18 June 2012
We hear a lot about the tipping point for electric vehicles. Engineers have solved the problem, if not the economics.
But when a gallon of gas, at $3.75 (give or take), offers 70 times more energy density than the equivalent lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery (at 400 pounds), it may be time to reset our electric-vehicle expectations.
This may be happening all over the world right now (I know what you're thinking: "Well, duh!" But remember most of the world's policy makers aren't engineers and will never be confused with engineers).
My colleague Chuck Murray at Design News points out that China's having a tough time with the EV sell. This from a country that can uproot millions of people (millions) to build the world's biggest dam.
Sales of the Chevy Volt in 2012 are–halfway through this year–about to eclipse Volt sales for all of 2011. But Volt and Nissan Leaf sales have disappointed supporters in general.
Even the most ardent EV supporters today acknowledge we're in the baby-steps phase. It's early in the transition and in the evolution of the technology.
In an encouraging sign, Chevrolet announced that the 2013 Volt will get roughly 10 percent farther range off its Li-ion battery technology. This increase is, perhaps not surprisingly, because the battery manufacturer, LG Chem, increased the battery's capacity by a little more than 3 percent.
We often, as a culture, get swept up in the hope of technology. Consumers get swept up because EV technology is cleaner, hipper and will get us out of Middle Eastern wars. And many technologists and engineers get swept up because a thorny problem has been solved.
And confronting the reality is difficult. First off, energy transitions take time, as University of Manitoba professor the "great energy delusion."points out, writing about
Then, when it comes to EVs, there's the fact that range anxiety is skewing engineering decisions, according to a former director for battery maker Axion Power.
Lastly, it's dawning on us that the subsidies being flung at the infrastructure, auto makers and battery manufacturers are really helping facilitate cars that only the extremely wealthy can afford, according to Steven Kopits, writing in Foreign Policy.
So what's your take? Full steam ahead? Cautious but continual development? Or abandon this path and start looking at more diesel and natural-gas fueled vehicle designs?