Electric cars are no longer a thing of the future. Palo Alto-based Tesla Motors fills the Bay Area freeways with their luxury electric cars and even mainstream car makers have introduced more affordable (under $35,000) electric cars. I recently leased my first plug-in hybrid car, a 2017 Chevrolet Volt, and I’ve really enjoyed taking it out on errands and California road trips.
Have you ever thought about buying an electric car? If so, here are some things to consider and some tips for traveling with and finding a charge for your electric car.
Electric Cars and California
Living in car-obsessed and tech-driven Silicon Valley, it should not have surprised me that our state has spearheaded innovation in electric vehicle and battery technology. California set an ambitious goal of having a third of its electricity come from renewable sources by the end of 2020 and half by 2030. To meet this goal, the state has aggressively incentivized the use and sale of hybrid and plug-in electric cars. Because of this and some other factors, California leads the nation in selling fully electric and hybrid cars.
The Bay Area, specifically, has more hybrid and electric cars on the road than any other urban region in the United States.
Benefits of Electric Cars
Thinking of taking the plunge and buy an electric car? Here are some of the benefits:
- Tax breaks: Several states offer tax incentives to reduce the upfront cost of electric cars, trucks and motorcycles. California offers rebates of up to $2,500 for electric cars that run only on a charge, and $1,500 for electric hybrids, which can also run on gasoline. Additional California state incentives are currently available for drivers in the San Joaquin Valley and Los Angeles. Federal incentives include up to $7,500 from the Plug-In Electric Drive Vehicle Credit.
- Access to High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes: In California, all hybrid and electric cars have traditionally been allowed to apply for permits to use High Occupancy Vehicle (or “carpool”) lanes, with only one person in the car. As of June 2016, the popular program has run out of permits and is only guaranteeing permits for one hundred percent emission-free electric cars, not plug-in hybrids that have a traditional combustion engine for backup.
- Parking discounts and promotions: If you need to get a charge on the road, plug-in electric cars can get you premium, usually front-of-the-lot parking spots at busy destinations and local events. Live in San Jose/buy your car in San Jose? Get a ParkSJ Clean Air Parking Pass and park for free in all Downtown San Jose public parking garages.
- Environmental benefits & cost savings: Driving fully-electric cars reduces air pollution and saves you money by cutting the amount you have to spend on gas. In California, home utility discounts are available to limit the increase of your home electric bill.
How to Charge an Electric Car
There are three different electric car charging speeds and associated technology.
- Level 1: The first (and slowest) is called a level 1 charger. This is similar to plugging into a standard home, 120-volt outlet. Most plug-in electric cars come with the 120-volt charger as standard.
- Level 2: If you upgrade your home outlets to a 240-volt capacity you can cut your charging time in half.
- DC Quick Charging (or DC Fast Charging): These are super high-speed chargers that can add 50 to 60 miles of range in about 20 minutes. Not all electric cars are compatible but those that use the CHAdeMO, SAE Combo, and Tesla Superchargers. Use PlugShare to determine if the charging station you are looking for will work with these networks.
All electric cars can utilize the first two levels of charging, but only some cars can handle the rapid speed of the DC Quick Charging system.
How to Find Electric Vehicle and Tesla Charging Stations When You Travel
Plug-in electric cars currently get up to 240 miles on an electric charge. Because of the fuel backup of many hybrid electric cars, you may not need to use a charger when you are going about your day-to-day errands, but it is important to know your options for busy driving days and road trips.
There are several online tools and apps that can help you find an electric car or Tesla charging station. Here are two to check out:
- The U.S. Department of Energy Alternative Fuels Data Center: http://www.afdc.energy.gov/fuels/electricity_locations.html The most comprehensive listing of public and private electric car charging stations in the United States.
- Plugshare: http://www.plugshare.com/. Another great listing of U.S. electric car charging stations with a more user-friendly map, trip planner, and two mobile apps (iPhone / Android). Includes 2,000 totally free charging stations, not associated with any of the networks listed below.
Most of the public plug-in electric charging stations belong to one of several paid private charger networks. Each one using different charging technology so if you want to increase the likelihood you will find a compatible charger when you need it, join several of these on a pay-per-use basis. If you think you will be charging with the system regularly, consider using a monthly subscription to save money and charge more.