Green Update: The EV Future Looks Complicated But Positive

June 21st, 2011

Plug-in service

Despite a numerous, noisy bunch of skeptics, electric cars are beginning to make an impact—in the press, with early adopters and, yes, with some of our readers.

A friend of mine wrote:

I’m still delighted with my 2007 Prius as it nears 100,000 miles with no repairs except new headlights (which requires removing the bumper and costs about $250—ouch!). My next car will be all-electric. That gives you some idea of how long I plan to hang on to my Prius. There’s nothing quite as satisfying as gassing up at a filling station next to a pickup truck whose meter reads $80 while mine reads $9.

Randy, one of our frequent commenters, expressed some doubts about EVs and hybrids, but left no doubt that some kind of electrified mass transit commuter vehicle seems likely.

He worries about the power grid’s capacity to absorb high numbers of power-hungry EVs charging during the day. Factors to keep in mind are that plug-in EV production will grow rather slowly over the next four years to about 500,000 vehicles and that grid capacity will be able to match this. Most charging will occur at night, when there’s lots of excess power available.

There has also been talk that parked and plugged-in EVs could actually sell excess juice back to the grid (or function as an emergency generator, per Nissan).

Nissan Leaf appGetting easy access to charging stations and building out such an infrastructure seems to be the immediate problem. This will require some kind of “smart grid,” networking drivers to facilities, and perhaps even new methods of charging. Some of these are discussed here.

Maybe you’ll be able to park your car over a charging mat and refill the battery via an induction process, providing plugless power. Or swap out your battery for a fresh one, in Better Place swap stations.

For the present, Ford and other carmakers are working on telematics and smart-phone apps to not only monitor electricity usage but control it—telling the car when, where and how much to recharge, turning on the air conditioning or heater when the car is still plugged in, monitoring energy consumption, mapping you to the nearest charge station and so on.

The toughest problem is going to be buyer education. AutoWeek recently pointed up some of the tremendous “confusion and ambivalence” over what EVs can do and how they work. One survey revealed that “58 percent [of vehicle shoppers] didn’t realize that plug-in hybrid EVs can run in all-electric mode.”

Our readers, of course, are smarter than that.

Have you recently shopped for or investigated buying an EV or plug-in car? What’s the biggest problem you foresee in owning one?

—jgoods

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Used Toyota Prius

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  1. panayoti
    | #1

    Look, lets get real here. The only place that adoption of EVs makes any sense is a giant Megalopolis with unbelievable population density. Even with all the hysteria being generated by the green community, hardly anybody is rushing out to buy these vehicles. Their lack of sales and production numbers bears evidence that there isn’t much demand. What happens to sales when the EV tax credit isn’t extended in light of budget issues??.

    Don’t try to extol the virtues of an EV to someone in Kansas, Alaska or Wyoming and Montana. With the current economic malaise there is little hope that EV infrastructure will progress much in the next 3-5 years. Roads and the electric grid will have a much higher priority than charging stations. Truth be told our battery technology is woefully inadequate to make this an economically viable enterprise. $10,0000 replacement cost is just too ridiculous to even consider.

    The Prius your friend gloats about makes much more sense than the pure EV that the greenies are pushing. But even here, gasoline is still being used. Also the vast majority of people who might be early adopters are not being told the truth about costs. Yes, they pay for no gasoline but they still have to pay the cost of the electricity used to charge the car. And, gasp, where does that electricity come from?? Yes, Mabel, it comes from coal fired fossil fuel sources. So are you really green or just making yourself feel good about “saving” the planet?? Perhaps we should start looking more seriously to economic models that promote the promise of EVs.

  2. Randy
    | #2

    Electric vehicles represent an untenable technology. The question people fail to ask is “What would happen if everyone drove an EV?” The answer is that we would die a fast death from the hundreds of new coal-fired power plants that would be required to charge them all. (It takes ten or more years to bring a nuclear plant online.)

    What looks more promising are LNG and hydrogen techologies, and fuel cells. Fuel cells aren’t any more complex that current hybrids, and LNG cars are so clean (and produce so little carbon dioxide) that they are essentially zero emission. The problem with hydrogen vehicles is producing the hydrogen, but a nuclear plant that does nothing but produce hydrogen would be much more efficient than one used to charge EVs.
    Ultimately, though, we need to give up our cars in urban areas and build quality mass transit systems along with seriously penalizing drivers who want to drive into urban areas. Then we we can use wealthy people who are willing to pay $50 or more a day to drive their Lexus into NYC, LA, Chicago or Dallas to finance good mass transit systems the rest of us can use.
    I frequently worked with engineers from suppliers and divisions in Europe, and I was really surprised how many of them didn’t own cars and some didn’t even have driver licenses, becasue the cities they lived in were places one could live, work and enjoy without a car. We’re starting to get some cities in the US that are like that (NYC comes to mind) and I think it’s possible to develop that kind of urban/suburban areas in the future if we try.

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