I think Astrobuf summed it up aptly when he said engineering fads come and go, regulatory mandates change, interest rises and then wanes--it's the lack of consistency that makes perfecting EV technology so elusive.
Then again, if you look at how far the Internet and information technology sector has advanced in 25-plus years, it's crazy to think we can't enjoy similar progress on the EV front. Again, it boils down to lack of consistency and focus. Well said.
Beth: About 100 years ago, Thomas Edison and Henry Ford are said to have decided they would lick the electric car battery problem within five years. We're still waiting...There was a great article about this last year in Wired.
As an Electrical Engineer, I really like the idea of an electric car. But I agree that making a serious reduction on atmospheric carbon should start with replacing coal as an energy source. Two approaches come to mind which could offer costs competitive with coal, on the order of a penny per kiloWatt-hour. These are fusion and Space Based Solar Power. Both have serious challenges, which are well discussed elsewhere (for example, see Wikipedia). My point is that such a low cost energy source will make it economical to synthesize gasoline using Carbon extracted from atmospheric CO2, thus making gasoline (and other transportation fuels such as Diesel and jet fuel) carbon neutral. This allows continued use of the extensive existing liquid fuel infrastructure, as well as taking advantage of the greatly superior power and energy density of liquid fuel over electric batteries. So, there is currently a brief window of opportunity for electric car advocates to grab some market share before a true solution to the energy problem enables the synthesis of carbon-neutral transportation fuels and lets us keep using these marvelously effective combustion-powered vehicles. Ultimately, I think the proportion of transportation provided by electric propulsion in the 21st century will likely be about the same as in the 20th century (which is a lot more than most people realize, but still relatively small).
It's been 40 years since we went to the moon, I'm a bit disatisfied that we've not yet travelled to the stars?
Technology development takes time and a consistent market. We've had no consistent market in the automotive world. Fads and trends come and go. Government mandates this and that. It's gettign harder to keep one's eye on the ball as expectations become more outrageous as the populace of the US become less and less technically knowledgable and the consequences of failure become more and more punitive to companies.
Even now, it seems that early adopters are signalling their boredome with cars such aa the Cehevy Volt, I am concerned that our daliance with EV's will fade and we'll be buting Hummers once again soon.
Perhaps we could see an analytical version that would help people understand the fundamental misconceptions of the electric car (EV). There is no question that the EV will serve to shift from oil to coal, and that has merit related to geopolitical energy issues. It might offer economic advantages to motorists, depending on the whims of electric price regulators.
However, it will not accomplish the reduction of CO2 which is often advertised or implied in connection with electric vehicle promotions.
A constructive analysis would recognize the economic reality of marginal response to new loads, which will generally fall to coal fired generating facilities, given the available reserve capacity and nearly dirt cheap fuel. Thus, the CO2 released in burning coal is the relevant global warming consideration. Quantifying this CO2 using actual efficiency numbers for the various generation, transmission, controllers, battery effects and electric motor efficiencies could be an objective of great importance in an article that would supplement this present slideshow.
A general fact is that the heat engines used in coal fired power plants run around 31% efficient for the United States. When this is taken into account in calculating equivalent MPG (MPGE) the idealizations of electric vehicles show to be falsely promoted by the EPA and their formula for that MPGE parameter that is officially approved for the window sticker presented to potential buyers.
This official formula asserts that a gallon of gasoline is equivalent to 33.7 kWhr of electricity, which it most certainly is when making heat from the electricity, but most certainly is not when making electricity from heat. The lie is important because it misleads by a factor of roughly three. This destroys the meaning of the CAFE standards, since electric vehicles count in the averages as about three times higher MPG than a similarly efficient hybrid.
Beth, the technology does go back more than 100 years. My grandmother had an electric car in 1909 that she liked very much. It would take her to church, a friend's house, to the store and home again. No steering wheel, it had a lever that you could turn to the right or the left to steer. It had to be charged frequently.
Since then battery technology and electric motors have been improved but you still need a power plant to charge it and batteries still are not as efficient in extremely cold weather or the heat of summer. Just try to start your SUV in a sub zero winter with a weak batter. Most of the range stats are based on level ground. Electric cars don't do as well on hills.
A gas/electric hybrid car would be better because the gasoline motor can generate all or part of the electricity.
Electric vehicles go a LOT further back than that! Try way over ONE HUNDRED years ago. Some of the earliest cars were all-electric. There's a full site dedicated to this on Wikipedia. They didn't last very long because of the same issues they face today: limited range, lack of supporting infrastructure, and costs.
Nice under-the-covers snapshot of the component and architectural evolution of these electric and alternative power train vehicles. I didn't realize how far back some of the early development goes. Seeing old-fashioned looking cars from the late 60s and 70s that have a so-called electric or hybrid heritage is quite surprising.
Focus on Fundamentals consists of 45-minute on-line classes that cover a host of technologies. You learn without leaving the comfort of your desk. All classes are taught by subject-matter experts and all are archived. So if you can't attend live, attend at your convenience.