Flip the switch on electric cars

Published 4:08 pm Friday, November 26, 2021

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I have been thinking about electric cars since May.

If you remember (I know time blurs together in this never-ending pandemic), that’s when the Colonial Pipeline temporarily had to shut down after a cyber attack on its systems. The company operates the pipeline which runs from Texas up the East Coast to New York, so a lot of people were affected by the shutdown, despite how brief it was.

It didn’t help matters that many people started panic buying gas, creating an actual shortage that prolonged the situation as well. We made the problem worse than it actually was by hoarding gas instead of waiting to fuel up when we needed it.

I wrote a column during that crazy week of gas shortages to shine a light on the (probably very obvious) fact that we cannot continue to rely on only one source of fuel. There’s no alternative I can pour into my car’s gas tank if the local gas station is out, I wrote. I’m not going to be able to MacGyver my car into running on peanut butter, paper clips, and duct tape.

And we’ve learned from the pandemic that staying home isn’t feasible for the long term. No gas for a week? That’s fine. I don’t leave my house that much anyway. No gas for a couple months? Now, that’s a problem. I’d need to drive somewhere to get food eventually at the very least.

Of course, after the gas shortage issue was resolved, I didn’t think too much else about electric cars. There are a million other things to occupy my attention every day, and hypotheticals about cars aren’t always at the top of that list.

But I covered an event for the newspaper about energy solutions in early October hosted by Roanoke Electric Cooperative that reminded me about electric cars again. The expo provided attendees information about (and a bit of hands-on experience with) electric-powered vehicles and other energy-saving ideas. I thought the electric-powered school bus on display was particularly interesting! (Though, generally, it looked the same as a typical bus, minus what was under the hood.)

That event got me thinking again about how viable it would be to switch to an electric vehicle, or maybe even just a hybrid one that would hopefully reduce the amount of gasoline needed.

But I’ve currently got a car that still runs just fine. (Hopefully I didn’t jinx it by writing that!) So any serious thoughts about switching to a different kind of car are more in the future for me than in the present. So again, the topic faded from the forefront of my mind.

Browsing news articles this week, however, had the topic popping up again. I read an NPR article about how society has started seriously considering giving up gas-powered cars, an idea that was laughable just a few years ago.

“Momentum is building for the idea that zero-emission vehicles, primarily electric ones, are the future of the auto industry,” the article says is part of a global trend.

Recent climate talks in Glasgow set a (non-binding) goal for all vehicles sold being zero-emission by 2040. The European Union might even shoot for that goal five years earlier.

According to the NPR article, the US isn’t committed to a full phaseout yet, instead setting a goal of 50 percent of new cars sold being electric. Currently, the American auto market is 97 percent gas and diesel vehicles… so that’s a long way to go for change. And they also point out that we don’t yet have the electric grid and infrastructure to handle a whole country full of only electric cars.

One woman interviewed in the article noted that change needs to start now. We can’t just wait until the year before we want to switch fully to electric vehicles to say that people aren’t allowed to buy gas-powered cars anymore.

The article got me thinking about logistics after I finished reading it. There has been plenty of talk about the need for electric vehicles (climate change being the biggest one, of course), but I don’t always see as much focus on the details about how we’re supposed to make that change. If we don’t have a plan in place, then all this talk is meaningless, right?

So, firstly, I thought about the situation from my personal perspective. What would it take for me to switch to an electric car?

Right now, there’s little incentive for me to buy a new car since my current one is already paid off. So how much would an electric car cost to buy? Would I have enough money to purchase an electric car when a gas-powered one might be cheaper at whatever dealership I visit? Would it be worth a high cost on the front end if it saves me more money long term?

And then, if I did buy an electric car, what would I do about charging it? What equipment would I need to charge it at my house? How costly would that be for my electricity bill? What would I do if I’m on the road somewhere and need to recharge? How would I know where recharging stations are located?

And then, on a broader scale, if we’re all switching to electric-powered vehicles, then what will that look like for everyone else? I mentioned the electric school bus earlier, but what about electric tractors? Electric construction equipment? Electric 18-wheelers? Are electric engines powerful enough to do the same heavy lifting as these gas- or diesel-powered ones? Are they affordable?

If this is the future we are heading towards, these are the kinds of questions I hope people are asking and considering. Because if things aren’t planned out well and answers aren’t readily available, then it’s going to be a struggle to get people onboard for the transition and switch. Change is difficult, even more so when it’s something we’ve been attached to for so long.

I think it’s a good sign, at least, that this topic has kept popping up this year, locally and nationally, especially when it can be so easy to get swept up in other things. We’ve got to keep talking about it, or we’ll end up in that situation where we’re up against a deadline but it’ll be impossible to start changing at that point.

I’ve been thinking about electric cars since May, but hopefully, I’m not the only one.

Holly Taylor is a Staff Writer for Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact her at holly.taylor@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7206.