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  • Writer's pictureLexi Merchant

Electric Vehicles: Reimagining the Transportation Sector

Updated: Feb 28

Lexi Merchant, Maine Clean Communities Fellow at GPCOG, reflects on her knowledge of Electric Vehicles before her fellowship began. Her article is an educational recap on EV's and the greater purpose they serve to combat climate change at an individual level.

When I began my service at GPCOG as an AmeriCorps Resilience Fellow, I knew some of my work was going to be focused on electrifying the transportation sector. Personally, I have little experience with electric vehicles. I don’t know anyone who owns one and I haven’t even ridden in one. I assumed the community would have a lot of questions about electric vehicles and I had many myself. How do I make sure I don’t run out of electricity while driving? How well do electric vehicles perform in the cold and snow? How big of a change is switching to an electric vehicle? New technology can be confusing, and I set out to demystify electric vehicles.

            First, what defines an electric vehicle (EV)? An electric vehicle is run by a battery that stores electrical energy and is charged by plugging into an electric power source. I will be focusing on fully electric vehicles, not hybrid-electric vehicles which are charged when the gas powered engine is running. Electric vehicles help to reduce air pollution because they have no tailpipe emissions. Tailpipe emissions from gas cars are one of the biggest contributors to air pollution and have well documented links to respiratory disease. Because of this, there are also tax credits for buying an electric vehicle to make the switch less expensive.

            What about range? The specific concern EV owners have about their vehicle making it to another charging station without running out of battery is called range anxiety. Addressing range anxiety is important and a real challenge. Currently, most EVs available today have a range of 100 to 400 miles and improvements are happening all the time. Most people who own EVs charge their cars at home. To make EVs viable for people who don’t have the option of at-home charging, the options for public charging are expanding. Grocery stores, parking structures, and some businesses now have public chargers. One of the projects I am working on is the EMPOWER Workplace Charging Project. This project aims to install a network of EV chargers at workplaces to help alleviate range anxiety.

A rumor I had heard about electric vehicles was that they weren’t good for driving in the snow and cold. Living in New England, that seems like a big problem. I was surprised to find that EVs are actually better in the snow than most gas cars. This is because the batteries are extremely heavy which makes EVs weigh more. Because the batteries are under the car, their center of gravity is lower, so they handle better in snow and slush. Besides handling, there is some concern about batteries not lasting as long in the colder temperatures. This is a problem but better, more efficient technology is coming out all the time. Also, even gas cars suffer in the cold. Fuel economy tests reveal that gas mileage is roughly 15% lower in 20 degrees F than in 77 degrees. With more charging stations popping up, the decline in battery range in the cold will become less of a concern in the future.  

            One of the other concerns around EVs is that they take longer to charge than it takes to fuel up a gas car. Depending on the type of charger, it can take as little as 30 minutes to up to 12 hours to fully charge an EV. This challenge may require rethinking how we drive on long trips. One of the cool things about EVs is that chargers can be installed in places where gas stations can’t be. Hotels, salons, gyms, workplaces, malls, and other places where people park for longer times can all have chargers. Cars spend a lot of time parked, so it makes sense to have them charging at the same time. As more chargers become available in a variety of locations, EV owners can multitask to use their charging time wisely.

I am someone who is admittedly hesitant about adapting to changing technology. Learning about EVs has made me rethink the things I take for granted about the current transportation system. Cars seem normal now, but they haven’t always been the major mode of transportation. Cars make moving around the city and country easier, but they do have problems. Right now, EVs are attempting to solve some of those problems. At the same time, EV manufacturers are trying to make the experience of owning and driving an EV closely similar to the experience of a gas-powered car. But I think it’s important to recognize that electric cars are not gas-powered cars, and we should not expect them to be. Electric cars have unique challenges as well as unique opportunities, and even I will admit that sometimes change can be good.

About Lexi

Lexi was born in Michigan and received her BS in Biology from Central Michigan University. After graduation, she worked for an environmental nonprofit in Los Angeles, CA. The experience working with communities around the issue of sustainability drove her to pursue her Masters in Sociology at UNH. There she focused on Environmental Sociology and wrote a thesis on the homesteading or back-to-the-land movement in Maine. She fell in love with the east coast and now calls Dover, NH home. In her free time, she enjoys hiking, traveling, and making craft cocktails. Lexi is excited to be a Resilience Corpse Fellow because it combines her environmental and philanthropic interests in a state she loves, Maine.



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