We all know what happened. By 1920, the first EV era was mostly over. So will it be déjà vu all over again? Paradoxically, the main adoption impediment isn't EV sticker prices, daunting though they are. It's the lack of recharging infrastructure.
The US government is subsidizing the construction of charging stations. Austin, Texas, already has more than 100 stations in place, but, quite frankly, the buildout rate is nowhere near rapid enough to turn EVs into no-muss, no-fuss mainstream driving machines.
There's also a technology wild card. EV power packs haven't kept up with Moore's Law, and it's not clear if they will ever get significantly beyond the 200Wh/kg energy densities of today's top Lithium-ion batteries. We also don't know how quickly the packs will dip below their not atypical $10,000-plus replacement costs, nor do we know how this will affect vendor warranty costs or used-car resale values.
I've always believed fuel-cell vehicles are a more viable technology than EVs, in the same way that Sony Beta was a better videotape format than VHS. In the latter case, marketplace machinations outflanked engineers' data-driven assessments. This will likely be the case with EVs, in which so many people have so much invested that pulling the plug now would unleash a far worse scenario than fixing the problems.
For a close-up look at GM's Chevy Volt, go to the Drive for Innovation site and follow the cross-country journey of EE Life editorial director, Brian Fuller.
@Alex, I believe the answer to your question is in your article here: "The US government is subsidizing the construction of charging stations. Austin, Texas, already has more than 100 stations in place, but, quite frankly, the buildout rate is nowhere near rapid enough to turn EVs into no-muss, no-fuss mainstream driving machines."
The role of the federal US government should be to set standards on things like charging rate, voltage, and environmental disposal rules, not to build charging stations in each neighborhood. If the Feds want to push a particular technology, offer tax incentives to local governments, not the end consumer. Allow the locals to figure out how EVs would work best in their own environment. If it will happen, it will happen.
Just ask Spencer Silver of 3M who discovered an ultra-low tack adhesive in 1968. It wasn't until he met up with Art Fry at 3M in 1974 that they convinced 3M to market Post-It Notes in 1980. Having the US Government issue coupons to consumers in the early 1960's would have done little to spur innovation in the area of slightly-sticky paper...
Very true, let the locals figure out how EVs would work best in their environment. Here in the suburbs of Chicago, a 45 minute commute is typical, although the actual traveled distance is only 15 miles. An EV would work quite well out here even if it had a 100 mile range. If you lived in Montana, that 100 mile range might be cutting things a little close.
I agree with William. The construction of charging stations is one of the biggest limitations and there should be subsidies to local governments for building out these stations in the areas where there is the most likely uptick for EV adoption. Obviously, not every area is a prime candidate. But I would think metropolitan areas like Chicago and Los Angeles (and really any major city, hence commuter route) are fair game. As for Montana and the other big rural interstates, a reliable network of charging stations is critical, but perhaps less so since most won't be taking their EVs on any kind of significant cross-country road trip.
One of the dilemmas with using a pure electric as a city car is that many city cars are parked on streets, not in private garages. As a result, cities would need charging devices running almost end to end on every block. Otherwise, urban dwellers who live in three-flats (common in Chicago) would need to run charging cables from their front windows to the curbs for hours every night while they recharged.
Alexander, Just two points: First: In 1910 families were likely to only have one vehicle. Today's family will most likely have a pair if one is gas and the other is for around town, then the trip to the grocery or gym is done with electric and the trip to Vegas is done with gas. Second:Fuel cells will likely never be a viable option. They dump about three quarts of water on the road every mile they drive (think winter freeze, or constantly wet roads in summer, no convertibles or riding with the windows down). Then think of your source for fuel almost all hydrogen comes from oil (C5H12) today and is about 5 times the cost of gas to produce.
