SAN JOSE, Calif.—Slow, steady improvement in battery technology over the past several decades as brought the world to the cusp of a tipping point that will lead to greater adoption of electric vehicles (EV) that could help curb civilization's reliance on fossil fuels, according to JB Straubel, chief technology and co-founder of Tesla Motors Inc.
Delivering a keynote address at the DESIGN West event here Wednesday (March 28), Straubel said that while critics often point out that there is no equivalent to Moore's Law in terms of battery technology improvement, battery technology has slowly improved over many decades, resulting in an average of 7 to 8 percent per year improvement in energy density.
Straubel said battery technology has improved to the point that EVs can offer a driving range of 200 miles or more under normal driving conditions on a full charge. Batteries will continue to improve to offer higher ranges, better performance and potentially lower costs, he said. "Cost is still the most important challenge for batteries," Straubel said.
Tesla was founded in 2003 with a mission to help drive the world toward sustainable transportation, Straubel said. He said that transportation is currently driven almost entirely by fossil fuels. In the U.S., he said, 96 percent of all transportation is drive by petroleum.
"We cannot keep doing that for decades to come," Straubel said. "Certainly not centuries."
Straubel said future generations are likely to wonder why so much of the world's finite supply of petroleum was squandered on relatively short car rides, which he said could relatively easily be replaced with using electric vehicles. In the U.S., he said, about half of petroleum use comes from people who commute 20 to 50 miles per day. While such commuting is easily within the range of EVs from Tesla and others, replacing the petroleum used for longer trips and especially for things like airplane flights is still far beyond current technology's capabilities, Straubel said.
When Tesla got started, there were no active EV programs at any major car companies, Straubel said. Many have since come around and are developing and marketing EVs. Straubel said he finds it ironic that when Tesla was launched, the founders were often asked why if EVs were such a good idea no one else was building them, but that, now that other automakers are offering EVs, Tesla is often asked if it can succeed when so many are working on EVs.
Straubel said Tesla applauds the fact that major automakers have come around. Making a real dent in fossil fuel consumption requires that all automakers offer EVs, he said.
"If we'd launched out to sea and no one followed, if the whole industry sort of stood on the shor and watched, that would have been a really difficult place," Straubel said.
Straubel noted that Tesla has been putting the capability it has developed for making EV components to use for other automakers, including a 2011 deal with Toyota Motor Corp. to supply EV power train systems for use in electric versions of Toyota's Rav4, expected to be available later this year.
Actually, the improvement in lighting efficiency from the use of CFLs, LEDs and perhaps OLEDs will free up enough grid capacity to charge the most optimistic number of EVs on US roads for the next ten years or so.
Lighting accounts for 18% of the US annual electricity usage of 4 trillion kWh, 1% of which equals 40 billion kWh. At a conservative 3 miles per kWh for an EV, this translates to 120 billion miles annually, or 10 million EVs at 12,000 miles per year.
By then solar kicks in.
Flies in the ointment: many people do not like the light from a CFL, and people resist paying more for bulb, or anything, even if it saves them a bundle.
For powering EVs, yes, I concur. That's why I suggested, recently but also on other occasions:
"My bet for EVs is to generate the electricity on board, from fuels that have high energy content and an existing distribution system."
I think that engineering solutions are always transitional. No answer is ever truly THE final one. So in the matter of EVs, I just don't see batteries, as the main energy storage solution, being viable for truly mass usage of EVs in the next few decades. Battery storage will confine EVs to second class citizenship, IMO.
Although I'm not so sure about the demise of the power grid, in favor of everyone going back to, essentially, the way homes were run in colonial times.
Did any of you gentlemen commenting ever consider using many of the non-fossil based energies other than solar (sun- light or heat)to DIRRECTLY power EVs?
We have and I am sure others have. Grid power is only useful as a standard source of energy during the development of EVs. As a world of new energies hits the market drastic changes will take place including the demise of the grid in favor of newer more cost efficient localized use of Green energy products presently well tested and being production designed. Quantum Phys WILL prevail!
"I believe you are failing to consider the vast difference in energy efficiency of electricity to wheel verses gasoline to wheel"
You mean, efficiency of electricity to the wheels after that electricity has already left the battery in the car and is on its way to the motors? Or you mean, BTUs overall, required to generate, transport through the grid, and then store that electricity in the battery, and keep it there until it is actually needed to run the motors, and finally used? In many states, the bulk of electricity comes from coal, don't forget.
Another thing is, if a significant proportion of vehicles are to be EVs, that will mean that not just subcompact cars with super hard and skinny tires will be EVs, as they tend to be now.
I think there are a lot of assumptions made here, to conclude that battery electrics are the next big thing. And not to forget all those people who do not have a garage at home, with that convenient 230 VAC outlet.
My bet for EVs is to generate the electricity on board, from fuels that have high energy content and an existing distribution system.
Solar power and EVs are the ideal combination. Solar is only available some of the time which makes it useless for base load. Yet a lot of vehicles are unused for almost exactly the time that solar power is peaking. So put the two together. Its the ideal way of evening out the peaks and troughs in solar availability.
So cover the building where you work with solar panels so you (and others) can recharge it there without using fossil fuel E. Yes, it's expensive, but a govenment subsidy would help. With battery and solar technology getting better all the time we should be able to get nearer to zero emissions as time goes on.
Electric vehicles would not use 22.7 QD BTU. Gasoline vehicles are about 20% efficient, and electric vehicles 90% efficient. Therefore, electric energy needed is (0.2/0.9)22.7 = 5 QD BTU. Nevertheless, a 1GW power plant is needed for about every 2 million autos. Since there are about 220M auto and light trucks, about 100 additional large (1GW) power plants would be needed to power an all-electric fleet.
I believe you are failing to consider the vast difference in energy efficiency of electricity to wheel verses gasoline to wheel. It would not take nearly 27.5 quadrillion BTUs of electricity to replace that many BTUs of gasoline, as most of the energy in gasoline is wasted as heat.
"Whether more than doubling energy demands from the electric grid consitutes something negligible or not is perhaps up for debate."
To be more accurate, that's more than doubling the energy that the grid has to distribute to homes, not overall.
Aside from personal anecdotal data, would adding the energy use of transportation to the electric grid be a big impact or not?
Then look at two key tables:
Table 2.1 shows that energy used for transportation in the US was 27.5 quadrillion BTUs, in 2010. Whereas energy used for homes was 22.2 quadrillion BTUs. So in fact, that's more energy for transportation. But is that fair? What about transportation that isn't related to privately owned vehicles?
So then you look at table 2.12, and you'll discover that the vast majority of energy used in transportation, in the US, is in fact privately owned vehicles (cars, SUVs, etc.)
Whether more than doubling energy demands from the electric grid consitutes something negligible or not is perhaps up for debate. Ditto for whether all this extra demand can be assumed to come during non-peak hours.
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