What are those electric chargers behind Town Hall? - Celebration, Florida

Have you noticed what appear to be funny-looking parking meters behind Celebration Town Hall?   Here’s the backstory and why they potentially could be of value to you.

Earlier this year I joined Mike Jackson, Debie McDonald and a number of other Celebration residents as an owner of an electric vehicle (EV).  EVs are increasingly making a lot of practical sense, especially for Celebration households.  If you will be contemplating the purchase or lease on a new vehicle in the next year or so, here’s why you might want to consider an EV.

Types of Electric Vehicles. There are three types of electric vehicles:  a) hybrid (HEV): conventional internal combustion engine plus electric motor, the electric motor’s battery recharges itself through energy dissipated during braking;  b) plug-in hybrid (PHEV): a hybrid that recharges the electric batteries by plugging into an electrical outlet; and  c) all-electric battery (BEV): powers itself entirely by one or more electric motors,  no gasoline or diesel-powered engine , it recharges itself by plugging into an electrical socket.

Brief History.  EVs are nothing new.  William Morrison’s 4-horsepower, 24-cell-battery, front wheel drive car was a sensation at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.  But by the 1920s, gasoline-powered cars had won the technology war.  Gasoline engine cars were much cheaper, gasoline was plentiful and inexpensive and while drivers could refill a gasoline powered engine in a matter of minutes, recharging batteries was difficult and could take hours if not days.

The auto companies, General Electric and even NASA (the lunar rover) tinkered with electric cars over the years, but old-fashioned battery technology, very limited range and lack of a recharging infrastructure held back successful widespread sale and use of new EVs.

Enter the innovative lithium ion battery.  Tesla and their principal investor Elon Musk put their electric motor and lithium ion batteries into a 2008 British sports car and later in 2011 models.  Despite the $109,000 price tag, this got some other companies thinking.  Nissan introduced its plug-in Leaf in 2011.  Chevrolet came to market with its Spark in 2016.

However, credit goes to Elon Musk and Tesla, which changed the name of the electric vehicle game. Tesla solved two major problems associated with PEVs: the range problem with an innovative lithium ion battery and the infrastructure problem with a nationwide system of Tesla-only recharging “pumps” at gas stations and Walmarts. That finally woke up the major auto companies and they have been racing to catch up ever since.

Vehicle choice and price. There are more new EVs for sale at Central Florida dealerships than you might think, including 35 plug-in hybrids and 19 all-electric BEV’s (evadoption.com/ev-models/bev-models-currently-available-in-the-us/).  They range in price from the Hyundai Ioniq at about $27,000 to the Bentley Bentayga at $166,000.

Electric-powered light trucks are coming as well.  Ford has begun pre-production of its F-150 Lightning and already has 100,000 orders. The GM Hummer is slated to be available in early 2022 and the highly publicized and radical-looking Tesla Cybertruck is expected in 2023.

Now, EVs are generally more expensive than comparable gasoline-powered vehicles. But there’s a $7500 federal tax credit for buyers of new EVs, except for Tesla and General Motors (which have exceeded the number of vehicles sold that was specified in the original tax credit legislation).

Charging locations and cost. Electricity is not free. BEV owners have three recharging alternatives: a) Level 1: ordinary 120-volt household current; b) Level 2:  240-volt current at home (the same used for electric ovens and dryers); and c) Level 3 (DC Fast): public high-voltage charging stations, operated by four companies in competition with each other.

After I personally found Level 1 charging too slow and Level 3 too expensive, I had an electrician install a Level 2 240-volt line in my garage.  I plug in my Mustang Mach E each evening, and by morning it is fully charged with a range of about 220 miles, (an extended range option has a 300-mile range). Using the rates on my Duke Energy bill, I calculated my cost of operation at about $.03 per mile. If I were driving a vehicle getting 25 miles per gallon and with a gasoline price at $2.99 per gallon, that’s about $0.14 per mile. Consequently, electric propulsion costs me 1/3 that of a conventional gasoline or diesel powered vehicle.  And I save money because there’s no oil to change.

Further, starting in January, Duke Energy customers will be able to register for a new Off Peak Electric Vehicle Charging Credit, thus saving more money. See duke-energy.com/newrates.

Suppose I want to get a quick charge at a local public charging station. Conveniently, there are two such stations in the rear parking lot of the Celebration Town Hall (851 Building) and several more at the library; the fee is about what I pay Duke Energy for my residential service, $0.15 per kWh.  For Mike Jackson and his Tesla, there are Tesla-only charging stations at the Bohemian Hotel and eight DC Fast Chargers behind Applebee’s.  For Debie McDonald and other non-Tesla owners, there are charging stations at the AdventHealth Celebration Hospital parking garage and the Melia Hotel, as well as 24 on Disney World property.  Download the PlugShare app or the Department of Energy App (www.energy.gov/) to find Level 2 and Level 3 DC Fast Charge station locations anywhere in the USA.

Range. Some people prefer hybrid electrics because they also have a gasoline engine that can be quickly refueled on a long trip. However, an all-electric is not as limiting as you might think. Suppose I want to drive to Atlanta, 450 miles away. No problem.  My Mustang Mach E displays all the public charging stations along the route.  Fast charge stations will take the Mach E’s charge from 10% to 80% in 35 minutes, about the time to get a meal or wander around Walmart.  That gets me another 165 miles of vehicle range.  So, with two 35-minute stops, I’m in downtown Atlanta.  Not quite as convenient as an internal combustion engine (ICE) or a hybrid, but not bad.

Of the new BEVs available today, range on a single charge goes from 110 miles for the $30,000 Mini Cooper to 405 miles for the $79,000 Tesla S Long Range.  Most are in the 200s.

Where are the batteries?  Like most other BEVs, my Mustang Mach E has an array of 10 battery modules, side-by-side, roughly 4 inches high, located under the passenger compartment. Charging time and battery temperature are sensitively related, faster charging time could increase battery temperature to dangerous levels.  To their credit, GM has been quick to market with a number of EVs.  As a matter of caution, GM is recalling all of its Chevrolet Bolt BEV small sedans, which could have dangerously high battery temperatures and in some cases actual fires; fixing them involves new onboard diagnostic software and/or new redesigned battery modules.

There’s no question that EV’s are the wave of the future. All the auto companies predict that most if not all their new vehicles will be electric by 2040 if not sooner.  In 20 years, our grandchildren will be sitting with us on our front porches, sipping lemonade, and asking, “Why in the world did you drive those smelly, noisy, dangerous, complicated gasoline-powered cars?”


By Jim Siegel