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What are Electric Vehicles?

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Electric vehicles plug in and receive some or all of their energy for the drivetrain from the charged battery.  Conventional vehicles also have batteries, but this energy is primarily used for starting the car and other less energy intensive tasks.  In conventional vehicles, energy for the drivetrain that powers the wheels is generated by an internal combustion engine that uses gasoline.  In electric vehicles, the internal combustion engine either works with the battery or is completely replaced by the battery.  There are two types of electric vehicles:

Plug-in hybrid electric vehicle: These “plug-in hybrids” have an internal combustion engine that works with the battery to power the drivetrain.  For example, the Chevy Volt can travel up to 40 miles using only battery power, but after that the internal combustion engine starts to work with the battery.  These vehicles do not have a range limitation because drivers can fill up at a conventional gas station in case the battery is empty.

Battery electric vehicle: These “fully electric vehicles” do not have an internal combustion engine.  The battery is the only energy available to power the drivetrain.  These vehicles have a range limitation because if the battery runs out and there are no charging stations around, drivers are stranded.  As charging infrastructure develops, range limitation will become less of a concern.

Because charging infrastructure will take a long time to plan and build, the prevailing view on this website is that plug-in hybrids will be much more popular in the near future.  In the long run, the market potential for fully electric vehicles will grow because charging infrastructure will become ubiquitous.

From an electric utility perspective, electric vehicles present substantial opportunity and risk.  The potential increase in revenue from a vehicle that consumes nearly as much electricity as a whole house is a huge opportunity. The risk is that the existing infrastructure cannot handle such a large increase in load.  Demand side management by utilities and system planners will be needed in order to ensure that we see more of the opportunity and less of the risk.

To browse recent articles related to electric vehicles, click here.