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 What Would Joe Do?
Peggy Aycinena
Peggy Aycinena
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.

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* The new Tesla Model S promises up to a 300-mile range with purchase of an upgraded battery.

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“A chicken in every pot and a car in every garage”

Herbert Hoover, 1928 Presidential Election Campaign

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Additional Reading …

U.S. Department of Energy
Locator Map – Alternative fueling stations

U.S. Department of Energy 2012 Electric Vehicles
Comparison of current models

Electric Owners Club
A website & forum for the electric car

A Technical View of the Nissan Leaf Electric Owners Club
Electric Owners Club website

Rapid growth for electric vehicle charging stations expected in U.S.
by Dan McGraw
Fuel Fix
24 August 2011

Li-Ion Batteries in EVs May Last Longer
by Ann Thryft
Design News
5 January 2012

Ford Reveals How Much Electric-Car Batteries Cost
by Michael Ramsey
Wall Street Journal
17 April 2012

Tesla’s new sedan will make or break company
by Dee-Ann Durbin
Associated Press
21 June 2012

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2 Responses to “EVs: an Electric Car in Every Garage”

  1. Kevin Cameron says:

    Despite the widespread enthusiasm for PHEVs & EVs, I have not seen a whole lot of response from the EDA sector in support of the corresponding power-electronics and mechanical design.

    I did go to a paper at DAC in Anaheim on the problems of managing charging, and another panel on car electronics in general, but I have not seen much since.

    Is EDA ignoring the opportunities in this new market?

  2. John Sanguinetti says:

    Peggy, you have missed the mark here. I have been driving a Tesla roadster for over three years now, and I am an EV believer. The Roadster gets a legitimate 200 miles on a charge, at freeway speeds. How many days do you drive more than 200 miles? I don’t need a charger any place but in my garage. And the flip side of range anxiety is the comfort of knowing that every morning when I leave home, the car is fully charged — I don’t need to worry if I’ve got enough gas to make it to a gas station, or if I have to take the time to stop and get gas on my way to wherever I’m going. The car charges at midnight every night automatically, and is fully charged by morning no matter how much I drove the day before. Yes, it is impractical to take a road trip in an EV, but you don’t take a road trip in your commuter car, either. Finally, if economics were the only, or even a primary, consideration to buying a car, there wouldn’t be all the BMWs and Mercedes on the road. The Tesla Roadster simply offers a better driving experience, and I’m confidant that the Model S will be the same. These are cars an engineer can love. Simple, efficient, and high quality. They’re not cheap, but the price will come down the learning curve as the technology matures.

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