A new era will begin and gasoline-driven cars with a motor that converts less than a quarter of the energy included in fuel into the move and letting the other 75% simply heat the environment will inevitably disappear from the roads. I wonder how far prices will go before we see cash-strapped drivers appreciate electric cars. Cars driven by electricity rather than by ever more expensive gasoline are already at a point of development which makes electric cars competitive with gasoline-driven cars. And electric cars have greatest potential. Improvements in range of travel and recharging will certainly occur over the coming years. Although the initial cost is still high, the cost of electric vehicles will drop decisively in the next few years. Mass production will help make the price of the car competitive and batteries will become much more affordable, efficient and powerful, too. The current batteries have a much better reliability and ability to store large amounts of energy than the lead acid batteries used in the GM EV-1. Besides, with gasoline well beyond $4 a gallon, the electric car will pay for itself by saving thousands of dollars a year in gasoline costs. Another point is that electric cars need less maintenance than cars using combustion engines. There are no spark plugs to be changed and there’s no need to add oil to the motor. Furthermore, the internal combustion motor produces pollutants: nitrogen-oxides, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and not to forget, noise pollution is also an issue. Electric cars are running quietly. A common criticism of electric vehicles is that if the electricity does not come from renewables, the EV is less green than it’s supposed to be. However, even if all the electricity powering the car derived from coal, the electric car would produce 50% less carbon dioxide than a 24 mpg gas-driven car.
Electric cars cannot yet compete with gasoline-driven cars in terms of range. However, the average American driving less than 35 miles a day (12,000 miles per year on average) could easily switch to electric cars and charge the car overnight on off-peak energy. Modern lithium-ion battery-equipped electric cars provide 250-300 miles per charge. And even plug-in hybrids like the Chevrolet Volt which will go on sale in 2010 and runs purely on electric power for 40 miles and then automatically switches to gasoline if you drive further would enable most American commuters to cover most of their commuting distancepowered by electricity. An adquate infrastructure should be built so that the battery could be recharged at parking spots with 240v outlets. Public charging points with quick-charging technology for electric vehicles would help to make the breakthrough. And even without that infrastructure, most commuters could cover twice their daily distance on a full charge. And when back home, the car has just to be plugged into a 240v socket and it is recharged by the morning. That’s the big advantage of electric cars in comparison with hydrogen fuel cell cars for instance, as the electric infrastructure is almost perfect today. Hydrogen cars might be decades away, but there are attempts to push the technology forward. California has plans to build a network of more than 150 hydrogen stations along the country so that the next hydrogen station can be found within a 20 mile range.
Toyota plans to add solar panels on the roof of its next generation of Prius hybrid cars. The solar panels should provide part of the power for the air-conditioning and other on-board accessories. Even though this appears to be rather a gimmick for green-tech enthusiasts, the solar panel on the roof could keep the battery charged while the car is parked. Or it could recharge the batteries for driving and keep the ventilation system running and reduce the interior temperature if parked in the sun for several hours. In sunny areas, these rooftop panels could be cost-effective in the long term by saving a few gallons on sunny hot days.
Electric cars will spark a new era of transportation and change the car industry fundamentally. The American car makers should not miss the boat or the American economy will loose billions in economic benefits and thousands of jobs. In the medium-term, gasoline-driven cars will disappear taking with them car companies that stick their head in the sand. On the other hand, thousands of new jobs could be created as technologies tackling the global energy crisis and climate change are urgently needed. Reducing our dependence on fossil fuel imports from unstable regions should be top priority.