April 12, 2009 – Vol.14 No.4
THE CHALLENGES OF ELECTRIC DRIVE.
by Bruce Mulliken, Green Energy News
Tea leaves are pointing to the distinct possibility that large numbers of electrically driven vehicles will be joining conventional vehicles on the nation’s byways in the near future. The latest addition to the fleet will be Mitsubishi’s pure electric, four-passenger i - MIEV that will be sold to global markets. (The company isn’t specific as to launch date, however.) The company has also joined up with the State of Oregon and Portland General Electric to build recharging stations.
The move to electric drive is not a done deal, though. There are some large wrinkles to be ironed out. There are concerns and questions that need to be raised. Here are a few...
--- Electric vehicles are perhaps too quiet. Blind pedestrians need vehicular noise to be alerted to their vicinity. Wild animals, as well as domestic pets, aren’t known for looking both ways before they cross the street. They rely on noise to frighten them off to oncoming cars and trucks. (And all too often that noise sensory system doesn’t work well either.) Will electric vehicles increase the number of pedestrian accidents? Will these quiet electric cars increase “road kill”? How will we add noise to these vehicles?
--- The move to electric drive will come in fits and starts. Mistakes will be made. Some technologies will work, others not. Some vehicles will sell in the marketplace. Others will fail to do so. Some companies will prosper. Others will go out of business. The introduction of electric vehicles could be like a dangerous ride on a curvy wet road. Are investors prepared?
--- Technologies being developed now are not the final product. Just like the more than century old internal combustion enginned vehicle, electric vehicle technology will steadily improve. During ongoing evolution of the conventional automobile some standards have been agreed to and adopted by manufacturers to make make manufacturing easier, cut costs, make products more appealing to consumers and meet regulations. These commonalities have made conventional automobiles better products. Will electric vehicle manufacturers get together and develop some standardized technologies? Standardized interchangeable battery packs come to mind. Standardized packs would certainly aid the battery swap-on-the-fly concept now being promoted by Better Place as well as Tesla Motors for its new sedan.
--- How will vehicle and recharging infrastructure developers encourage drivers to charge only during off-peak hours when there is spare electricity available on the grid? Adding additional electric draw in peak periods will not help an already beleaguered system. Putting more demand on the grid in hours where demand is already high could lead to the construction of more conventional power plants. True, more renewable power plants could be built, but renewable energy may not always be an option for all grid operators.
--- Electric cars alone won’t fix global warming. Drivers need to understand this. Though cars and trucks are a growing contributor to greenhouses gases worldwide (because the world’s car population keeps growing) vehicles are only one contributor. Coal power plants are the biggest problem, and their population is growing as well.
--- How do people who don’t have their own parking areas charge their cars? Oddly, areas that would benefit most from zero emission electric vehicles are congested cities. Yet personal, privately-owned off-street parking is not common where the highest densities of people live. Sure some people can purchase parking spots, and parking garage owners will add charging facilities if these cars become wildly popular, but probably most city dwellers will have to keep their conventional vehicles and forgo electrics until ultra-fast charging becomes available (charging as fast as a gasoline fill-up) or the battery swap concept takes off.
--- How will the high cost of these vehicles come down? That cost is related to the batteries. What if the cost of the battery technology du jour – lithium-based – doesn’t drop dramatically? Are battery developers working on alternatives?
--- If the cost of electric vehicles doesn’t drop, will we just put up with them and just finance them for a longer period of time, perhaps as long as a decade? Or will vehicle ownership disappear altogether and leasing or co-ownership become the norm?
--- Looking far down the road, what if electric vehicles really take off, sold in the millions each year, to the point where oil consumption is drastically reduced? What happens to economies that rely on the sale of oil?
Mitsubishi i - MIEV
Portland General Electric
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