Apparently We Need To Talk About Evacuations & EVs (Again)

It seems like every time there’s a natural disaster or severe storm that involves cars, the anti-EV FUD comes out in force on social media and conservative traditional media. Hurricanes knock out power, and therefore EVs are useless for evacuation. Some people got stuck in a snow storm on the highway, and you’d freeze to death when the battery ran out. There are other scenarios that appear in the FUD, but the common formula is basically “Danger+EV=Otherwise Avoidable Death.”

But, it’s not as clear cut as the FUDsters and fake foreign government-run accounts (they’re pretty easy to spot if you see a big discrepancy between the profile and the “tweets and replies”) make it out to be. There’s almost always some important information left out, and the issues that EVs would face in an emergency are exaggerated heavily.

In this article, I’m going to dispel some of the myths about EVs and explain how you probably wouldn’t be any better off in a gas-powered car.

How Power Outages Affect Both Types Of Car

Power outages are one of the biggest arguments people make against EVs in disasters. The thinking goes that you’d be unable to use your EV when the power went out. But, that’s not as true as the less-informed think, and it’s roughly the same problem a gas-powered vehicle would face.

If you’re like most EV owners, you charge the car to somewhere between 80-100% every night at home. This means that once you can’t charge it anymore, you still have most if not all of the car’s available range at your disposal before it would become useless. A very short-range “compliance car” EV would face a problem here, but the EVs that most people want to buy today have 200+ miles of range. Compared to a gas-powered car, it’s like always having about half a tank in the car at all times. That’s usually enough range for an evacuation, or enough range to drive around some until power is restored.

If your battery is low and you need to rapid charge to have enough range to evacuate, that’s going to be an inconvenience, but not a deal-breaker. You may be in for a line at the charging station for a while and then you’ll be able to go. The power will stay on and you’ll be able to charge the car until the storm actually comes and knocks out the grid in the area.

But, unlike an EV charging station, the gas pumps can run out of fuel. Once too many people come and buy fuel at the last minute (for both cars and generators), a gas station will close and the high demand regionally could mean gas becomes unavailable or hard to come by for days before the storm arrives.

So, the EV will often be easier to evacuate with than the gas-powered car, because electricity remains available and easy to get for longer than gas.

And, once the power goes out, the gas pumps won’t work any more than the EV charging stations do. But, if you have home solar+storage, you’ll be able to charge the EV during post-storm power outages as long as your home didn’t get destroyed or your solar array seriously damaged. Ironically, the gas car drivers will need to wait for the grid to come back online to buy gas.

Running Out Of Charge or Gas In An Evacuation Traffic Jam

Another argument that comes up in these FUD posts and stories is that an EV would struggle in a traffic jam. This is similar to the idea that EVs would struggle being stuck on a freeway in winter, so I’ll go ahead and kill two FUD birds with one stone here.

I once heard that a second cousin had to evacuate Houston for a hurricane. He was stuck in traffic for 12 hours and ended up almost having to ditch his car. Why? Because sitting in a traffic jam with an ICE engine running and idling burns fuel whether you’re moving or not. This means burning up to a half-gallon of fuel per hour, which adds up in a long, long traffic jam. He managed to barely get far enough from the evacuation zone and barely made an exit before the car died in the gas station lot. He was able to coast up to a pump and buy a little bit of fuel (it was being rationed).

How does an EV work in the same slow-crawl and sitting still scenario? Far better. EVs are more efficient at low speeds and in traffic jams, and don’t use much battery power when sitting still but turned on and ready to inch forward again. This means they’d outlast most gas-powered cars in a slow-crawling evacuation and get more range than their EPA rating.

The only issue for this comes up when you consider HVAC. Heating uses a lot of power (especially if you don’t have a heat pump), and air conditioning does drain the battery with the car sitting still. In the case of my car (a Bolt EUV), the air conditioning would drain the battery in 20-30 hours from a full charge. I’ve never heard of an evacuation traffic jam lasting more than 24 hours, and that’s the worst one I could find. The hellish day-long evacuation from Hurricane Rita in 2005 killed a number of people in gas and diesel-powered vehicles (fights, heat stroke, and some fires), so they clearly aren’t up to the task, right?

But, if you’re concerned that your heating or air conditioning will kill your range in an evacuation, there are workarounds. In the cold, you can run the seat heaters instead of the heater. This massively lowers your power consumption while still keeping people somewhat comfortable and alive. In the heat, you can turn the AC compressor off and either roll the windows down or run just the fan. This isn’t ideal, but it won’t kill you to go without air conditioning in most coastal areas. If you can’t bear that, run the AC compressor for a fraction of the time to cool the car off, turning it back off until it gets unbearable again.

In a gas car, you can’t run the seat heaters for very long without depleting the 12-volt battery, and you can’t run the heater without burning up to half a gallon of fuel per hour sitting there. You can’t run air conditioning at all without idling the gas engine (and burning fuel), and you can’t run the fans with the car off without depleting the 12-volt battery.

So, even on HVAC, EVs are the winner as long as you’ve got a decent charge in the battery at the beginning of the long traffic jam.

In Part 2, I’m going to cover a couple more types of FUD I see about disasters and EVs, and explain a bit about why it spreads on social media.

Featured image by FEMA (Public Domain).


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