KINGSPORT — The idea of electric cars may sound like a far away, futuristic narrative. But it’s much closer than you think.
Dave Hrivnak is a Kingsport native and electric vehicle owner. If you ask him, it’s clearly an industry that is growing — even here in the Tri-Cities.
“We have north of 100 EV owners now in the Tri-Cities that I know of,” Hrivnak said. “And there are probably hundreds more I don’t know of. Virtually every week people ask me about electric cars. There’s an interest.”
Electric vehicles and their charging stations have also been popping up throughout the Tri-Cities.
Recently, East Tennessee State University announced the addition of eight new charging stations in Johnson City. Last month, Washington County Schools unveiled Tennessee’s first electric school bus. And the Pinnacle in Bristol offers a Tesla supercharging station while places like the downtown Kingsport parking garage, Wallace Nissan in Kingsport, MeadowView Conference Resort & Convention Center and even Rush Street offer public charging stations as well.
But why go electric?
For Hrivnak, he first became interested in electric vehicles when gas prices were on the rise.
“We had a Chevy Avalanche,” Hrivnak recalled. “I was trying to figure out how to make it more energy efficient. I added an electric motor and batteries. I realized new lithium batteries had great opportunities and promise and electric motors had crazy torque and extra power. I guess that was the first thing that really hooked me into it.”
The biggest reason for most centers around the environment and the reduction of emissions, which can be harmful to the environment.
Hybrid and all-electric vehicles produce zero tailpipe emissions. However, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, electric car emissions can be produced by the source of electrical power, such as at a power plant. So the amount of emissions produced by the car as a whole depends on the types of fuels used for charging. There remains a benefit, however.
A report from the International Council of Clean Transportation said electric vehicles typically have much lower life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions than a typical car, despite possible emissions created at power plants. The report also said various trends — such as battery recycling and an overall increase in renewable energy — could further decrease greenhouse gas emissions in electric cars in the future.
The U.S. has also pushed for the move toward electric vehicles.
The president proposed a $174 billion investment in America’s electric vehicle industry. That proposal also calls for 500,000 new charging stations. Meantime, car companies have also committed to the move toward electric vehicles. Ford and GM have increased their electric vehicle spending. Jaguar has vowed to go all electric by 2025 and Honda is aiming to implement zero-emission electric vehicles in North America by 2040.
There’s also been an interest at the state level.
The Drive Electric Tennessee program aims to see 200,000 electric vehicles on state roads by 2028. Earlier this year, The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation and the Tennessee Valley Authority also signed an agreement to add fast-charging stations every 50 miles along Tennessee’s interstates and major highways. The total anticipated cost of the project is about $20 million.
TDEC Deputy Communications Director Kim Schofinski said in an email the state currently has 976 publicly accessible Level 2 plugs at 515 locations, 72 CCS fast-charging plugs at 31 locations and 49 CHAdeMO DC fast-charging plugs at 44 locations.
Though the industry is growing nationally and locally, Hrivnak said he believes there are still misconceptions regarding electric cars. The biggest misconception is power, which he said his Tesla Model 3 helps him combat.
“At Bristol, I lined up against a Mustang and other cars and none of them can beat you off the line or catch you at a quarter mile,” Hrivnak said. “People say, ‘What kind of car is that?’ All of the sudden that golf cart image disappears.”
Hrivnak and his wife just traveled from Colorado to Ohio stopping at various national parks by way of his wife’s Toyota Rav4 Prime, which is a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle. The car offers about 31 miles per gallon while pulling their camper.
The car typically offers 42 miles on its electric charge, which Hrivnak said reduces emissions while still offering the option of using the car’s backup fuel after that. That also helps when considering where you might find a suitable charging station.
According to the U.S. Department of energy, 80% of electric car owners “fill up” at home, which is usually the case for Hrivnak. While that works for those who can charge overnight for eight or 10 hours, finding a charge on the road without taking too long can be an issue for some.
For a 2021 Nissan Leaf, it takes about 20 hours to fully charge on a level one charger, which is the slowest option. On a level two charger, it takes four to eight hours, and on a level three it takes about 30 minutes.
For those with cars like Hrivnak’s Tesla, charging doesn’t take as long as others. The car also routes you through any necessary charging stations when you enter the destination. But charging time for electric vehicles varies according to the vehicle and the charging station.
That’s an issue the state hopes to tackle in adding fast-charging stations to Tennessee roads.
“A network of public fast-charging stations will promote EV growth by giving drivers more confidence that they’ll have easy access to refueling while they’re away from home,” Schofinski said, “eliminating so-called ‘range anxiety’ that keeps many consumers from considering EVs a viable option.”
On road trips, Hrivnak and his wife typically stop for lunch or dinner with their charging station needs in mind.
“When we go on a trip, we try to figure out if we want to eat in Knoxville or Chattanooga, for example,” Hrivnak said. “We try to pair our eating with charging. The reality is it’s about 40 minutes in a Tesla for full charge. By the time you order and eat, you’re usually talking 45 minutes.”
The downside to electric cars, Hrivnak said, is if you’re at a campsite or a place with no electricity, you’re out of charging options — which is when a hybrid vehicle comes in handy.
Hrivnac is also part of Drive Electric Tennessee’s local chapter. He often leads driving events to introduce locals to electric cars. Mostly, he said, folks are impressed by the speed and walk away with a new idea on electric cars
“They’re fun and fast,” Hrivnak said. “I usually get a big grin and a ‘Wow.’ They say, ‘I had no idea it could drive like this.’”
For more information on the state’s initiative, go to https://www.tn.gov/environment. To access the U.S. Department of Energy’s Alternative Fuel Data Center Station Locator, go to https://afdc.energy.gov/stations/#/find/nearest.