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Could EVs, Plug-In Hybrids Be Answer To Avoiding Gas Disruptions?

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Bill Bortzfield
/
WJCT News
A Zero Motorcycles SR/F and Chevrolet Bolt are pictured charging in St. Augustine.

Thanks to a long hurricane season, Florida is no stranger to an occasional gasoline supply disruption like the one hitting parts of the country right now. But electric vehicle (EV) owners are still waking up to a “full tank.” So, are EVs and plug-in hybrids better during emergencies?

The answer: It depends.

Some EV owners have taken to social media to tout the advantages of their zero-emission cars during the current gas shortage. This YouTuber decided to have a little fun:

For people with garages or nearby power outlets, owning an EV or plug-in hybrid means having a home fueling station — as long as the power is on. The time it takes to “fill up” an EV or plug-in hybrid depends on the size of the car’s battery and whether the homeowner has installed an additional circuit in the home’s breaker box to accommodate higher charging speeds.

Most modern single-family homes can accommodate EVs with no modifications, using just a regular household outlet. Depending on the battery’s size, it could take days to fully charge it. In general, a regular household plug will deliver about 25 miles or so during an overnight charge.

For homeowners who decide to install what’s known as Level 2 charger, that time can be cut down to a few hours – again - depending on the type of car and what’s installed.

Prices for home Level 2 charging setups, including labor, fees and equipment, can range from less than $500 to about $2,500.

Perhaps the biggest advantage EV owners have over internal combustion engine drivers is they can prepare for potential disruptions by plugging in their car before they head for bed or get home from work, although the majority of Jacksonville’s apartment and condo complexes don’t have a convenient way to charge at home.

With home solar installations and battery back-ups becoming more popular among EV owners, they could have a big advantage if a Jacksonville neighborhood is hit with a power outage, especially one lasting a week or more because they would also have the ability to continue making enough fuel to power their homes and cars, depending on the size of their solar array and battery storage capacity.

EVs can also act as small-scale backup generators, by running a cord from a car’s accessory ports into the home (although this might be only enough to power a fan along with a light or two, depending on the car).

But even that’s changing. Hyundai, for example, has announced its upcoming IONIQ 5 EV, which will be going on sale later this year, will be able to use its battery to provide up to 3.6kwh of external power, which is enough to power lights, a TV, refrigerator and a window air conditioner simultaneously for hours. Other companies are working on similar ideas for both gas and electric cars. The new Ford F-150 Powerboost hybrid can provide as much as 7.2kwh of power through its built-in generator.

For those who choose not to stay home during an emergency, do electric vehicle owners have an advantage during an evacuation? Some EV owners say yes because EV charging stations will still be operational during a gas shortage. However, if there’s a power outage, neither a gas station nor a charging station is going to work, unless the stations have backup power supplies.

And EV owners face a potential disadvantage during an evacuation: infrastructure. There are far fewer charging stations scattered across Florida and the country than gas stations.

Furthermore, charging stations tend to have more technical issues than gas stations. There are widespread reports from EV owners who have encountered charging station issues while traveling, forcing them to either move to a different charging stall or reroute their trip to the next station.

A check of PlugShare, which is an app and website that locates charging stations across the country, showed several that aren’t working properly in the Jacksonville area at the time of this story’s publication.

Still, with both Gov. Ron DeSantis and President Joe Biden announcing plans to expand the EV charging infrastructure, along with companies such as Electrify America rapidly expanding, the gap between gas and EV stations is shrinking.

Storage capacity remains the biggest advantage for most gas-powered vehicle owners in an evacuation. The range for new electric vehicles varies widely, starting around 110 miles per charge, with some of the most advanced EVs offering more than 400 miles per change. By comparison, most gasoline powered automobiles offer at least 300 miles of range, with some topping 700 miles a tank.

Plug-in hybrids might be the sweet spot. They can run on electric-only power or gasoline. Plug-in hybrids vary widely in range from about 12 miles of electric-only power to more than 100 miles of electric-only power. When the battery is depleted, they switch back over to gasoline.

Bill Bortzfield can be reached at bbortzfield@wjct.org, 904-358-6349 or on Twitter at @BortzInJax.

Bill joined WJCT News in September of 2017 from The Florida Times-Union, where he served in a variety of multimedia journalism positions.