The ABCs of EVs

Switching from gas to electric can be daunting, but a breakdown of key details can help demystify the newer vehicles

By Vawn Himmelsbach Wheels.ca

Jul 11, 2021 4 min. read

Article was updated 2 years ago

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Buying an electric vehicle (EV) requires a bit of a learning curve. There’s a whole new alphabet soup of acronyms to learn, which can be intimating to anyone who isn’t familiar with the brand-new world of battery-powered cars.

Drivers are used to dealing in litres per kilometre; now they need to know about kilowatt hours (kWh). And it seems like there’s a lot of math involved in figuring out charging times and driving ranges related to a battery’s size (though most EVs do the math for you). Still, learning the lingo can help to break down barriers that might hold drivers back from an EV purchase.

One of the biggest concerns that needs to be overcome is “range anxiety,” a term that relates to worry or fear that your EV will run out of battery power before you reach your destination.

“One of the things you learn when you have an EV, you’re never inconvenienced by going to get gas,” said Jeff Dahn, a professor at Dalhousie University who’s recognized as one of the pioneering developers of the lithium-ion battery.  “You just come home, and flip open the charging port and plug it in. In the morning, you’re starting out every day with a sufficient charge.

“When you think about range anxiety, it doesn’t exist in virtually all cases,” he said.

Vehicle basics

An EV is an electric vehicle, powered by electricity, while a BEV is a battery electric vehicle, or all-electric vehicle, powered by a rechargeable battery pack (which needs to be plugged in to recharge). These terms essentially mean the same thing; BEV is “industry speak” while EV is the more commonly used term you will hear.

An internal combustion engine, or ICE, on the other hand, is powered by fossil fuels. An HEV, or hybrid electric vehicle, uses both an internal combustion engine and electric propulsion.  An HEV, such as the Toyota Prius, has a small battery on board that can propel the car for a kilometre or two before switching over to a gas engine. The battery is used to help with acceleration up hills or when crawling along in traffic.

The battery also captures energy — called kinetic energy recovery — when going downhill, slowing down or braking, which charges the battery. That means you never have to plug in the vehicle to recharge.

A PHEV, or plug-in hybrid electric vehicle, such as the Chevrolet Volt, allows you to drive much further on a single charge, but still switches over to a gas engine when needed. Like the “P” in PHEV suggests, you need to plug it in to recharge the battery.

Once you understand the different types of EVs that exist, you’ll also need to understand the three levels of charging options for your or electric vehicle battery (EVB), through an EV charging station (also called an EV charger). Instead of fuelling up, you’re charging up. And instead of pumping litres of gas, you’re charging kilowatts (kW) to your battery pack.

Charging levels

Level 1 charging uses an ordinary 120-volt household outlet, which means there are no additional costs for installing an EV charger. The downside is that charging times are slow. Charging an EV with an 82-kWh battery pack, for example, could take up to 60 hours.

“Level 2 is basically the type of power you would get in your home running your stove or dryer,” Dahn said. A dedicated 240-volt power source offers faster charging times than Level 1, so to charge the same 82 kWh battery pack would take about 12 to 13 hours, and “that’s very suitable for overnight charging,” he added.

Most home EV charging stations are Level 2. But if you typically don’t drive far daily, you could potentially get by with Level 1 charging, said Dahn, since an overnight charge will still put 15 to 20 kilowatts into your battery pack.

Level 3, the fastest method of charging EVs, is what you’ll find along the highway when you need to charge your vehicle on a longer road trip. Tesla Superchargers can deliver peak charge rates up to 250 kW (but, of course, this only applies to Tesla vehicles). While you might have to wait half an hour to charge your battery, it’s a good time to make a pit stop or grab a coffee.

AER refers to all-electric range, which is how far the EV can travel on a single charge. EVs use software that does the math for you, calculating the battery capacity and range at any given time. Some EVs will let you know where the nearest charging station is, and some will even plan your route. The software will also adjust as necessary for weather (extreme hot or cold weather can drain your battery faster).

“You will find that the range of your vehicle will be less in winter than summer or if you’re driving in deep snow, but the vehicle understands this and puts this into the calculation of the range,” Dahn said.

EVs may sound intimidating or complicated, but after a few drives, new EV owners tend to get the hang of it quickly, he said. “From my experience every single (EV owner) says I will never go back to gas,” said Dahn. “Once you have an EV, you learn that range anxiety doesn’t exist.”




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