The latest technology might be baffling to some, because, for the most part, we lack the time and energy to fully understand the many concepts that have gone into it. For example, pretty much everyone can figure out how a bicycle works, and with specific training you could figure out how a gasoline-powered passenger car operates, but how much time would you need to figure out how the new Electric Vehicles [EVs] work?
Every wheeled vehicle has a few things in common, be it a bicycle, passenger car, or freight truck. All these things have an power supply, something converts that power supply into kinetic energy, and a drive-train to transfer that energy to the wheels. In the case of a bicycle, you are the power supply. The force you put into the pedals is converted into rotary motion, and using chains and various gears, the drive-train, that rotary motion is transferred to the wheels, propelling you forward.
A passenger car or freight truck are basically the same, but on different scales. They have a power supply, the fuel tank, which supplies fuel to the engine, which converts it’s explosive energy into rotary motion, which is finally transferred via the drive-train to the wheels, propelling you or your cargo forward.
An electric vehicle is also very similar in theory. The power supply is a chemical battery pack, which supplies electrical energy to the motor. The motor converts that electrical energy into rotary motion, which is transferred through a constant variable or one-speed planetary transmission, the drive-train, to the wheels, propelling you forward.
Driving an Electric Vehicle
When you look at an EV, you might notice some differences. Typically, EVs are smaller, and more aerodynamic, but you can find models that will carry four people and baggage. Sit in the car and press the start button and hear, well, nothing. A tone may sound and maybe an indicator on the dash will let you know that the vehicle is ready to operate, but the only sounds you will hear are the radio and the air-conditioning, because there is no engine in an EV.
Step on the brake to release the shift lock, then step on the accelerator, we can’t call it a ‘gas’ pedal because there is no gas. Forward or backward motion is quick and powerful, due to the electric motor’s excellent torque rating from a stop. As you accelerate down the street, you’ll also notice there is no shift feel of any kind, just smooth acceleration from a stop to your desired speed.
As you’re cruising down the road, you might take notice of the instrument cluster, which features a speedometer, often a combination of digital and analog readouts, and a state-of-charge meter instead of a fuel gauge. Some models include a power output meter and tools to help you drive more responsibly, helping you to avoid hard acceleration or excessive speed, as these waste energy.
Stopping for a Break
We’ve nearly arrived at the park, and so we need to slow down. Release the accelerator and step on the brake pedal, and something interesting happens, the brakes don’t engage. Not to worry, though, everything is under control, thanks to the hybrid braking system installed on the EV. When you step on the brake pedal, a computer determines your intention based on vehicle speed and how hard and fast you depress the pedal, and the electric motor becomes a generator. Your forward motion is converted back into electrical energy, recharging the battery pack. The hydraulic or electric brakes don’t engage until the last couple seconds, bringing you to a safe and complete stop.
We’ve arrived at the park, and this park has a charging station. This is not the norm, but we’ll take advantage of it, seeing as we’ll be here for a few hours. An EV usually has it’s charging port somewhere close to the front of the vehicle, so that it’s easy to access after parking your car. Typically you would charge your EV overnight with a charger mounted in your garage or near your driveway. Some EVs come with a charger in the car as well. Typical charge times are up to 10 hours on a 120 volt typical household socket, or up to 5 hours on a 240 volt line, typical for a dryer or electric range. The charger here in the park is a quick-charger, which can restore our EV battery pack to 80% capacity in about 30 minutes.
If you decide to buy an electric vehicle, you’ll have to make a couple changes. Filling up with gas every week has become old habit. Charging your EV at night will become your new habit. Saving money on gas is a habit you’re going to love. As an owner of an electric vehicle, you can enjoy a quiet vehicle, commuting to work or running errands, every day knowing you are less dependent on fossil fuels, and reducing your greenhouse gas emissions.