Why Buy an Electric Vehicle?

Tesla Model S
Tesla Model S

I’ve read many articles that discuss the fact that electric cars aren’t as “green” as we think and their best suggestion is to not buy any car at all. Unfortunately, that isn’t feasible for most people. We’ve become accustomed to cars, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon due to the high rent or ownership costs near the major metropolitan city centers. So if you have to purchase a vehicle, for one reason or another, then shouldn’t you buy one that could possibly get “greener” the longer you own it?

Here are my thoughts on other issues and complaints that I’ve read:

Electric vehicles will pollute more because the energy has to come from somewhere!
solar-fieldOften times, people complain that we will have to get the power for all of the electric vehicles from coal, gas, oil, or nuclear power plants, so owning an electric car would really just transfer the pollution from the tailpipe to the power generators. This kind of thinking doesn’t take into account the growing redistribution of the energy mix in most countries.

Canada, for example, is going from 2% solar to 4% solar over the next twenty years. We will also increase our wind power generation from 4% to 9% in the same amount of time. Oil and Coal will see drops during that time from 13% to 6% of our total energy mix.

canada-energy-mix

This information comes from Canada’s National Energy Board.

Who knows, in the future we might get a portion of our energy from the humidity in the air. MIT has already generated electricity from water droplets.

MIT researchers discovered last year that when water droplets spontaneously jump away from superhydrophobic (water-repelling) surfaces during condensation, the droplets can gain electric charge in the process.

Now the same team has demonstrated that this process can generate small amounts of electricity, which could lead to devices that can charge cellphones or other electronics using just the humidity in the air.

Adding that technology to solar panels, and you have solar panels that can generate electricity, rain or shine, like those mentioned in a recent ScienceNews Journal.

Chinese scientists are now able to create electricity with the assistance of raindrops. This is thanks to a thin layer of graphene they use to coat their solar cells during testing. Graphene is known for its conductivity, among many other benefits. All it takes is a mere one-atom thick graphene layer for an excessive amount of electrons to move as they wish across the surface. In situations where water is present, graphene binds its electrons with positively charged ions. Some of you may know this process to be called as the Lewis acid-base interaction.

I think the government is fairly conservative when they bring out reports like this because they can’t predict any substantial improvements in technologies that might be available later down the road, but each year you own your electric car and we move towards renewable energy sources, it becomes greener.

Chevrolet Bolt
Chevrolet Bolt

Our electrical grid can’t handle the peak energy usage of charging all of those cars!
There is also often discussions about how our electrical grid isn’t able to handle the demand that would be created by charging millions of vehicles every day. I think they are forgetting that our grid has long needed an upgrade. Many countries are talking about smart grids. The Natural Resources Canada government website discusses Smart Grids as a major section in their Electricity Infrastructure section. We even have a major conference called Smart Grid Canada Conference to discuss how we can make Canada’s smart grid a reality.

What is a smart grid? Currently, our power grid doesn’t have much understanding of how to optimize its energy demands and just sends out power without a full understanding of its use. When we have major power outages, it is partly because our grid is dumb and doesn’t know how to reroute power around the outage.

For a better understanding, check out this video:

Even without a smart grid, the electrical companies will see a change happening as the electric vehicles grow more popular. Over the course of a few years, their new peak time will likely include five to eight PM as people get home to plug in their electric cars. They will adjust to meet this demand and charge a higher price during this period.

tesla-powerwallOne major part of electricity use that is often forgotten is batteries. Not just the ones in the EVs, but the ones people will likely have at home. We aren’t used to this today, but thanks to the Tesla Powerwall and similar products on the horizon, it is safe to say that those that want to pull electricity from the grid to charge their electric car don’t have to do it as soon as they get home from work. This will mean that they can charge their electric vehicle during non-peak hours, and it will allow power providers to manage usage expectations even better.

These changes will happen as electric vehicle sales rise. We don’t need the infrastructure to be in place today because we don’t have a giant fleet of electric vehicles taxing the grid as it exists today. There is proactive planning already being done regarding the changes that need to happen over the next twenty or so years. Thankfully, not everyone in the world needs to replace their gasoline/diesel car with an electric vehicle today.

You can’t refill a battery as fast as a gasoline car!
That’s currently true, but also shortsighted. There are number of advancements that are on the horizon that will reduce the amount of time it takes to charge an electric vehicle and some that will increase the range beyond what most internal combustion engine vehicles have.

One technology that currently exists and has been tested in a few different ways is battery swapping. The idea that you would drive into a facility, like a drive-through car wash, and come out the other side with a full battery.