It's refreshing to see so many informed comments about the EV issues; charging, infrastructure, consumer behaviour, subsidies and so forth. When it comes to energy consumption, the U.S. is second to none. The sad truth is that we are over-consumers and the hydrocarbon-based fuels that we and the rest of the world rely on are not infinite in supply, nor are they always cost effective. Wars are a pretty expensive way to keep the oil flowing. That being said, I think it's prudent to encourage alternative energy consumption methods for the sake of diversity and to increase our knowledge base of what works and what doesn't. Wind energy now seems to be cost effective in certain markets after 20+ years of subsidy and PV solar is waffling but improving. I say, let's continue to have incentives, see if we can make a serious go of EV, not instead of gas, but in addition to it. Give it a good chance to thrive (or not) on it's own merits, but have the courage to pull the plug if it ultimately doesn't measure up.
Charging statios are interesting. These big programs get announced, but actual usage is hardly talked about. I recall hearing about the removal of EV charging stations so I looked it up. In Aughust there was an article about Costco removing the charging stations in their California stores. No one was using them. I know there are other examples.
The reality is that you are correct, Alex, that fuel cells are the way to go. There are many options for feedstock for fuel cells. Frankly, the technology is not much of a stretch for EVs. You just replace the battery with the fuel cell. In fact, you may want to make a hybrid that uses a battery with a fuel cell (instead of a ICE). This would allow for recovering energy from dynamic breaking, etc. Frankly, the electric motor and most of the rest of the car remains the same.
Maybe the tax incentives are being given to the wrong place? We've agreed it's an infrastructure problem. The government (federal or local) does not belong in the charging business. The infrastructure is (mostly) there already, but it must be convinced to go the extra mile.
How about doing a carrot-stick approach with the existing gas stations? Petroleum companies get to keep their current tax breaks, but only if they add charging "pumps" to their stations. Or something close to that.
Gas companies, gas stations, are not going to simply disappear. Getting their help will work better if they've a reason to put the charging stands in to the existing locations. No "new" stations need be built.
@TJ I love discussing various ideas, but the largest drawback I see with charging stations at filling stations is time. While filling takes around 5 minutes, charging can take around 5 hours. I don't see many consumers wishing to park their EV at the "filling" station and then finding alternate transportation to their destination.
@naperlou I celebrate the idea of fuel cells. The variety of feedstock permits competition and optimization with minimal retrofitting or equipment replacement. Until we develop the Mr. Fusion device from Back to the Future, perhaps Mr. Fuelcell is a great stepping stone...
@William: If charging really can take up to five hours, I don't see any consumer making use of a charging station unless it's at their home, at the office, or they're on the road and can leverage some kind of charging station at their hotel. When else does the average consumer have a five-hour block of time to get their car revved up? Accelerating the battery charge cycle has to be a major design goal for EV battery makers and auto OEMs if this technology is to truly take off.
I totally agree. I had no idea it would take that long or I guess I knew it took that long at home, but thought/assumed a charging station would be quicker. Much, much quicker. You are right to say common sense would dictate that a charging station that demands five hours of your time is a wasted effort. Even if you parked it at a mall or a movie theatre where people go for some time, they are still not there for five hours. Work environments and home. That's where people spend that kind of significant chunk of time.
It's also worth mentioning that pure EVs with larger batteries take longer than five hours to charge. When the Leaf came out in 2010, charge time at 220V was eight hours (That may have changed since then).
William, I think government and community has to encourage the Electric vehicles. When compare with traditional gasoline based vehicles, EVs are more ecco friendly and has less pollutions. Any way we cannot rely to Crude oil always and I think EV can be considering as a good alternate for it.
Charging Stations make absolutely no sense for anyone willing to take 2 minutes to think thru the logistics. Of course that might not include the current administration which seems to back "popular" over "logical".
EVs are a great technology -- but ideal only for home garage kept vehicles used for commuting.
Thanks, William for your always incisive comments, as well as everyone else who's weighed in. I think the vibe I'm getting is that EVs are at a tipping point, and one which is dependent on the building out of charging infrastructure. The latter -- regardless of how it's funded -- will be the key to whether EVs are a volume play in the next decade, or whether my 1910 analogy will rise again, Titanic-like, and be true on 2010--er 2012.
