What Would Joe Do?
Peggy Aycinena is a freelance journalist and Editor of EDA Confidential at www.aycinena.com. She can be reached at peggy at aycinena dot com.
EVs: an Electric Car in Every Garage
June 21st, 2012 by Peggy Aycinena
Despite all the press and buzz around cars like the Tesla, EVs (electric vehicles) are nowhere close to becoming a widespread phenomenon.
First of all, the battery technology at the heart of the EV power train is still problematic. The batteries are heavy and take up a lot of space. Lithium-ion batteries – the type most popular in electric vehicles – are flammable, although electric vehicle enthusiasts argue that gasoline is also volatile. EV batteries are extremely expensive to replace, tens of thousands of dollars for a complete pack, and must be swapped out after 100,000 miles of use. Finally, a fully charged EV will only go about 100 miles* before the charge is depleted, a problem compounded by range anxiety. EV owners are reluctant to let their batteries drop below a 50-percent charge, so are unwilling to venture farther than 50 miles between chargings.
Unfortunately, a second major hurdle to widespread adoption of EVs is also related to range anxiety; a national network of charging stations is only in its nascent stages. Even though several thousand charging stations came online in 2011, hundreds of thousands of stations must be installed across the country to make widespread EV adoption a reality. Unless in states like California, Oregon, Washington, Texas, Florida, Illinois or Massachusetts, EV owners today will have difficulty venturing far from the comforts of home and charging socket. [click on U.S. Department of Energy map to enlarge]
Meanwhile, the specter of millions of EVs being recharged in residential garages introduces a third major obstacle to electric vehicle adoption. The power grid in its current state might be able to accommodate the additional load of up to a million EVs recharging simultaneously, if that process were restricted to low-peak hours. However, if the national goal of 10 million EVs on the roads by 2015 is to be met – or if EV owners refuse to refrain from daytime recharging – power grid capacity will have to be ramped up significantly and quickly.
Fortunately for the public utilities, the economics of electric vehicles is not yet compelling enough for the average consumer. That calculation is highly dependent on the initial cost of the vehicle, the current price of gas versus electricity, and the mpg rating of the combustion-engine vehicle under consideration. A rough estimate today in Northern California in summer 2012, for example, suggests gasoline must hit $8/gallon to support the purchase of an EV, if economics is the only basis for that choice.
If consumer costs are a complex fourth hurdle to EV adoption, the fifth and final hurdle is far more simple. EVs move quietly on take-off and landing, potentially making them silent killers. Pedestrians do not hear them coming, and do not know to get out of the way.
Given the lengthy list of impediments to adoption, therefore, no matter how sleek and sexy that little Tesla roadster may be, there will be a chicken in every pot before there will be an electric car in every garage.
* The new Tesla Model S promises up to a 300-mile range with purchase of an upgraded battery.
“A chicken in every pot and a car in every garage”
Herbert Hoover, 1928 Presidential Election Campaign
Additional Reading …
U.S. Department of Energy
U.S. Department of Energy 2012 Electric Vehicles
Electric Owners Club
A Technical View of the Nissan Leaf Electric Owners Club
Rapid growth for electric vehicle charging stations expected in U.S.
Li-Ion Batteries in EVs May Last Longer
Ford Reveals How Much Electric-Car Batteries Cost
Tesla’s new sedan will make or break company
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