Then there are the fast recharge stations. The Tesla Supercharging stations recharge 270 KM of range in 30 minutes. While that would make cross-country trips difficult, taking a dinner break before finishing a trip might work well. The Model S has 435 KM of range, adding an additional 270 KM means you have 700 KM of range from full with a thirty minute stop along the way. That would get you from Guelph, Ontario to Montreal, Quebec, over six hours of driving by stopping for thirty minutes at the Supercharger station in Kingston, Ontario and you’d arrive with around 80 KM of range remaining. There are other, slightly more subtle advantages to owning an electric, as Spotlessvacuum.co.uk has posted, you can plug more demanding electronics to the main system of the car at anytime, a vacuum or even an electric drill.

tesla-supercharger

Currently, there are a little over 3,500 Supercharger stations in the world, but Tesla plans to increase that to 7,200 by the end of 2017. This is just one company producing a very small sub-set of electric vehicles increasing the options and opportunity to charge an electric car quickly.

Even if you can only get another 200 KM of driving for thirty minutes of charging in the future, that brings you to approximately ten hours of driving opportunity per day, more than enough to do most activities without much additional inconvenience. I mean, we all have to use the washroom, take a five-minute break to stretch, eat meals and sleep every once and a while. Those would all be charging opportunities.

Add in larger batteries and better battery technology, and it won’t be long until we have electric cars with an eight-hour driving range. This would make range anxiety a thing of the past, and over time, people will plan around these minor limitations.

What kind of improvements in battery technology can we expect? Well, because it has become more important, we are seeing much more research and development into higher energy density batteries, without the degradation we currently see with lithium ion technology that also handles fast charging without heat increases.

For example, a month ago, a graphene polymer battery was announced which could allow electric vehicles to travel 800 KM on a single charge at the same weight or less than current battery technology.

The company notes that the battery is designed for a number of uses, and could be put in houses, bicycles, drones, and even pacemakers. Dubbed Grabat, the batteries will be manufactured in Yecla, Spain and will have an energy density of 1,000 Wh/kg (for comparison, lithium batteries generally have an energy density of 180 Wh/kg).

Or what about a transparent battery that can also recharge via the sun? Apparently that isn’t science fiction. TechXplore has the story on that.

The team believes their transparent solar charged batteries could one day be used as “smart” windows for homes or offices, allowing for not only automatic tinting, but as energy capture and storage devices for use in a variety of ways. Taking the concept further, it is possible the idea could be extended at some point to consumer electronics, with displays or even entire casings made of the material to help keep phones, tablets and other gear operating when used outdoors or under other types of lighting.

Lastly, there is the idea of wireless charging roads. We already have the technology to make induction chargers. Induction chargers allow a device, near an induction coil, to wirelessly grab and store electricity. This technology is widely available in cell phones. Imagine driving in a specific lane, and as you do so, the range of your electric car diminishes much slower, increasing your overall range?

wireless-charging-road

Gizmag discusses the UK trial of such a technology a little under a year ago.

The testing will replicate motorway conditions and, if successful, may ultimately mean that EVs could be driven for long distances without the need to stop and charge their batteries.

Add to that the solar powered roads that France is doing a test install of, with 1000 KM of solar panels generating electricity, and you have a system that both generates power and distributes it to electric vehicles driving over it. The infrastructure problem gets reduced as the power source and need is within a foot of each other.

The French Minister of Ecology and Energy, Ségolène Royal, has announced that the country plans to cover 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) of roads with solar panels, according to the Global Construction Review. A 1-kilometer segment of the surface, called Wattway, can generate enough power for a town of 5,000 people, according to Colars, the manufacturer of the panels.

BMW i3 Electric
BMW i3 Electric

Gas stations are everywhere, electric charging stations are not.
Well, as mentioned above, there are changes already underway to solve the availability issue, but beyond that, there are discussions of electric car charging stations having power generation on-site using solar, wind and potentially even hydrogen power plants. This would bring energy generation closer to the usage source, and reducing any efficiency loss through long distance wires. It would also potentially allow for charging stations to exist off the grid, away from civilization, something fossil fuel pumps can’t really compete with.

Of course, on top of car companies, electricity companies and even gas companies installing charging stations, towns and cities are taking it on themselves and installing recharging stations at many public facilities. Many stadiums and some parks include publicly available electric vehicle recharging stations. If you’ve been to a mall lately, you might have seen some there as well. Electric charging stations exist and fit outside of the normal gas/diesel fueling options, and most of them are freely available.

ge-WattStation-200When people talk about electric charging stations not being everywhere, I can’t help but ask them when was the last time they filled up their gasoline-powered car at home. Do they have a pump in their garage that can fill up their car? I highly doubt it. Most people have electricity in their garages, meaning they can charge up their electric car. Visiting friends, do they have a plug outside of their house you can run a cord from? Staying at a family members place? I bet you could run an extension cord from their house too. When was the last time you put gas in your car at your parents place? For most people, I’d guess the answer is never.

You can even buy high quality, beautiful, and fast-charging stations that can be installed in your garage for a low price.

In the end, there are many reasons to buy an electric vehicle and they are only becoming bigger and better as time passes. Maybe the electric car you could afford today can’t do everything you want or need, but in a few years, it likely will. Maybe you will get tired of knowing what’s the best oil filter and seeing your neighbors “fuel” up in their driveways will get you jelous enough to buy one. We are in an exciting time for electric vehicles, so don’t let the naysayers dampen your excitement.

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