log in | contact | about 

Frankly speaking, I have been a bit skeptical about electric cars coming to our highways in large numbers. So, when I first heard about Germans wanting to ban sales of new internal combustion engines by 2030, my first thought was that this Bundesrat initiative was absolutely nuts (for the record, Bundesrat decision does not yet have legislative power. First, the number of plug-in cars is still laughable and not all of these plug-ins are fully electric. Second, the current infrastructure does not support en-mass charging of electric vehicles. Tesla and Nissan have (I guess incompatible) superchargers here and there, but... Man when was the last time you drove 500 miles? Imagine it is 700 now because you need to drive through a supercharging station. Last, but not least, I am not sure that battery technology is ready. These are all valid concerns, but, after doing some basic research, I have come to a conclusion that the era of electric cars may be closer than we thought.

Perhaps, my primary concern was the cost of a battery. Battery is, probably, the most expensive part of the electric car. For example, in 2010 you would pay 750 dollars per kWh of a Li-Ion battery. For an all-purpose electric car, one would need a 100+ kWh battery back, which would cost a whooping $75,000 in 2010. However, somewhat miraculously, the cost of battery reduced 5X. Furthermore, GM expects a further 1.5x reduction by the end of 2021. Wow, this means that already in 2021, the cost of a good battery would be only $10,000! This is still a lot. However, you have to remember that an all-electric car is a simpler gadget, which needs a simple engine and a simpler transmission. So, without battery shortages potentially hiking the battery price (which is, of course, a serious unknown variable), electric cars will soon be quite affordable. Perhaps, even cheaper than gasoline cars, which are also more expensive to maintain! To sum up this paragraph, even Li-Ion batteries seem to be quite a viable option. Furthermore, one should not exclude potential alternative battery technologies kicking in by 2030-2040.

Another big concern is, of course, lack of infrastructure. However, infrastructure would not necessarily be all that costly. For most commuter cars, charging can happen at home. In addition, it seems that it is actually much simpler to build superchargers than gas stations (credits to my neighbor Alex for this observation)! For example, gas stations require an underground fuel tank, but superchargers only require a reliable connection to the grid. A good question is where all the additional electricity would come from? It is a valid question, because powering electric cars with coal is not a good idea. Due to losses in, e.g., electricity transmission, the overall efficiency of such a system is not all that impressive compared to a fuel-efficient (e.g., hybrid) vehicle. In other words, we would likely only increase the amount of emissions by powering electric vehicles by new coal powerplants. Natural gas would be a better option, yet, it has its own issues. However, I also have high hopes to renewables. In particular, the price of solar panel has decreased to a point where utility companies are starting to lose money (due to people heavily relying on solar panels). At the very least, it would be affordable to use solar or wind or a combination thereof to power your local commute.

In conclusion, I note that, while adoption of electric vehicles is a process full of uncertainties, the electric highway now seems to be closer than I originally thought. Maybe, not in 2030, but 2040-2050 does not look as an unrealistic date to me any more.