Seems like better standardization is needed among EV manufacturers for perhaps not just recharging, but having the option to do a quick battery swap might work. I see the potential to pull into a station and have a battery swapped robotically faster than filling on gas.
Interesting tangent: the article mentions that Edison made EV batteries. Scotty's Castle is a desert mansion built in the 1920's near Death Valley: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scotty's_Castle The owner made his fortune from insurance but was an engineer by education. The Castle was his playground and has a lot of his innovative ideas. The water turbine mentioned in the Wiki article charged banks of nickel-iron batteries made by Edison which you can still see today. (Power throughout the Castle was 100VDC).
One thing that's being missed in the comments- mass adoption of EV's will require massive infrastructure changes. Instead of delivering coal or natural gas energy to the tire contact patch via gasoline, it will switch delivery of those gigaWatt-hours to the electrical grid. The government can subsidize the end point charging stations but they better be subsidizing improvements to the electrical grid as well...which is already operating at its limit in some regions of the country.
A friend works for an electrical utility- reasonable levels of consumer EV adoption in California will create a power demand equivalent to a 30% increase in households. Installation of a 240V charging system will cost the typical homeowner about $4k so that's an added cost of ownership.
Electric cars have had a long and rough history. Today, the biggest questions are: What will it cost? Is it really green or just green washed? Consumers care about the longevity of the planet more than ever before but their bottom is the bottom line.
One question I haven't had answered is what does it cost, out of pocket, for the consumer to charge up the vehicle with average usage. The price of electricity for the home has doubled for us in Northern California over the last two years. Would I pay more to charge a car or to gas in a car? Having more charging stations available is fine but if the consumer is spending $100 to fill a tank that lasts a couple of hundred miles compared to $60 (4 cylinder-of course) for a few hundred miles, the choice is made.
Battery life and distance needs to be much better. But, what tool does it take n the environment to build these cars in the first place? Battery production isn't eco-friendly...yet.
The problem is not subsidies for EV's but the ones for oil, coal, big auto that need to be cut and their full costs in them and both EV's and RE will beat the pants off of them on a level playing field.
Any EV can put a 3-10kw generator on a rear trailer hitch and get unlimited range solving the range problem which really isn't a problem.
And the comparison should be with a BMW, not a Camry as they are high tech future cars, not economy ones.
EV's should have been started as $12k commuter/errand vehicles under 1200 lbs where when done right get 250-400mpg equivalent. Since 1/3 the weight needs 1/3 the battery pack/EV drive thus 1/3 the costs. A 40 mile range Volt battery in these would get 300 mile range!! See the Auto company strategy? Build over weight, over priced EV's and then say see we told you so, EV's are too expensive, etc.
With my lightweight EV's I've never had a problem charging as there are billions of 120vac outlets everywhere!! Gas stations, Libraries, 7/11's, parking garages all let me charge so even before the new charging stations charging wasn't a problem.
I just got my charging card so will try it out soon as Tampa has 12 stations, 2 EV's/station downtown I'll have my pick of spots. Not that I didn't have 500 spots with 120vac in parking garages in the same area. I get 90% charged by 120vac outlets in 3 hrs. Or 15 minutes to 80% by the new 240vac/70 amp EV charge station standard. My EV her costs $.20-.30 to charge and big EV's about 6-10x's that for 100 miles, so far less cost than gasoline.
Since gasoline will hit $10/gal in 5 yrs because we can't pump it fast enough for present production, much less the extra 3 billion new oil consumers from China. India, Indoneasia alone!! Do the math.
So one better have some kind of alt fuel. I like EV's because they are so simple, just the car's starter, battery, just bigger. And leave all that other fuel hungry, very ineff gas, diesel engines in the dust.
One solution for a while is NG which is currently selling for $.30/gal gasoline BTU equivalent!! It only goes to show just how resistant to change Americans and most people are. They rather pay $4/gal than even consider doing something differently. How's that working?
Sadly most of these 'problems' are in people's heads and not a problem in real life. They all have easy solutions.
Cars use the same materials as batteries do so just what is your point Nadine?
