The Brave New World of Electric Vehicles

 In Blog

This doesn’t directly pertain to home energy efficiency but I keep watching the oil spill and it is making me sick. As I was watching the oil spill in it’s 38th day, I decided to do some research on the future of the electric vehicle.  Is it going to happen and if so, when?

Just to keep perspective, the average mileage for a passenger vehicle in 1980 was 16mpg. In 2008, the average fuel efficiency for the same style vehicle in 2008 was 22.5mpg. Isn’t that disturbing?  With all of the problems of the oil embargo in the late 70’s as well as the smog and pollution issues, we as a country did relatively nothing to improve auto efficiency in the subsequent 28yrs. Think of how many innovations we made in those same 28yrs – internet, DNA testing, cell phone, fiber optics, etc – yet we only improved auto efficiency 6.5miles per gallon.  Pathetic.

Last spring, Toyota announced that they sold their one millionth hybrid (thanks to the popular Prius) serving notice to the competition that the age of fuel economy and electric vehicles has taken hold. With the constant threats from the Mideast where we funnel our oil dollars coupled with the environmental problems and high gas prices, car buyers are finally considering alternatives such as hybrids and electric vehicles. The writing is on the wall. Auto makers must innovate or lose market share.

A 2009 U.S. study called Electrification Roadmap projects that 1mill pure electric vehicles (known as EV’s) will be purchased in the US by 2015 and 14mill by 2020. The Nissan Leaf is expected out at the end of this year and the driver can go approximately 100 miles on a charge which is almost twice that of its predecessors. The age of the plug-in electric vehicles is almost here. I think we’re finally starting to get it and this oil disaster may serve as a catalyst to push us along even faster.

All this pending change begs the question: How is the evolution of the electric vehicle going to impact existing infrastructure? Is it going to put a ton of people in the oil industry out of work? Will there be a different charger for every different type of car like my stupid cell phone? How’s this all going to go down?

According to respected technology data company Pike Research, “Vehicles in the U.S. will be primarily charged at home as early adopters will prefer the convenience, while in the rest of the world, public charging will play a more central role due to reduced access to convenient home charging.” In other words, most gas stations in the U.S. will lose business as we wean ourselves off of petroleum. The chargers will come with the vehicle and should be standard amongst all cars. The chargers we will use are most likely the ones commonly used in Japan that connect to either a 110 volt or 220 volt outlet and take a couple of hours for a full charge.

Additionally, Pike Research predicts that there will be one million “rapid charging points” in the U.S. by 2015 and that most of them will be government controlled or subsidized because the cost of a charge is so minimal. Retailers are likely therefore to install public access stations primarily as a marketing tool and not to generate direct revenue from charging fees. (Free charge with purchase of a 6 pack? Sweetness.) The rapid chargers take approximately 6.5mins to fully charge the vehicle.

Gas stations will get hurt and so will the truckers and ship workers that move petroleum around the world. This is the nature of capitalism. The superior product will gradually bump the inferior product out of the marketplace. The EV’s put out zero emissions although some carbon emissions are released to create the energy. However, even that can be converted to solar, wind, or wave-based energy as we develop a new smart energy grid which will eliminate all emissions involved with driving an automobile.

The energy revolution is underway and it’s going to be exciting to watch it all unfold.

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