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Will EV a harbinger of new technological disruption in the transport and energy sector?

September 09, 2021

 At the beginning of the 21st-century, the world has seen the transformative power of the internet and since then not a single facet of humanity has been untouched by the power of the internet.

At the beginning of the 21st-century, the world has seen the transformative power of the internet and since then not a single facet of humanity has been untouched by the power of the internet. And today, thanks to the advent of improved battery technology, power electronics, improved electric motor technology, IoT, automation and renewable energy, EV is poised to disrupt and transform not only the transport sector but also the electricity sector. Think of cheap zero-carbon energy, decongested roads, clean air and that vision will not remain a pipe dream but can be a reality in the distant future as EVs can unlock huge potential not only to provide affordable low carbon mobility but also integrate renewable energy into the smart grid.

Although there is no specific inventor of EV, But thanks to the series of the inventions such as the DC motor and lead ion battery in the 18th and 19th centuries have spawned the EV in the fag end of the 19th century and early two decades of the 20th century. Ironically the first car was electric indeed, but thanks to cheaper oil, improved IC Engine technology, high range, and mass production of components of the entire ecosystem of ICE, ICE car became the sole mode of transport In 1920. At that time, EV could not withstand the competition in the car market due to poor battery technology, power electronics, lack of charging infrastructure, low range and lack of economy of scale. From 1920 to 1970 EV was disappeared from the market. But the oil shock in the 1970s has forced policymakers across the world to relook towards EV as an alternative to an ICE car as a mode of transport.

From 1970 to 2010, thanks to research and development in battery technology (nickel battery and lithium battery), which provide higher energy density with less weight, reduction in the price of lithium-ion battery and improved power electronics, EV has gained momentum as an alternative to ICE vehicles.

Unlike conventional fossil-fuelled ICE vehicle, which is run by mechanical drive train, EV is propelled by an electric drive train deriving power from a rechargeable battery or a portable, refillable, electrical energy source such as fuel cells or solar panels. EV has far superior well to wheel efficiency and lower well to wheel emission. Although the total cost of ownership of EV over the cars’ lifetime is lower for the EV due to lower maintenance costs, and cheaper fuel, today the sticker price of an electric car is equal to ICE in the luxury segment but in the mass market, it is still high. Whether it is sustainability, Efficiency, Convenience or lifetime total cost of owning a Vehicle, EV is far better than  ICE vehicles.

But the biggest driver for EV is climate change and sustainability.

As EV has zero tailpipe emissions such as CO2, NOX, SO2, PPM-particulate matter, and soots, it not only prevent premature death due to vehicle induced air pollution but also improves air quality and livability in cities.

Even if EV is charged by the electricity produced from the coal, it can still reduce carbon footprint compared to ICE vehicles. But in that case, it can’t be considered a 100% green car. But when it is charged by 100 % renewable energy(such as solar or wind)m it can be identified as a green EV and that is where its real potential lies.

In the backdrop of the Paris agreement on climate change, which has urged all the nations to drastically reduce their energy intensity in the economy and carbon intensity in the energy production system, It is now imperative for all national governments to deeply decarbonise their economy and energy system.

In that context, EV is not decarbonised transport sector but can also work as flexible energy storage to integrate renewable into a smart grid, thus accelerate the integration of renewable into the smart grid.

The entire transport sector including passenger and freight transport run on fossil fuel and if the entire transport sector switched fuel from hydrocarbon to electricity or hydrogen it can drastically reduce GHGs.

As mass production of hydrogen is still not economically viable, BEV charged with 100% renewable energy can be a harbinger for new technological disruption for both the transport and electricity sectors.

One of the main bottlenecks of the integration of renewable energy into the smart grid is the variability of renewable energy and the lack of sufficient flexible energy storage. In that context, EVs, essentially a big lithium battery on wheels, can provide a huge reservoir of flexible electricity demand to store the surplus renewable energy by charging the EV with solar energy during the day and the wind during the night. In the future, by overcoming both technical and policy challenges, EVs can play (vehicle-to-grid or V2G) role feeding the overloaded grid at the time of peak demand for electricity.

Switching to electric cars will have far-reaching consequences for the entire economic structure as it will not only co-evolve formerly separate critical infrastructure (mobility and electricity) but merge them into a new ICT-intensive infrastructure system.

The EV is in a nascent stage and facing some teething problems related to range anxiety such as long charging time and lack of limited charging infrastructure( fast-charging stations along with highways and slower charging points at public places and home).

The capital cost of batteries is still prohibitive which hinders the battery size and driving range of EVs. Furthermore, the production of lithium batteries depends on rare earth minerals and public policy related to the recycling of batteries, which can affect the development of full-scale supply chain management of the entire ecosystem of EV.

If these barriers are addressed by policy and technological means, EV as a precursor of automotive driving can become a harbinger of new technological disruption and a transformative force in the world.

By  Nikson Mogaria   |  September 09, 2021