is the quickest path to an equitable, clean energy future. And of course, Joe and his family live in an all-electric home and drive an EV.











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