@Jerry: The point that I'm respectfully making is that there won't be mass appeal for electric cars until people who are worried about how to pay thier current bills see a cost benefit. I'm also pointing out that EV's are touted as the answer to our eco-transportation needs when they're not as green as most in the industry would like consumers to believe.
There are more Camrys on the road than BMWs. Green vehicles are comapred to 4cylinders in the market because those currently offer the best mpg...apples to apples.
Congrats on your positive experiences with your EV. I hope the technology evolves too include the masses.
Great perspectives, Alex –- comparing the auto industry of today to that of 100 years ago; and VHS to Beta –you have touched on truths of invention that have long been frustration to their mothers.Historically its been said that necessity is the mother of invention.Couple that with a largely accepted paradigm that invention and patenting are a guarantee for success. Yet only the first is true with no guarantee that the invention has merit in a marketplace governed by consumers who tend to follow the herds. I have come to realize that invention is seed; but true growth requires innovation; and innovation is the whole system, including the culture, and market, and the timing.
As an inventor of several dozen USpatents, I experienced this first-hand. I believe that things "eventually" catch-on. This is one of the Mission Statements for FutureProductInnovations, published on our web site:
"More than two decades of product design and invention of new technologies has clearly shown that world markets are often not ready for most new cutting-edge ideas. But all great innovations have their own 'proper time' and they all come around, eventually.The saving grace of this deferral of innovation is the patent process, which protects those paradigm-breaking ideas while they incubate --- until their natural time comes"
Interesting how the two examples you've cited overrule that philosophy.The EV boom of a century ago, and Sony's mega investment in BETA; two inventions that never saw the boom of innovation. BETA will never come back, and their times have passed – never to realize fruition.
Electric cars and trucks are little more useful to the average person today than they were 100 years ago. The cost and limited range are deal breakers for most people. Personally I don't see that changing anytime soon. While there may be limited applications such as inner city deliveries where they may hold a small advantage, electric vehicles are little more than an impractical novelty to the average person. Without a massive improvement in battery technology and cost reduction I think electric cars may very well be little more a passing fad.
I am actually quite surprised that this column and feedback is remarkably similar to general press articles and public responses. I expected high tech folks like us to be more knowledgeable about the evolution of energy availability, direct and indirect costs to the individual, society and our decendents. The arguments against assume immediate mass adoption for all drivers. The initial EVs are not intended for mass adoption by the average auto driver. The initial 3 cars are short commute cars for home charging only. The market is being kickstarted. The Kickstart costs are an absurdely tiny percentage of the 'real' costs of current gas subsidies. Charging is not intended to follow the weekly public gas fillup in 5 minutes. Home chargers are used to top off, not fill up the 'tank' nightly, no waiting, just plug it in, 15 seconds. Public stations are primarily for emergency charge, just enough to get home, not an empty to full charge. Their real 'value' is to reduce public anxiety/insurance, like a AAA card to encourage early adopters. Costco is removing charge stations installed to service GM crushed EVs. I predict that current standard stations will replace them. Competitive international auto manufacturers will never agree on a standard swappable battery without international government mandates which are politically impossible. Also the infrastructure and inventory costs are prohibitive, especially when the intent is to duplicate the current gas station visit. Iceland, Hawaii and Israel are possible limited exceptions. Apartment dwellers, interstate truckers will be the last to adopt, if ever. Market penetration may get to 50% in 20 years, maybe. EVs will supplement bthe gas market, not eliminate it, and certainly not immediately. Battery costs will come down over years as volume and technology increases, prices and adoption will follow, gradually. Fuel cells are an ideal concept but limited by platinum cost, hydrogen infrastructure and conversion costs which show no signs of reduction over the last decade+. The US fracked methane glut may improve the odds. An increase in CNG trucks is more likely.I've been monitoring/waiting for my electric car for 50 years. The Ford EV is currently top of my list. Maybe this year?
AverageJoe is correct about the utility of EVs to the average person. (Though one should point out the hybrids like the Toyota Prius are indeed useful and sell because they're desireable, not because anyone is forced to buy them.)
