While many people believe that electric cars are a just fad and will not gain popularity, these battery-powered vehicles may replace our current transportation system entirely. Whether or not electric vehicles are here to stay depends mainly on how well consumers can overcome range anxiety and how well both home systems and power utilities companies can handle the growing number of electric vehicles. Judging from the number of charging stations already installed or are in the planning stages, as well as advancements in technology, electric vehicles are without a doubt one of the hottest environmental topics across the globe and will be around for many years to come. If that change becomes permanent is anyone’s guess.
Adding a charging station to a home is a simple process physically, yet it can double the amount of electricity a home uses. Some companies such as SilverPAC, OpenPeak and Cisco are attempting to enable both the management and the monitoring of the charging of electric vehicles using a centralized home energy-management system. This system addresses consumers’ concerns regarding electricity usage, thus providing a solution to the problem and proving that electric vehicles are not leaving our transportation market anytime soon.
Charging Stations are Vital
The integration of charging stations for both residential and public use is an important, although incremental, step forward in terms of adopting electric cars. Many consumers worry about how far they can drive on a single charge and fear their vehicles may leave them stand if they cannot find a charging station in time. Drivers must know where they can charge their cars, and more companies are stepping up and installing stations in public areas. Installing more charging stations in public locations is arguably one of the most-promising ways to solidify the growth and use of electric vehicles.
Walgreens and IKEA, two retail stores with locations across the country, have both implemented stations at various stores in the United States. Some college and universities are also installing charging stations for students who live on campus and drive electric vehicles. The integration of charging stations in the public sector is especially important for those who live in trailers, apartments or town homes and do not have a garage to use a residential charging station. There may be thousands, perhaps millions, of people interested in owning electric vehicles, but if charging stations are not readily available in their areas, then they will not have a way to use them and the cars will be pulled from the market, much like General Motor’s EV1.
Although there are charging stations already installed at retail and restaurant locations, ECOtality, Inc., Coulomb Technologies and AeroVironment believe that the majority of the charging will be done at home overnight. These manufacturers are attempting to ease consumers’ worries by helping them understand the way they use energy in their homes, including how and when they charge their cars.
New Technology is Advancing Rapidly
Both electric vehicle and charging station manufacturers are continuously looking for ways to make electric cars cheaper, thus more available and appealing to the public, while attempting to extend the mileage range per charge.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) may have reinvented the way traditional lithium ion batteries operate. Researchers believe that with substituting the traditional solid materials with flowing materials, the battery storage capacity may increase. Compared to the current batteries in electric vehicles, at $250 per kilowatt-hour, these batteries could cost less than half of current prices.
DBM Energy GmbH, a German company, may have found a design for a battery that could cost less than one used in traditional electric vehicles such as the Nissan LEAF and Chevrolet Volt, while exceeding performance criteria. The KOLIBRI lithium-metal-polymer battery can be recharged in less than six minutes, although the exact method has yet to be released, and it weighs significantly less than traditional batteries. The estimated driving range is anywhere between 300 to 400 miles, significantly longer than the Tesla Roadster’s 211 miles per charge. DBM reports that the life cycle of a single battery should be 10 years or 5,000 charges.
Nanotune, a California-based company, has developed a new ultracapacitor technology that they claim reduces the cost of electric vehicles and extends their range. Currently, ultracapacitors deliver power in rapid bursts and can be recharged hundreds of thousands of times without losing their capacity. However, they are extremely expensive and do not store enough energy to fully replace batteries. However, Nanotune’s ultracapacitors may be the replacement that electric vehicles need. They can compete with traditional batteries for energy storage, and may someday surpass them. While current batteries degrade with use, especially when driven in extremely hot or cold temperatures, manufacturers are adding temperature-regulating systems. Ultracapacitors, however, can be recharged with no risk of degradation and work just as well in varying temperatures. Currently, Nanotune’s technology runs between $2,400 and $6,00 per kilowatt-hour, but these expensive costs should come down to roughly $150 per kilowatt-hour if the prices of electrolytes and other key materials fall
Clearly, with all these new technologies in the works, it seems laughable to call electric cars a fad. They may not be as permanent a change as personal computing, but they are surely not as transient as 8-track tapes.