The groundswell of trash talk around electric cars leaves me, an owner of both a Chevy Volt first, and now a Bolt, mystified, angry,  but hardly speechless.  Mystified, because the complaints about EV’s bear no similarity to my own experience with them over the past six and a half years.  Angry, because I’d bet good money that the source of the snow job comes directly from the fossil fuel industry first, and anyone hawking the Infernal Combustion Engine (ICE), second.  After almost seven years behind the wheel of an EV here is what I have found.

My entry into the EV world was a Chevy Volt, a plug in hybrid – what they call a PHEV.  You plug it in and for the first 40 or so miles you are driving on the battery.  Smooth, quiet , responsive and powerful, most drivers are smitten from the very first battery mile.  Exceed the battery range in a PHEV and a gasoline engine seamlessly takes over.  Plug the car in overnight with the level one charger that comes with the car and you’re ready to go electric again in the morning.  The Department of Transportation says the average number of miles we Americans drive each day is thirty seven.  More than true for us, so most of our driving was electric.  The gas engine made longer trips easy and trouble free.  Aside from one set of tires and two oil changes, I had no other maintenance costs.   We bought around 4 gallons of gas once a month or so; we pretty much stopped worrying about the price of gas.  When I sold the old Volt to a son who is still driving it in Colorado where he lives, it was averaging 125 miles per gallon.

The Volt gave me the confidence to go all electric with a Chevy Bolt, now three and a half years old.  No more engine, only the battery.  Like the Volt, a real joy to drive.  Starts instantly summer or winter regardless of the temperature.  No trouble charging it in any kind of weather despite claims about cold weather troubles.  I get more battery miles in the summer than in the winter.  The same thing happens with gas mileage in an ICE vehicle.  The faster you drive an EV, the quicker you run out the battery.  Drive a gas-mobile fast and you drain the gas tank faster.  No real difference in principle or practice.  We choose to drive slower and mostly on two lane roads, rarely over sixty mph to get better battery miles.  In the summer we have three hundred or more miles on the battery, winter more like two hundred.  With the larger battery in the Bolt we installed a faster level two charger in our garage.  We “top off” after most trips.  We’ve come to enjoy driving a little slower, finding it much more relaxing.  I imagine it’s safer too.

One more thing.  I’ve read that it’s more expensive to charge an EV than an ICE.  Perhaps true if you charge at a fast charger, I never have.  When we charge away from home there are enough level 2 chargers for free, and since we’re never in a hurry that’s what we use.  Do a little shopping, stop for coffee and go for a walk.  Charging at home, even on grid electricity is a lot less expensive than filling the gas tank at the corner station.

The year after buying the Volt we had solar panels installed on our home’s roof.  We charge our cars almost exclusively with sunshine.  Since we are both retired, charging during the day when the sun is shining bright gives us a carbon free ride that’s free.  We’ve been driving on God’s clean sunshine for the past six years.  I can’t tell you how good that feels both as a tree huger and as a common sense, fiscal scrooge.

Then there’s tires.  I’ve read that EV’s go through them like a hot knife through butter, 22,000 miles I’m told.  I changed tires on the Bolt this past fall at 43,000 miles plus, and they still had a little tread on them.  One satisfied EV owner here.

Regenerative braking is real and very cool.  As you brake to a stop, or hold your speed  driving down a steep hill, you’re charging your battery – akin to refilling your gas tank.  It takes more energy going up a grade than you make in an EV going down, but regenerative charging is substantial and the added miles pile up.  How sweet is that?  Of course that old gas-mobile uses up it’s fuel tank going up and going down.  Thumbs up again for the EV.

There are still more differences between the Infernal Combustion Engine and the EV.  First and foremost involves efficiency.  According to Yale and the U.S. Energy Information Administration 80% of the gasoline or diesel in a car’s tank is wasted as heat, meaning only 20% of the gas we fill up with is actually used to drive the car.  Given all the fossil fuels used to drill, pump, ship to the refinery, refine it and transport that gasoline to our neighborhood station, that’s a whole lot of waste.  My Bolt, by comparison, only wastes 11% of the sun’s electrons in its battery.  That’s a real shocker.  And the pipeline from the sun to our solar panels is carbon and particulate pollution free.  Nor does it spill and foul the environment.  It takes a while for that 80% of what we pay for gasoline winding up as waste heat factoid to sink in, but geez!

Okay, there are a couple downsides.  One is charging stations.  If you drive a Tesla you’re in luck.  Elon had the smarts to build out a great charging system for the cars his expert workers build.  Though we rarely need to charge outside our garage, when we do the availability of charging stations outside of bigger cities can be iffy, but is getting better and better.  We’re planing a trip up to Ashland and found plenty of charging stations along the way, and several in Ashland.  But for really long trips, like Colorado, we use the PHEV Volt.  This is a young technology and charging will only get better.

The last downside is heating in the winter.  Since a true EV has no gas engine there’s none of that waste heat to warm the cabin with, we have to use the battery.  This does cost miles.  Every EV driver makes their own decision about this.  The heater actually works fine, but we rely on the heated front seats because they use significantly less electricity and a lap blanket down to around 20 degrees.  When my mom was a kid on the family farm in Michigan’s U.P they wore lap blankets in their horse drawn sleigh.  We kind of like doing the same – to a point.  After that we use the heater to stay toasty warm.

Like anything we make to satisfy the enormous size of the human marketplace, EV’s have their carbon footprint and are subject to environmental concerns.  But in their years of use EV’s are cleaner to operate by far, and as the grid fills out with clean, renewable energy they offer hope to an overheated, weather weird world.  The materials needed for EV’s must be recycled and when mined it is vital that it be done cleanly.  Global carbon emissions continued to rise last year, but again according to the International Energy Agency, without renewable energy and electric cars those emissions would  have risen three times faster over the past five years.  That’s progress but far from perfection.

Last thought has to do with our adult kids and not so adult grand kids.  Kathy and I have no doubt that climate change is real and having an impact now, even here in the north.  As gardeners we know that in Central Wisconsin we’ve gained a month of growing season in the fall since the mid 1980s.  We know winters are getting milder and snow-short winters are coming around more often.  Ask the business owners up north how things are going for them this year?  We also know there is no “new normal”, that the climate will keep getting hotter, more destructive and more unpredictable, and that eventually parts of the world will become too hot and too wet for human life. When that happens around mid century, a lot of people will be on the move.  If we think we have a problem with in migration now, we better buckle our seat belts because our own military leaders are predicting a very rough ride.  We also know we’re breathing way too much western and Canadian forest fire smoke way too regularly through the summer.  The longer we continue our love affair with fossil fuels the worse things will get.

Our Indigenous brothers and sisters make decisions with the well being of the next seven generations in mind.  It seem to us we ought to be thinking about at least the next two.  Of course, there’s always great grand kids, so make that three.

2023 was the hottest year ever recorded.  We also pumped more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than ever before.  If for no other reason than for love of our descendants we can, and should, apply pressure to our politicians for legislative action on climate change.  This is a must, but we can also make our own changes.  Our experience with solar and electric cars says these are changes we can make and end up both satisfied and happy with our decision.  It also makes for an easier conscience to look our future in their young, eager eyes without flinching.  As for cost, the IRA passed a couple of years ago by Joe Biden and the Democrats offers significant money to help us along.  Seems like a lot of wins wrapped up in all that.  In our book this isn’t about being “woke,” or a certain kind of politics.  It’s about caring enough about the future of real people, today’s youth and those yet to be born.  It’s about loving them and the rest of life on this beautiful planet enough to put a cork in the fossil fuel bottle and make the switch to something newer, and  in the end, much better.