December 30, 2020
The shift to greener technologies fuelled by concerns over climate change and our over-dependence on depleting fossil fuels has catapulted electric vehicles to the forefront of a global shift in the automobile sector. Since transportation, which is dominantly driven by fossil fuels, is absolutely indispensable, it is also a leading contributor to pollution in cities and the emission of greenhouse gasses that fuel climate change. Electric Vehicles (EV) and their high energy efficiencies combined with significantly reduced emissions are paving the way to an environmentally-friendly future. Although there are significant hurdles to overcome in terms of battery technology, greener manufacturing, and the reluctance to accepting newer technologies by existing systems, the general trend is a shift towards electric vehicles in the future.
Why Electric Vehicles
The term electric vehicles refer to all vehicles that are powered by electricity and propelled by an electric motor. It includes cars, two-wheelers, buses, trains, ships, and even airplanes. However, the term electric vehicles are most associated with electric vehicles and two-wheelers in general. Although they have been around for a long time, the need for EVs has never been as strong as it is now and will be in the future. As the carbon emissions associated with operating them is very low and their ability to convert more of their stored energy into power at the wheels is high, EVs are the way forward to a clean and sustainable future.
Consider the fact that typical gasoline-powered vehicles can only convert around 17% to 21% of the stored energy in gasoline into usable power at the wheels. On the other hand, electric cars can convert roughly 59% to 62% of the energy drawn out of the power grid to usable power at the wheels! With highly efficient electric vehicles, it translates to about a third of the energy needed to do the same distance as gasoline-powered vehicles in the same class.
From an economic standpoint, electric vehicles have some unique advantages over IC engine vehicles. Firstly, the cost associated with running an electric vehicle is significantly lesser than comparable gasoline has driven the vehicle over the same distance; it’s also greener when the electricity is generated through renewable sources. Second, electric vehicles have far-less maintenance costs over their life cycle as they have very few moving parts that can break down when compared to IC engine vehicles. Third, the battery technology in the automotive sector has seen a tremendous improvement in efficiency with a corresponding drop in price. The price of lithium-ion batteries has fallen 87% over the last decade from $1,100 per kilowatt-hour in 2010 to $156/kWh in 2019, and it is expected to drop further to $100/kWh in 2020. Since the battery is the most expensive component of an electric vehicle and the only component which needs to be replaced every few years, the steady drop in price makes it economically viable to switch to electric power.
Migration towards EV
Similar to every shift in paradigm, the move from fossil fuel to electric will be met with plenty of challenges. Some of them include reliable and cheap battery technology, the infrastructure needed to support a system of electric vehicles for charging and their efficient performance, the spike in electricity needed to power the vehicles, the short term increase in carbon emissions of the switch, and the reluctance of the existing automotive service industry to accept the newer technology. Despite the challenges, governments around the world are incentivizing migration towards electric vehicles and setting stricter deadlines to meet partial or the whole conversion of existing systems to electric, thereby driving innovation to overcome the challenges.
France has a deadline of 2040 to end the sales of all petrol and diesel as part of its plan to meet the targets of the Paris climate accord, and India plans to migrate towards electric vehicles by 2030 completely. On top of that, private automotive giants are pushing forward to electrification, and eventual phasing out of petrol and diesel-powered vehicles. Volvo, for example, will have mostly electric or plug-in hybrids cars out after 2019, and BMW, Volkswagen, and Mercedes are set to ban IC engines by 2030 completely.
Big multinationals outside of the automotive industry also have their plans in tandem towards electrification of their fleet of transport vehicles and the manufacture of new electric cars in the upcoming decade to go green and staying ahead of the technological curve. The EV 100 coalition of major global corporations that include industry giants such as Unilever, IKEA, DHL, PG&E, and more have launched an international campaign to catalyze the shift to electric vehicles. The end goal of the EV 100 coalition is to signal the automakers to see the future demand for electric vehicles before 2030.
The development of charging infrastructure and a smart and reliable electricity grid is a significant step that is being undertaken to support the upcoming wave of electric vehicles. China being a world leader in electric vehicle sales by volume, is leading the way in large-scale concept demonstration by installing 100,000 state-owned charging stations along 11 significant routes that connect 202 cities by 2020. These charging stations feature fast charging ports or ‘superchargers’ that can quickly top up the batteries of cars in a fraction of the time that it took in the past. The concept was pioneered by Tesla, which has over 361 Supercharging stations across the globe, with 5,655 Superchargers in total located close to shopping centers, restaurants, highways, and other public places.
The move to EV is a significant paradigm shift that is being embraced by both the governments and big corporations for long-term economic and environmental benefits. While major hurdles at the technological and infrastructure level are being tackled, the shift towards EV is expected to ramp up in the coming decade.