Shocking Exposé: A Year with an Electric Car

By Morgan Brown, Nuclear Engineer and Systems Analyst, Canadian Nuclear Laboratories
Originally published in the North Renfrew Times, November 14, 2018

It began with a display by Ontario’s Plug’N Drive, a non-profit organization promoting electric vehicles (EVs).  They brought their EV Roadshow to Chalk River Labs in the spring of 2017, along with a plug-in hybrid Chevrolet Volt.  I was intrigued, and told Catharine all about it.  Fine, she said, and booked a visit to a Kia dealer in Ottawa the following weekend.  We went, we saw, they (the dealership) conquered; we purchased a 2017 all-electric Kia Soul, my post-mid-life-crisis car.

I had long wanted an EV, and they appeared to have come of age.  Normally I’m on the trailing edge of technology, content with what I have and without a desire for new toys.  But it was time to put money where my mouth was, especially with respect to reducing my impact on our one and only planet Earth (the one with no Plan B).  Electric cars, in a place like Ontario with low-emission electricity, have significantly lower lifetime overall environmental damage compared with an internal-combustion engine (ICE) vehicle like our SUV.  The reason I got into the nuclear business, some thirty years ago, was precisely because it has a relatively low impact on our world; it was now time to make a personal commitment.

The Kia Soul EV is similar to the ICE version, in terms of the exterior look and interior fittings.  There are a number of ICE versions in and around town – it’s a funky-looking useful car with a hatchback and room for five (ok, a bit squishy).  I have no problem transporting my bari sax, a not-inconsequential (foghornish?) music instrument.  The Kia (not the bari) has an 81 hp electric motor driving a single-speed transmission to the front wheels.  It can easily go over 100 km/h, despite how I drive; the pickup is pretty peppy from a standing start, due to very high torque.

The EV cost us $43,005 including all taxes, substantially more than the ICE version because of the expensive batteries.  We received an Ontario taxpayer subsidy (thank you!) of $14,000, bringing the price down to about that of the ICE Soul; frankly, the subsidy was a little rich and didn’t seem to have any mechanism for decreasing as EVs became cheaper, but that’s another story.  Note that, because the EV is more than $10,000 more expensive than the ICE version, we paid over $1500 more tax.

So what about the “lack of infrastructure” that gets bandied about?  That’s a fallacy – the infrastructure is everywhere in the form of standard 120 V outlets.  For the first few months we used only the Level 1 (120 V) charger with which the car was equipped.  Yes, it takes a long time to fully charge (about 24 h for 30 kWh), but we never fully drain the battery and rarely fully charge it.  Essentially the Level 1 charges at about 6 km per hour (a velocity?).  Plugged in overnight at off-peak prices gives about 2 round trips from our Deep River home to the Chalk River Labs.  Canadian Nuclear Laboratories has provided six EV Level 1 parking spots, which gives another nine hours charging when I drive the car pool; interestingly, the six spots are no longer enough for all the EV owners on site!

The Level 2 charger is the next step up, charging the batteries at 240 V.  We paid $1895 (including >$200 tax) to purchase and install such our Level 2 charger, but received a $747 taxpayer subsidy (again, thank you).  This charger is about six times faster; frankly, plugging in the car when needed is similar to plugging in a cell phone – no big deal!

We have used a fast charger once, namely the one at the Deep River Tim Horton’s, just to see how it worked.  While it charged the car to about 85% of full capacity (to avoid frying the battery) in under about one half hour, I estimated it cost 5 times the price we would pay at home!  However, we are appreciative that such charge stations are available.

So, how has the EV performed?  Our main driving is around town or to the CNL plant site.  Occasionally we take it to Pembroke or Petawawa, but leave the (rare) Ottawa trip for the SUV.  The full-charge range (nominally 149 km) varies from about 120 km in winter to 180 km in summer – the winter decrease is primarily due to the batteries being cold, although the electric heating also takes a toll.  It would be nice to have the ~10% greater range of the 2018 Kia Soul, and some claim the 2020 version may be as high as 350 km.  Regardless, our EV does a fine job, and we’ve moved on from “range anxiety” to “range awareness”.  The average electricity consumption (Sep 2017 – Aug 2018) was 16.2 kWh/100 km.  Assuming a 15% loss due to charging, and an average $0.19/kWh (our 2016 total electricity cost divided by total kWh), this works out to about $3.60 / 100 km.  An equivalent ICE Kia Soul, at 7.6 l/100 km (highway) and $1.20 per litre for gas, costs about $9.10 per 100 km.  If I use a much more accurate “incremental cost” of electricity and charge overnight, the cost is less than $3/100 km.

Overall we’re very pleased with the EV.  If we lived in a city, we would ditch the SUV, keep the EV, and rent a vehicle for long trips.  Sure, the EV lacks the range you might want, but things are improving.  The initial cost is higher but it is much cheaper to operate (did I mention the lack of oil changes?).  However, economics was not our prime motivator – it really does reduce our damage to the environment, and is fun to drive.

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