How much money can driving an EV save you?

by Jay Kimball on 14 April 2017

Compared to gasoline powered vehicles, electric vehicles (EVs) cost less to drive. And in the Northwest, where much of the electricity is very clean hydropower, they have a very low carbon footprint too.

Working with electric utility Orcas Power and Light Cooperative (OPALCO), located in San Juan County, Washington, we explored just how efficient EVs are, and what kind of impact they can have on reducing TOTAL energy bills and carbon footprint.

Over half of home energy use is estimated to come from driving. As the largest source of energy consumption, replacing gasoline cars with EVs will help reduce household energy consumption, the total energy bill, and carbon footprint.

Home Energy Use

About 47 percent of San Juan County’s carbon footprint is estimated to come from transportation. So replacing fossil fuel cars with low emission EVs will reduce county carbon footprint too.

carbon footprint in San Juan County

EVs are much more efficient than gasoline cars. A typical EV can drive about 4 to 5 miles per kWh (MPkWh). To compare an EV’s efficiency with a typical gasoline car (US average 26 MPG), we convert the EV’s MPkWh and the gasoline car’s MPG to BTUs, so we are comparing with a common unit of energy. As can be seen in the comparison below, a typical EV uses about 4.8 times less energy than a typical gasoline car. That is a remarkable reduction of energy consumption.

EV Energy Efficiency compared to gasoline car

So how does that energy efficiency translate to the actual cost of driving? The chart below shows the annual cost of driving 10,000 miles each year, for EV and gasoline cars. The chart shows driving cost from 2000 to present, to appreciate the volatility of gasoline pricing versus electricity pricing. The price of gasoline comes from the EIA price per gallon of regular gasoline records. The price of electricity per kWh comes from OPALCO electric rate history.

The red line is the gasoline car, and we can see the price of gasoline is volatile compared to electricity (green line), which typically only changes once a year. We can see how the efficiency produces a major driving cost reduction for EVs. At current prices, a 26 MPG gasoline car costs about $1,000 per year to drive 10,000 miles. The EV is only $200 – one-fifth the cost of a gasoline car.

EV Driving Cost compared to gasoline car

Carbon footprint is reduced too. The chart below brings it all together, showing the cost and carbon footprint for a variety of EV and car efficiencies. The chart uses data from 2015, when gasoline prices were a bit higher. The carbon footprint for electricity is based on the footprint of OPALCO electricity.

EV Driving Cost and Carbon Footprint

If a household has two cars, at least one should be an EV. And the EV should be the first vehicle driven each day to maximize use. At our home, we share the EV, to maximize use of the lowest cost, lowest emission vehicle, and only use the gasoline car as a back up or for extended trips, such as long distance drives. We drive a 2013 Nissan Leaf, which has a range of about 100 miles. We simply plug in to a standard 120 volt outlet at the end of each day to top off the charge. It’s full up the next morning, ready to go.

EVs have been out long enough that there is a nice selection of used EVs, at prices below $10,000. If you are buying a new EV, check your state and Federal incentives. For example, in Washington state, there is no sales tax on EVs, a Federal tax credit of $7,500, and substantial rebates and low interest financing from Nissan. That takes a new $34,000 MSRP Leaf down to about $18,000. The new Nissan Leaf has a larger battery with more range. The new Chevy Bolt has about 240 mile range between charges. Tesla has a variety of range options on their vehicles.

In San Juan County, EV market share grew 55% last year. More and more drivers are discovering the low cost, clean, quiet, low maintenance driving experience of EVs.

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This American Life on Climate Change

by Jay Kimball on 20 May 2013

this american life, ira glassYesterday, on our way to a party, my wife Sue and I tuned in to NPR’s This American Life.  Radio host IRA Glass introduced three increasingly compelling segments on the topic of climate change – Hot In My Backyard. When we got to our destination, we didn’t want to get out of the car.  We didn’t want to miss a word.

First up was Colorado’s State Climatologist, Nolan Doesken. As reporter Julia Kumari Drapkin explained, Doesken has long believed the humans are driving climate change, but never connected it to his own life. Even after several years of some of the most devastating weather his state has ever seen, Nolan considered climate change a worry for the future. Then, last year, he watched as his state experienced some of the most extreme weather it has ever seen. For the first time, Nolan felt like he was looking at what the future would be like where he lives. He felt scared. Julia tells the story of how this has all changed Nolan, and changed what he’s saying to the people of his home state.

Next up was Producer Ben Calhoun telling the story of a former Congressional Representative from South Carolina, Bob Inglis. Inglis is a conservative Republican who once doubted climate science. After he looked at the research, he changed his mind, and decided to speak out. In 2010, he was mocked by people in his own party and trounced by a Tea Party-backed candidate. Since then, Bob has dedicated himself to the issue even more — and he’s now trying to create a conservative coalition for climate change action.  For more on Inglis, see an article I wrote on him back in 2010: GOP Rep. Bob Inglis On Climate Change

The third and final segment has host Ira Glass telling the story of writer turned activist Bill McKibben. Glass tells us McKibben is trying to reinvent progressive politics when it come to climate change. He’s attempting to create a divestment campaign modeled after the successful campaign against apartheid in South Africa. The campaign is designed to recast the discussion of climate change, with fossil fuel companies as the villains.

