A Plug For Plug-ins

As the government plays its usual game of too little too late regarding climate change, it is putting its money, or rather, your money, on fully electric vehicles. In an ideal world, that would make sense, but, face it, whatever “ideal” is, this world doesn’t even come close.

Besides the fact that the current generation of electric cars are expensive, their usefulness is compromised even for those who can afford them. Their limited range and relatively long charging time makes them inconvenient for those without home chargers and impractical for longer trips. Even a large increase in the number of charging stations would not fully solve this problem. Ideally, developing uniform technology that would make it possible for a service station to swap out a depleted battery for a full one in a matter of minutes would make it as convenient to drive an electric as a gas powered car. Don’t hold your breath. For the foreseeable future, electric car owners will be hunting for charging stations and cooling their heels waiting for the battery to charge. This will add yet another source of stress to their daily routines and make long trips much longer. If that sounds like fun to you, by all means, go electric.

We have owned only hybrid vehicles since the early 2000s and couldn’t understand why they were not the only kind of vehicle being made. If everyone had switched to hybrids when they became available the amount of emissions pumped into the air over the past 20 years would have been much lower. Our Priuses used less than half as much gas as the average gas only car. The plug-in hybrid we leased for a while used one third as much.

For those who have the option of installing charging stations at their residences and don’t need to use an electric for long trips, electrics are great. Not so much for people who park on the street. Are charging stations going to be installed all along residential blocks? How many? Will residents have battles over access to them? We live in a condominium complex and have an underground parking space. Perfect for an electric car you might say? Well, think again.

The plug-in hybrid was at end of lease when we moved to our current location. Unfortunately, the garage spaces in our complex lack electrical outlets. This rendered our use of the electric-only operation of the car, if not impossible, highly impractical. As we are a one car couple, our car has to serve all of our driving needs. For example, we spend an extended amount of time in ski country each winter. None of the houses we have rented there had outdoor electrical outlets. Were we supposed to find someplace in town to charge up, walk home from there and then walk back to get the car in freezing weather?

When we moved we opted to turn in that perfectly fine plug-in hybrid and purchase a standard hybrid. We periodically bugged the management to install outlets at each space in the garages but were met with any number of excuses. The power company didn’t have enough capacity. It would be very expensive to install the wiring, etc. Six years later they have discovered it’s feasible and not as expensive as they’d thought it would be. But the wheels of progress turn slowly. If it happens at all, it won’t be for some time to come.

There are now two outdoor charging stations “serving” the hundreds of households in our complex. They might add a few more. Really? Do you want to have to work around everyone else to find a time to charge? Do you want to have to schedule your day around being available to disconnect the car when it’s charged up? Do you want to have to be out in all kinds of weather all times of day or night using these outdoor stations? Do you want to hike back and forth to public charging stations many blocks from your home when they are unavailable? If so, more power to ya’, so to speak.

Some experts have suggested that instead of pushing for fully electric in the near term we should be bridging the gap between our mostly conventional fleet and a future electric one by maximizing the readily available plug-in hybrid option for the coming decade. That makes perfect sense to me.

We live around 20 miles from Washington, DC. We’re retired, but suppose we worked there? If we had a Rav4 Prime that charges in less than 5 hours and goes 40 miles on a charge, we could commute both ways daily using only a tiny bit of gas. If our place of employment had adequate facilities for charging while we worked, we could commute from even further away with the same ecological benefit of an electric car. In fact, for practical purposes and with normal use, we would have an all-electric car. Zero emissions. The advantage of the plug-in hybrid would be its versatility. For occasional trips to places where charging would be impossible or unacceptably inconvenient, we could use the car as a regular hybrid. That would still get us at least twice the miles per gallon as a standard gas powered car. Other than on those trips our gas consumption would be minuscule and, overall, probably less than 10% that a standard gas powered car. If that’s not good enough to save the planet it simply can’t be saved.

Think of the huge outlay of government money that will be spent installing charging stations all over the place to accommodate electrics. With that money they could buy everyone a plug-in hybrid.

Universal use of electric cars or some other kind of car that doesn’t pollute at all would be wonderful, but for many people, at least for now, they are not a viable option. Universal use of plug-in hybrids would greatly reduce pollution and be more feasible. The experts who suggest we push plug-in hybrids rather than fully electric cars make a good case, but I’m afraid no one is listening to them. Too bad. By the time everyone has switched to electrics, if it isn’t already, global warming will surely be irreversible.


  1. My daughter lives in NYC and has a Tesla. The underground garage one block from her apartment has plug-in chargers. It is doable and great for city driving and countryside visits. I have reserved an Aptera a solar vehicle that will be available in 2024. It can be parked on the street and charge as you are driving. There are new alternatives and American inventors are working hard to give us more options.
    I have been an environmental activist since 1970. I am more optimistic today than ever that we can solve our environmental issues with government support under Nixon. Thanks for spreading the word as nothing can be taken for granted!


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