Department of Energy

Energy 101: Electric Vehicles

January 9, 2012

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Energy 101: Electric Vehicles

A look at how electric vehicles (EVs) work and what current and future models are doing to cut transit costs, reduce emissions, and strengthen our nation's energy security.

While the North American International Auto Show is slated to kick off today in Detroit, and the industry is already abuzz with the latest innovations in electric vehicles, we wanted to take a moment to highlight how electric vehicles (EVs) work and what current and future models are doing to cut transit costs, reduce emissions, and strengthen our nation's energy security.

The basic principles behind the technology are this: the electric vehicle’s battery transfers energy to an electric motor, the motor turns a drive train, which then turns the wheels. Up to 80 percent of the energy in the battery is transferred directly to power the car, making it a highly efficient mode of transportation. That means as the owner of an all-electric vehicle, you never have to fuel up at the gas pump -- instead, you just recharge the battery at home or at charging stations along your route.

Compared to conventional vehicles, the driving range of an all-electric EV -- typically about 100 miles per charge -- may seem limited. However, when you consider the average American daily commute is under 40 miles roundtrip, it becomes clear that EVs are a reliable and comfortable way to regularly get from point A to point B, while reducing a dependence on oil and gasoline and contributing to a sustainable environment. And with an ever-increasing number of public charging stations, it's also becoming easier to top off your charge, even when you're on the go.

Take a lot of lengthy road trips and worried if the range of an all-electric EV can meet your needs? Then maybe an "extended-range" electric vehicle is more your style. These vehicles rely primarily on an electric motor, but switch over to a gasoline-fueled engine to supplement power when the battery is low.

The costs of today's EVs are coming down relative to similar-sized conventional and hybrid vehicles, and long-term savings can be realized through fuel savings and by taking advantage of a federal tax credit and state and local incentives.

Learn about the advantages of electric vehicles, see EVs in action, and find out how they work by checking out the video above and exploring our alternative fueling station locator to find a list of public charging stations in your area.