Shortly after the segment ended, I turned the car off, and Sue and I walked up through friends Robin and Lyn’s rolling land, past a very active hand hewn bee hive, through abundant gardens of spring vegetables, herbs, and fruit trees, ultimately arriving at a pickleball court, where friends gamed on, in the warmth of the afternoon sun.

I knew Robin and Lyn’s daughter Annie would be there, back from Washington, DC, and I was looking forward to seeing her.  Annie is walking the talk.  If you listen to the Bill McKibben segment above, you will hear a lot about how divestment is increasingly being used as an effective tool against corporate bad business.  Annie is in the thick of it.  She works for The Conflict Risk Network — encompassing about 80 members including pension funds, some of the world’s largest asset management firms, government entities, university endowments, foundations, financial service providers and socially responsible investment firms. They harnesses the collective weight of more than $6 trillion in investment assets.  And they use that weight to challenge corporate actions and misconduct that hurt our society.

Listening to This American Life was the perfect warm-up to conversation with Annie. I love how serendipity shows up when you least expect it.  And I especially love how young people like Annie are forging a path of active informed engagement on the burning issues of the day.


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Dan Kammen: On Climate Change and Renewable Energy

by Jay Kimball on 07 November 2012

At a recent Crossroads Lecture, energy policy expert Daniel Kammen spoke about Energizing the Low-Carbon Future. His presentation is timely – climate change has been on the public mind as hurricane superstorm Sandy devastated New York, New Jersey, and beyond. Though we would all agree that energy is an essential part of our daily life, Americans spend more money on potato chips than on energy research and development. Dan has a deep nuanced understanding of where we are at, and where we need to go, to build a clean, sustainable energy future.

In the presentation below, Dr. Kammen explores innovations in, and barriers to, building renewable energy systems worldwide – from villages to large regional economies.  He discusses tools already available, and others needed, to speed the transition to a sustainable planet. Daniel Kammen is Professor in the Energy and Resources Group (ERG), Professor of Public Policy in the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley. He is also the founding Director of the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory (RAEL). Kammen advises the World Bank, and the Presidents Committee on Science and Technology (PCAST), and is a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (Working Group III and the Special Report on Technology Transfer).

Dan spoke for about an hour, followed by a 35 minute question and answer session. The Q&A session has some great questions and discussion.

Dan talked about cleantech jobs, the economic benefits of transitioning to renewable energy, climate change, coal, natural gas, arctic sea ice loss, peak oil, the real cost of coal and other high-carbon sources of energy, solar energy, and energy storage.  One of my favorite quotes:

When you are spending your funds buying fuels as a fraction of the cost of the technology, it’s a very different equation than when you are investing in people, training, new companies, and intellectual capital. [And so, for example] if you buy a gas turbine, 70 percent of the money that will go in to that, over its lifetime, is not going to be for human resources and hardware, it’s to buy fuel. If you buy renewable energy and energy efficiency, while we have a problem of needing to find ways to amortize up-front costs, you are investing in people, companies, and innovation.

Jobs created, per dollar invested, are consistently higher for cleantech jobs versus old fossil fuel based energy sources. Economist Robert Solow, in his Nobel prize winning work on the drivers of economic growth, demonstrated that about 75 to 80 percent of the growth in US output per worker was attributable to technical progress and innovation.  Transitioning to renewable forms of energy will provide strong stimulus to our economy, while reducing public health and environmental costs associated with dirty coal and oil pollution.

cleantech renewable energy conservation jobs chart

(source: Political Economy Research Institute, University of Massachusetts Amherst)

After Dan Kammen finished overviewing climate change and energy issues, he highlighted several case studies that featured renewable energy and low-carbon energy production implementations for small (personal), medium (community) and large (national) installations.  Watch the video above for more.

Recommended Reading

Climate Change




Income Inequality: A Congressional Report Card

by Jay Kimball on 18 October 2012

The Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) just released their first Inequality Report Card. It evaluates each congressional representative’s voting record on 40 bills aimed at reducing income inequality. Legislation ranges from the ” Buffet Rule” that would establish a minimum tax rate for upper-income Americans to increasing the minimum wage and indexing it to inflation.

The report includes an overall “honor roll” — to highlight those representatives and senators who have done the most to narrow America’s economic divide — as well as a “dishonor roll” of lawmakers who have repeatedly tilted the “1%” way. The report card also details the “most 1% friendly” and “most 99% friendly” by party affiliation.

IPS gave each congressperson a grade, A through F.

See how your representatives did on the Inequality Report Card. Click on the map below and find your representative based on where you live. The colors represent the different grades each house member received. If your not happy with what they are doing, the map includes a quick simple button to contact your member of congress.

Income Inequality report card map

(click for larger image)

Income inequality in the US is at an all time high. As measured by the Gini Index, the US ranks with Rwanda and Uganda in income inequality.

Recommended Reading

Who Stole the American Dream? by Hedrick Smith

When Does the Wealth of a Nation Hurt its Wellbeing? by Jay Kimball

Hedrick Smith: Who Stole the American Dream? by Jay Kimball (includes video talk by Hedrick Smith)


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