The electric car has come a long way in recent years, and it’s going to go further. Believe it or not, electric car prototypes have been around since the 1830s! Companies are producing bigger and better batteries, power providers are brainstorming ways to implement charging stations to charge them (electric cars draw as much electricity as a typical house during charging), and vehicle manufacturers are working on ways to reduce the price tag, which, at the low end, currently sits between $25,000 and $30,000 dollars. Also, pure electric vehicles can only drive about 80 to 100 miles before requiring a charge, though there are some neat ideas out there, such as the battery-and-gasoline-generator hybrids.
Breaking Down the Stats
Experts anticipate a slow transition, estimating that by 2014, only 1% of all vehicles will be purely electric. However, there is a bright spot - they also estimate that 25% of cars in 2014 will be hybrid, like the Toyota Prius, which uses a mix of internal combustion and electric propulsion. We’ve got to start somewhere, after all.
International Attention at Electric Vehicle Conference
The first production models are slated to arrive in the showroom as early as next year. A recent Business Of Plugging In conference was attended by 600 industry experts that represented their respective industry areas. All were there to figure out the “when and how” of electric vehicles replacing the combustion model. Attendees ranged from battery manufacturers to policy makers, automakers to tech entrepreneurs. So are we moving in the right direction? 600 industry experts definitely equates ample attention.
Battery Blues Loom Overhead
Battery storage is improving as the lithium ion types become more energy efficient and “energy dense,” although concern remains over the earthly supply of lithium. There’s also a technology called the ultracapacitor, a small device that stores energy efficiently, discharges the energy quickly and recharges in a very short amount of time. Ultracapacitors have been used in digital cameras to provide the flash, which requires a burst of energy.
To bring costs down, the US Department of Energy has created a $2.4 billion grant program to help manufacturers utilize existing technology and take it to the next level. Other ideas include leasing the battery for the electric vehicle, since it’s the battery that adds a hefty dollar sign to the price. Manufacturers understand that if the product is not cost-effective, it won’t be able to compete with the deeply entrenched thought and production patterns that go along with current models of automobiles.
Looking on the Bright Side
There are serious perks to owning an all-electric vehicle, though. Things like no more oil changes, no more carbon emissions and quieter roadways for the poor animals that line them (although for them, danger just got quieter). Also, on a mile-for-mile basis, electric vehicles will be cheaper (nearly $1,500 annually), and they will have easier maintenance to boot.
Even with an electric vehicle’s high power draw during charge cycles and the fact that this power still comes from coal, the combination could reduce carbon emissions by 30 percent. Now imagine how much could be reduced by using a more renewable form of energy generation. It’s outstanding!
And the Votes are In…
Automakers do favor electric and hybrid cars over hydrogen technology and bio-fuels at least somewhat - they have large investments in the arena. There are a few start-ups emerging and the standard Detroit companies are in on the party too. With so many big heads knocking together, I imagine that it won’t be long after 2014 that this technology really begins to take off. By then, the infrastructure and other components that prove necessary will be in place and the bugs ironed out.
The move is vastly important because the US is not the only consumer of automobiles. Traditionally-struggling countries are beginning to enter into buying the “horseless carriage,” and that means reduced carbon emissions in the US could be balanced out by emissions elsewhere on the globe. It’s time for the US to lead the way in sustainability rather than perpetuate an overseas corporate image of chains like McDonald’s, Pizza Hut and the like. We’ve got the know-how and drive, but do we have the courage to commit to it? Time will tell.
For much more information about this topic, check out Martin LaMonica’s Cnet article here.