Living with an Electric Car

Our little EV has now been on the road for about three months, and we have driven 2300 electric km. I have visited the petrol station just once – to get air for the tires! Our daily electricity use has jumped by about 6kWh/day (around $1) – the “fuel” for the EV, which is nicely covered by the 14kWh/day our PV solar panels generate this time of year.

Our EV experience

My wife and I fight over who gets to use it! I am still a bit nervous about a possible break down, and as a geek I continuously monitor gauges, check chargers etc. My wife Rosemary just gets in and drives all over the place without a second thought. Just like it should be.

Our EV is a lead-acid battery conversion of a small Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) petrol car. This means it’s range is relatively short (40km) and it is limited to 2-3 seats due to the weight of the batteries. Remarkably, neither of these limitations has been a problem in practice. Like many people most of our trips are short. Despite having a family of 5 (two adults, 3 kids) most trips are 1 or 2 people. If needed we have plenty of opportunities to recharge during the day. So the EV covers 90% of our driving needs with ease.

Our 6 cylinder petrol car in now an orphan. We rarely use it, and are considering getting rid of it. The other day I needed it for a long distance trip and neither my wife or I could remember when we last put petrol in it! We both prefer the EV to the ICE any day.

Driving habits change. With an EV there is no guilt over very short trips, for example 1km to the supermarket when you need to carry 8 shopping bags. In an ICE shorts trips are highly inefficient (the engine is cold) and highly polluting, and bad for the car. It is cheaper for me to drive into town and back (14km, 60 cents of electricity) than take public transport ($3 train ticket).

You get more aware of the energy you are using in an EV, perhaps because of the metering (I get a direct reading of Volts, Amps, and kW as I drive). EVs coast forever. So if I see a red light, I take my foot off immediately and coast the last few 100m, using no energy at all. You are very aware of the waste in ICE cars. They are also smelly, and for some inexplicable reason waste 80 million year old energy-dense fossil fuel idling at lights!

It’s summer here in Adelaide, and we are experiencing a heat wave – about 10 day of 40C weather. However the EV seems to like the hot weather – the battery pack voltage is noticeably higher. Or it could be that the batteries have been “run in” – I am told that lead acid batteries improve with use over the first few months. The EV doesn’t have air conditioning, but for the short trips we do it doesn’t bother us much. Our ICE air-con takes 15 minutes to cool the car down and frankly many air cons struggle when it’s really hot anyway.

Where are the EVs?

Now a lead acid battery conversion of an older ICE car contains many compromises. For example the range of battery technologies available to the home-converter is small (lead-acid and Lithium), the donor petrol cars are generally heavy, the drive-train a compromise, and the volume low (quantity one) so component costs are high (retail). It would be easy for a purpose-built EV using modern battery technology to achieve 150-200km range and seat 4 people. It would also be cheaper to build, maintain, and run than an ICE vehicle.

If I can build an EV in my shed for $6,000 to $15,000 there is no reason a purpose built EV should cost $40,000 or take years to develop. If I can buy a small ICE car for $15,000 I figure a 150km range EV (with about 1000 less moving parts) should cost around $10,000 retail.

I am not a fan of hybrids. They seem overly complex, expensive to make, buy, and service. Hybrids still burn oil, which is a big dead end. A Turbo Diesel gets better mileage. However I guess they are a step in the right direction, and serve a need in the market for customers who are interested in green technology. I would rather see a future where 90% of our cars are pure electric, with long distance handled by alternative transport to personal cars.

Behavior Changes

The statistics for Adelaide state that 50% of all trips are less than 5km, so vast chunks of our car fleet could be replaced by simple EVs such as mine. Yet the media are convinced that range and recharge times are the major problems with EVs.

We have not found range to be an issue, even for our simple home-converted EV. Charging is as simple as plugging in when we get home. It takes 10 seconds and is easier than going to a petrol station. I don’t see any need for special recharging infrastructure, any household power point will do. Do you sweat over recharging your mobile phone? It’s about that easy.

Once or twice we have had to wait a few hours for the EV to charge before going out again, say after a particularly long trip. Curiously, we preferred to wait, rather than taking the ICE. We just found something else to do, and scheduled the trip for later in the day. So just like our driving style, we have modified our lives a little to suit the EV. It really has been no big deal.

Makes you wonder how we have been conditioned by ICE cars. The media defines a workable electric cars as one that can be used in exactly the same way as a petrol car. They confuse wants and needs. We think we want a car with a 200kW engine, 400km range, and a 5 minute recharge that carries 5 people. However 90% of our needs can be covered by a car with a 20kW engine, 100km range, and overnight recharge with just 2 seats.


David’s EV Page
Building an Electric Car Part 1
Building an Electric Car Part 2
Linux S.A. Oct 2008 Presentation on my Electric Car
Australian Electric Vehicle Association S.A. Jan 2009 Presentation on Low Cost EVs

3 thoughts on “Living with an Electric Car”

  1. It’s interesting to read about your real-life experience with an electric car, and how your lifestyle flexes a little to fit better with an EV.

  2. I am definitly considering an electric. the Chevy Volt comes out next year and it looks as though I will getting that because the way you described your life with the electric car does not seem so bad.

  3. Mate thats awesome, good to see someone that isnt a doofus revhead. I will one day convert my Charade to electric in the coming years which i cant wait to do. Spread the word good sir.

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