Regarding mtrivich's comments, swappable battery packs aren't a viable option. Re fuel cells, of which I'm a supporter. one thing I've missed is that hydrogen is a nuisance to deal with, not because of the (overblown -- thank you, Hindenburg) fire issue, but because of leakage through tubing and seals. Not to mention that chicken/egg issue of expensive infrastructure build out.
I agree, Alex, hybrids have fluorished on the strength of their mass appeal. When the price of plug-in hybrids drop, I think we'll see similar mass appeal. Pure EVs are another matter. I don't think broad appeal will arrive until we find a better battery chemistry.
The problem of power demand to recharge the EVs is something that has been seriously ignored by the promotors, because it could be the show-stopper. Just like has been stated, one on the block would not be a problem, but when over half the houses have an EV charging on a hot night there will be distribution system failures. Aside from the need to replace all of those KVAs in just a few hours there is also the probability of line noise from the switchmode battery chargers. And if you thought that the RFI from a 40 watt switcher was bad, just wait until you hear the noise from two dozen 1600 watt chargers, or more likely, two dozen 4500 watt chargers.
As for the novel concept of a battery that gets changed out for a charged one, the problem that will be unsolvable will be the one of getting a fully charged battery that does not have nearly the capacity of the one that was replaced. How many times can you replace the $10,000 battery pack before giving up on the concept completely.
The other problem is that there will not be any standardization of sizes or connectors, or voltages, and the government will never demand any standardization. Just look at the wide variety of 12 volt batteries on the shelf at the local auto parts store. If they can't standardize batteries with the same voltage and similar capacities, how in the world could they agree on drive batteries. Look at portable computer batteries as another example.
While I have not taken the time to read each person's comments & rebuttals in this article, for me THE overriding issue is that the auto companies have failed miserably from several angles.
First, the science & engineering of the battery technology is nowhere ready for prime time. There just isn't enough energy density to satisfy the load. And, while the consuming public by and large does not understand these technical concepts, they CERTAINLY DO understand that the EV will only go a minimal distance on a charge. This is a wallet / pocketbook concern.
Second, the marketing depts. of the auto manufacturers thought that by using clever advertising trickery, they could convince the consuming public that the EV is THE way to go. Again, the consuming public, while not having a Masters Degree from HARVARD BUSINESS SCHOOL is wise enough to see through this smoke & mirrors presentation.
I'm on my 3rd TOYOTA CAMRY. This one has almost 60,000 trouble-free miles. All of them got consistently good gas mileage, and I NEVER concerned myself with where is the next "charging station", since the highways & byways of America are littered with gas stations. The ease of refueling, the convenience of driving 500, 600, or more miles without stopping remain major obstacles to the widespread adoption of EV alternatives.
I can see myself "driving into the sunset" in a TOYOTA CAMRY, unless of course, TOYOTA redesigns the vehicle into something that I no longer wish to own (color that "smart" vehicle technology). I don't want a vehicle that "thinks" for me. IF I get to a point in my life when I can't think rationally while operating a motor vehicle, then I'll surrender my privilege to operate one.
Yeah, Charles, that just goes to prove my point. And, IF you were able to gather the sales data on the individuals who purchased these vehicles, it probably would show that MOST of them were purchased by the "Glitterati" amongst us. I'm sure you understand who I'm talking about!
On a serious note, one must analyze the logistics of building convenient & useful "charging stations" for these vehicles. Just think about the whole process to build a "charging station". A viable alternative would be to include these "charging stations" into existing fuel-dispensing stations, BUT even that will take time to implement ..... not to mention the additional infrastructure in the electric grid to sufficiently handle the dramatically increased load. Maybe in 50 or more years into the future, when petroleum-fueled vehicles are sufficiently small in number, the tipping point will have been reached, so there won't be the massive need for refineries a net saving of electrical power might be realized. Until then, I see the see-saw swung in the wrong direction!
One thing I know for certain ...... NOW may be the prime time to add the AAA to your stock portfolio, since they'll be running more tow trucks than ever servicing the needs of EV drivers who have run out of "gas" in the middle of nowhere!
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