December 22, 2016 by Chloé Coupeau
France on Thursday inaugurated the world’s first “solar highway”, a road paved with solar panels providing enough energy to power the street lights of the small Normandy town of Tourouvre.
By Tom Moloughney – UPDATED November 2016
There are many reasons for considering making an electric car the next car you buy or lease. Besides the many environmental benefits, the promise of energy security, the silky-smooth driving experience with instant torque available without delay, and low maintenance, one of the best characteristics of electric vehicles is how little they cost to operate.
Just as with gasoline cars, some electric vehicles are more efficient than others, and the average EV needs about 30 kWh of electricity to power the vehicle for 100 miles. For example, the EPA rating for the Nissan LEAF is exactly 30 kWh per 100 miles. A Tesla Model S 60D is rated at a combined 32 kWh per 100 miles and uses a little more energy since it’s heavier and more powerful than a LEAF. The Chevrolet Bolt is currently the most efficient electric car and has a combined consumption rating of 28 kWh per 100 miles. The consumption for all electric vehicles can be viewed at the US Department of Energy’s website: www.fueleconomy.gov
According to Researchers at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, the sales-weighted average fuel economy of all new vehicles sold in the United States in 2016 was 25.3 mpg. The average cost for a gallon of regular gasoline in the US over the past two years was $2.35/gallon. Using 15,000 miles as the average amount of miles a person will drive in a year, the annual cost of gasoline for the average car will be about $1,400 per year, using the average cost of gasoline in the US from 2015 through 2016. One thing to also consider is that the cost of gasoline is currently much lower than it has been through most the past decade and it’s likely to rise again sometime soon.
All of the electricity we use in America is domestically produced, and that’s a large part of why the cost remains stable. The average cost of electricity in the US is 12 cents per kWh. Therefore, the average person driving the average EV 15,000 miles per year pays about $540.00 per year to charge it.
The cost of electricity throughout the US varies much more than gasoline does, but its cost over time is much more stable. Unlike with gasoline, there aren’t huge spikes in electricity rates if a refinery has a problem, and neither does the price skyrocket when there is political instability in one of the large oil producing countries as we have often seen in the past. All of the electricity we use in America is domestically produced, and that’s a large part of why the cost remains stable. The average cost of electricity in the US is 12 cents per kWh. Therefore, the average person driving the average EV 15,000 miles per year pays about $540.00 per year to charge it. As mentioned, the cost of electricity can vary greatly depending on where you live, but in order to equal the price of the average gasoline car’s fuel costs, the price of electricity would have to be 2.5 times the national average, and cost 31 cents per kWh. The average person would save roughly $860 per year in fuel alone, and that’s assuming gasoline prices remain at their historically low current levels. Gasoline prices frequently spike up and down, but in the long run they always goes up. Electricity costs do eventually increase also, but not nearly at the pace of gasoline. Plus, with fewer moving parts, EVs cost much less to maintain. If you combine the fuel savings with the reduced maintenance costs, it’s clear to see an EV will cost you much less in the long run, even if it costs a little more up front.
Another great thing about electric cars is that since you can easily reduce your electric bill by $40 to $50 per month by being more efficient, you can actually completely eliminate your transportation fuel cost! You really can’t use less gasoline unless you drive less or buy a more efficient car, but you can reduce your electricity usage at home and still drive as much as you always have. Simple measures like using a programmable thermostat, the use of LED light bulbs, replacing older appliances with Energy Star rated ones and turning off unnecessary lighting can make a big difference. In fact, five 100 watt light bulbs left on continuously for a year use nearly the same amount of energy as it takes to power an electric car 15,000 miles! Here’s how: Five 100 watt light bulbs use 500 watts. In 24 hours they use 12,000 watt-hours or 12 kWh. In 365 days they use 4,380 kWh. A typical EV that uses 30 kWh for every 100 miles will use 4,500 kWh to drive 15,000 miles. Simply by turning unnecessary lighting off at your home, you can drastically reduce or completely eliminate your annual transportation fuel cost. Try doing that with a gasser!
Two thousand years ago, Roman legionnaires lugged 100-pound packs into battle. A lot has changed since then, but technology hasn’t really reduced an infantryman’s load. On the battlefield, mobility is critical—but a typical, modern Marine may shoulder an 80-pound backpack containing 20 pounds of back-up batteries for an array of electronics.
“What if we could grow solar cells on the same heavy substrate we use in the standard high-efficiency, low-cost polycrystalline processes?” asked Matthew Reese, an NREL staff scientist in PV research. Afterwards, researchers could transfer the high-efficiency cadmium telluride (CdTe) or copper indium gallium selenide cells to lighter-weight packaging—trimming the weight of the cells.
When soldiers or supply convoys are forced to move slowly on repeated trips, they can become “targets of choice” for enemy combatants. Because of this, the Energy Department and Department of Defense are looking for ways to ease such heavy burdens, and a team of researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) is exploring novel approaches for making renewable power sources lighter.
Photovoltaic (PV) cells are the military’s choice to power remote bases, but the ones it uses are not only large and inflexible, they aren’t very efficient. Last summer, NREL embarked on a $1.5 million, three-year research and development contract with the Office of Naval Research to explore making lightweight solar cells. In this work, the journey has been marked by fundamental science—and creative thinking. Read more