The energy department recently released a new tool intended to encourage the public to buy more electric vehicles. Released with much fanfare, the eGallon calculation attempts to provide a baseline of comparison between the fuel costs of traditional gasoline powered vehicles and the fuel cost of electric vehicles.
Since gasoline is sold by the gallon in the U.S and electricity is sold by the kilowatt, the tool attempts to boil down the numbers so that the two can be compared on a common basis. Toward that end, the energy department converted the cost of the electricity required to power an EV the same distance that a gallon of gas would take a traditional automobile.
The average 2012 model automobile gets 28.2 miles per gallon. To compare the cost of electricity you will need to workout how much it would cost to buy enough electricity to travel 28.2 miles in an electric vehicle. The resulting eGallon price turns out to be substantially lower than the price of a gallon of gasoline. As of this writing, the national average price for a gallon of gas is $3.49 while the ‘eGallon’ rate is $1.18.
Anyone who lives in New Yorkknows that some states pay substantially more than the national average for gas (and electricity for that matter). The eGallon website takes into account the variability of prices by state and calculates an eGallon price for each state.
The intended message of the eGallon is to show that driving electric is way cheaper than driving a gas powered vehicle. Some critics are not quite so sure, however. While there are many good reasons for choosing electric over gas, cost savings might not be one of them. eGallon leaves out a couple of important components of the cost of driving electric. An ‘adjusted eGallon’ calculation that accounts for these other items tells a different story about the savings of switching to electric.
While the numbers imply that a consumer can save 60%-70% on their transportation costs by going electric, that’s just not the case. The calculation ignores the cost of the expensive batteries used by electric vehicles. By some calculations, this cost is more than the cost of the actual electricity.
Many people believe that any true fuel cost for electric vehicles should account for the replacement costs of these batteries. They have only a limited useful lifespan and must be replaced after several years at a potential cost of thousands of dollars. If this price is added to the eGallon rate it more than doubles the number.
The government’s goal with the eGallon project is loadable. An eventual shift to electric powered transportation is sure to have a number of positive ramifications for society as a whole. But let’s be careful not to mislead people along the way with incomplete statements about the cost of switching to electric. We are not yet at the point where switch to electric is a no-brainer for most people.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author, Holbert Janson.
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