This post was published in the Portland Press Herald on December 30, 2015:
BY BARRY T. WOODS – SPECIAL TO THE PRESS HERALD
Major automakers’ pledges to grow model offerings are good news for everyone from patriots to clean-energy advocates.
Old and New: English Linden tree, planted 1774 in Phippsburg, ME, and the BMW i3 made in 2015 and driven by the author
The Portland Press Herald recently ran two articles about electric vehicles that might lead a reasonable reader to wonder: What is going on with this technology? On the one hand, Mainers seem ambivalent about driving electric (“Electric car sales sputter as Mainers go for SUVs,” Dec. 6), but on the other hand, large investments are being made to promote it (“Tesla unveils supercharging station in Augusta,” Dec. 16).
Well, Mainers need to understand that change is in the air (as well as electricity). We as a country are poised over the next very few years to embark upon a new path in transportation and energy. There really shouldn’t be confusion about electric vehicles. The only real question is not “Will it happen?” but “How long will we take to let it happen?”
First, let the record show that Maine actually has far more plug-in electric vehicles than staff writer Tux Turkel cites in his coverage of electric car sales. He omitted data on an entire class of vehicles, plug-in electric hybrids, which use both battery and gas systems (such as the Chevy Volt).
What’s more, the Maine Bureau of Motor Vehicles lacks proper coding classifications for registering plug-in vehicles, causing many of them (including the Toyota plug-in Prius) to be lumped in with combustion-engine versions.
Our best estimate is that we have 1,000 registered plug-in vehicles currently in Maine.
Of course, the much larger story is not how many vehicles we have, but what is coming on the horizon and why it matters. Virtually every major auto manufacturer has pledged to grow its electric vehicle model offerings over the next few years.
Ford recently announced it was allocating $4.5 billion to fund its effort to add 13 plug-in electric vehicle model types, and Nissan, Tesla and General Motors are working to deploy the first affordable 200-mile-range all-battery electric vehicle. These investments in technology are critical to increasing vehicle options and meeting consumer expectations.
Of paramount importance to triggering this disruption and transition away from combustion engines is the improvement in the performance and cost of lithium ion batteries. Battery costs have been coming down 8 percent to 10 percent per year.
Meanwhile, worldwide production of batteries is poised to increase dramatically as a result of large manufacturing facilities being brought online. The Tesla Gigafactory alone may account for a reduction in battery prices of 50 percent or more, with some analysts suggesting that the cost per kilowatt-hour will drop from $250 to $38.
This will address the two biggest issues raised by skeptics: high cost and limited range. The cars do need to get better, and they will. Why is this level of investment occurring in the first place and accelerating? The real attractiveness of electric vehicle technology lies in its potential not just to provide better cars but also to solve a host of economic, social and environmental problems created by our existing reliance on oil.
An increasingly large and diverse group of public and private stakeholders, each with its own missions, are in agreement that this is a superior and more beneficial product.
Consumers find it cheaper and more fun to operate and convenient to charge overnight at home.
Utilities like the idea of growing new demand for electric load (as a counterbalance to emphasizing energy efficiency) and leveraging smart-grid investments to manage that load’s battery storage.
Clean-energy advocates like promoting the electric vehicle-photovoltaic connection, showing how their residential solar array can now power their cars.
State officials like keeping energy money in the local economy and reducing the public health costs of tailpipe emissions.
Patriots like making us less reliant on foreign oil (and not spending blood and treasure protecting it).
Any one of those solutions would be worth noticing, but when they are combined in one package, as they are with electric vehicles, it’s hard to remain ambivalent for long. Especially after you test drive one.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR –
Barry T. Woods is founder and Director of Electric Mobility NE, a Portland-based electric vehicle consulting firm.