A SACE staffer's personal experiences with an electric vehicle taught her that it is absolutely critical that utility and public investments center equity and make charging available for folks like her.Jennifer Stachowski | December 15, 2021
In April 2021, I was given the opportunity to drive a Nissan Leaf. Over the past 9 months, I have gone from an electric vehicle (EV) novice, knowing almost nothing about driving electric, to telling people all of my ups and downs about my experiences driving the Nissan Leaf. Below is a timeline summary of my progression.
This journey has brought me to the clear conclusion that despite the extensive benefits, without home charging, EV ownership is not practical for someone like me, and therefore, focusing utility and public investments on infrastructure that makes charging available for folks who live in apartments and park on residential streets is critical if we want to ensure an equitable transition to electric transportation.
April 2021: Some Early EV Anxieties
As a single mom with 4 kids (2 living with me) and 3 granddaughters, I had some anxieties about reliability and practicality in an all-electric vehicle.
- What happens if I run out of charge? Do I get it towed?
- Can I take my son to his appointment in Maryville, Tennessee, and make it back to Knoxville?
- Will I have time to charge in between errands?
- How much will it cost to charge at different stations?
- How do I find a close charger, especially if I am out and about?
- Electrify America checks for $50 on a card before you can use their chargers. What if my balance is low?
- What if a charger is broken?
The Leaf has an 88-mile range at most, and with a large household relying on an electric vehicle for all our needs, I knew it would be a challenge. When the transmission went out on my daughter’s car, I knew she would need to borrow my car and another means of transportation would be needed so I decided to take this on as an experiment.
The first major obstacle I encountered was I live in an apartment that doesn’t offer me the opportunity to charge at home, which exacerbated my concerns. I am able to charge at work, though, and at public charging stations around town, so I took on the challenge of planning my trips carefully in order to maintain a charge.
September 2021: Hosting the Ride-and-Drive
By September, I was versed enough to serve as a host at one of SACE’s ride-and-drive events, where I got to educate participants on all aspects of the Leaf, including regenerative braking, eco mode, the Leaf’s surprising pickup, the smooth drive of a car without shifting gears, and the roomy interior. I got to answer all the questions curious folks have:
- Can you really save money with an electric car?
- How do you know how many miles per gallon you’re getting?
- How do you know if the EV is running?
- What maintenance does an EV need?
- Once the battery is dead, is the car effectively dead as well?
- How much does a replacement battery cost?
- Aren’t electric cars really expensive?
- Can an EV go through a regular car wash?
It was gratifying to go so quickly from a newbie to the expert, and I was happy to explain all I had learned in over just a few short months.
October 2021: Fears Realized
One night in October, my daughter Olivia was driving to Knoxville, coming home for a weekend visit with her dog (Griselda) and she got a flat tire on the highway about 11:00 p.m. She was near an exit so she walked to a nearby gas station to get fix a flat and a customer there offered to drive her back to her car so she wouldn’t have to walk on the highway with Griselda. The fix of a flat did not solve her problem, so the lady offered to take her to the Athens exit (that was as far north as she was going). Olivia tried to call an Uber but they would not allow Griselda in the car. She called me to come get her.
Olivia and Griselda were about 60 miles away – I figured out that I would be able to make it to them, but wouldn’t be able to make it home. I searched for charging stations in Athens and there were no good options. One website listed none, one website listed 2 but they were in campgrounds that required a fee to enter plus the charging fee. Obviously not ideal or convenient in the middle of the night, plus if those chargers happened to be broken or turned off, I would have had no backup plan.
Driving the Leaf was not an option.
Rental companies were all closed at that hour, so I ultimately had to call a friend and borrow her car to pick Olivia up. I also used that car to take her to her car the next day and get a new tire.
Key Takeaway: We Need to Do More to Make Electric Transportation Equitable
My fears had turned to reality, and while I was thankfully able to get to my daughter in her time of need, this experience drove home my concerns and showed me that the range on the Leaf makes it impractical for me unless I have access to another vehicle to go longer distances.
That being said, I am convinced of the overall benefits of driving electric. In addition to the public health and environmental benefits of EVs, the driving experience is clearly superior. I love the way the Leaf drives compared to a gas engine. I recently drove Olivia’s car to pick her up from the airport in Atlanta, and after the trip, I definitely wanted my Leaf back.
My experiences have taught me firsthand how critical it is that we focus policy and investment on creating a charging infrastructure that makes driving electric practical for people like me. If we are going to truly transition our transportation sector to electric, EVERYONE must be able to comfortably rely on the charging system in place.
Looking Ahead: The Future is Bright for EVs IF We Keep Equity Front & Center
From the little research I’ve done, it seems like progress is quick on that front. The 2022 Leaf (starting at $27,400) has a range of 150 miles, and the 2022 Leaf S Plus (starting at $32,400) has a range of 226 miles. Charging infrastructure is expanding rapidly, but we need to keep equity front and center as we move toward our electric future. This is the best and only way to make sure that those who have historically suffered the most from environmental and economic injustices are on the receiving end of these important benefits.
As EVs expand their share of the transportation market, the Southeast is poised to really rake in the benefits. Our region has the largest utilities, the most sunshine, and the greatest opportunity for electric cars, trucks, and busses. According to SACE and analysis, released in August, “Transportation Fuel Spending in the Southeast: Internal Combustion vs. Electric Vehicles,” if all of our region’s vehicle miles traveled were electric today, Southeast consumers would save $42 billion annually on transportation fuel spending. Additionally, more than two-thirds of the dollars spent on electricity for transportation would stay in the region, keeping an extra $5 billion recirculating through and supporting local economies. This means that by electrifying transportation in the Southeast, we could retain $47 billion annually in our regional economy.
By centering equity in the electric transportation conversation early and often, we can ensure that these benefits are available to everyone in our region, and are realized in a smart and just manner.
I’m looking forward to continuing the EV journey and sharing my experiences here on future SACE blog posts.
Electrify the South is a Southern Alliance for Clean Energy program that leverages research, advocacy, and outreach to promote renewable energy and accelerate the equitable transition to electric transportation throughout the Southeast. Visit ElectrifytheSouth.org to learn more and connect with us.