Electric vehicles are a growing option in North Carolina, and for this month’s Carolina Curious, one new owner asks how to charge them in a way that’s most beneficial to the environment. To learn more about the EV landscape, WFDD’s Paul Garber began by taking a spin with a member of a long-running local electric vehicle club.
The Triad Electric Vehicle Association – or TEVA – started in Burlington in 2005. Bill Bucklen, a retired engineer joined in 2008, when he bought his first electric vehicle, a Tesla Roadster.
Although he has since switched to a sedan, he still appreciates the power that the Tesla’s engine can produce. This is no golf-cart electric vehicle, as he shows while we take a drive on a Greensboro highway.
"Are you ready?" he asks.
"Ready," I reply.
"Head on the headrest…"
And then, in what seems like a split second, I'm pinned to the passenger seat. "Holy cow!” I yell.
The car can go from zero to 60 in about 2-3 seconds. And that feels like something out of Carowinds.
North Carolina is primed for an electric vehicle surge as the state becomes a hub for Toyota’s electric vehicle battery plant in Randolph County and VinFast vehicle and battery production in Chatham.
They’ll join a movement toward electric vehicles — or EVs — that includes trucks designed by Greensboro’s Volvo Trucks North America. And of course, all those vehicles will need power.
There’s mapping on the Tesla’s in-car computer that tells Bucklen where charging stations are when he’s driving. But most of his charging is done at home.
“It's about three cents a mile for electricity because we pay 10 cents a kilowatt hour here in North Carolina," he says. "So three cents a mile is quite a bit less than gasoline.”
Bucklen says he likes the efficiency and cost savings that come from driving electric vehicles.
“We do have solar panels on the house so we charge and you can think, 'That's okay, we're charging with the sun,'" he says. "We produce more electricity than we use in the car. So it's a net positive.”
For those looking for cost–savings when tapping into a local energy company’s power, there’s no financial incentive to charge a vehicle in off-hours. But Duke Energy is looking into such a program, known as “managed charging,” says spokesman Randy Wheeless.
He says while electric vehicle use has been rising, there hasn’t been a spike in electricity needs that’s been hard to handle.
“It's a very small part of the electricity market," he says. "But we know it's coming soon.”
Wheeless says it does make an environmental difference when you charge your vehicle. And it has as much to do with the thermostat as the clock.
“In the summer here, when it's so hot in the late afternoon, and you know, really from the morning to the afternoon, probably after 8 p.m., 'til the next morning, around 6 a.m. [is best]," he says. "That way, you're avoiding the peak of our electricity usage. And we don't have to turn on extra power plants for that.”
It’s almost the opposite in winter, he says.
“The peak usage period is going to be in the early morning hours when you have those cold winter mornings," he says. "So really, after, let's say 10 a.m. in the morning through the end of the day would be a great time to charge it as well.”
The company is working on a pilot program with Ford Motor Co. to explore vehicle-to-grid charging.
“That's something that definitely could be in the future where on a peak summer day, when electricity is very much in demand, you could actually use the battery energy store from these batteries to help the grid. And in return, you would get some sort of compensation for that.”
Last year, the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality announced a nearly $7 million investment to expand the state’s charging infrastructure.
Stations can already be found at some well-known gas station locations, typically close to an interstate. There are also charging stations in cities like the one TEVA volunteers put up at the Deep Roots Market in downtown Greensboro.
There’s debate about just how helpful electric vehicles are for the environment. It’s not a completely clean energy source, given that users are basically switching from the gas station to the power plant.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says research shows EVs have a lower carbon footprint than an average new gasoline car. Those numbers are likely to improve as renewable energy sources like wind and solar continue to add more power to the electric grid, the agency says.