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.
My house uses 80 kWh/day in the summer. Adding another 32 kWh/day for cars (two cars @ 50 miles/day @ 16 kWh/50 miles) isn't a huge increase, and it happens during off-peak time. So my neighborhood infrastructure can handle it. Or they are charged by solar panels in the parking lot during the day.
Yes, that is PRECISELY the artithmetic that the battery electrics people like to ignore.
And it's not just a matter of how the electricity is generated for the grid. It is also a matter of how much more grid capacity would be required, even if we assume that everyone will dutifully only charge their EVs between the hours of 11 PM and 6 AM.
Nuclear, hydro, solar, geothermal and wind is all in the "carbon-free" mix of CA. Of course that does ignore carbon emissions from manufacturing and construction. Consider it like "fat-free" on a label... if it's less than half a gram, they get to round down to zero.
As for nuclear, I would certainly not agree with the notion that no one has yet figured out how to dispose of the waste. Reprocessing reduces the amount significantly, and what little would remain can be put underground and monitored. If you want to worry about nuclear, worry about the real problems of mismanagement within the industry such as led to Chernobyl and Fukishima rather than the outlandishly small risk that society falls apart and our waste repositories cannot be properly maintained. As with many issues, dealing with the waste is a political problem, not a technical one.
I'm an engineer, so I disregard sloganeering and spin whether from a politician or elsewhere.
So true! With the closure of the San Onofre nuclear plant, there are once again concerns about rolling blackouts this summer in southern California.
The grid can barely sustain our existing electric power usage, and today there are a negligible number of EVs being plugged into it for recharging.
As you said, we need lots more power plants, otherwise rolling blackouts and much higher electricity rates will become routine as EVs reach the "tipping point" of mass market adoption.
If people want to drive more eco-friendly vehicles, they should buy hybrids, not EVs.
I think people should be wary of sloganeering from politicians. What is this "carbon-free" source of power in California? Is it the carbon-free that instead creates nuclear waste that no one has yet figured out how to dispose of?
We have to manage this problem, no use politically-minded slogans to wish it away.
My bet is on "hybrids" run by fuel cells. They can create H2 from any number of hydrocarbon fuels, and they should create about half of the CO2 that ICEs create, for a given amount of power.
Yes. In my state, Tennessee, 53% of electrical power comes from coal, 3% from natural gas, 33% from nuclear, and 11% from "renewables". Since for all practical purposes nuclear can be considered a zero emission renewable, driving an EV here has a 44% advantage over an ICE vehicle in terms of fossil fuel usage.
That said, it is also mountainous in my area. We get no where near the advertised mileage, with any vehicle, but the resulting reduction in range of EVs here is unacceptable. Until the battery technology is greatly improved, an EV here is really just not practical.
I think we should be very thankful that EV adoption is so slow. We have no-where near the capacity in our electricity generation or grid to handle any sort of mass switchover from fossil fuels to electric. Currently, the total electic consumption of our energy profile amounts to only 3% of our total energy consumption (North America). The majority of the remaining 97% is fossil fuel consumption for passenger cars. Our grid would collapse if there was a major switchover. Certainly it will lead to much higher electricity rates in the future and that will compete with domestic and industral use.
So go slow, we need to build up the infrastructure... lots more power plants.
The “environmental” justification for the EV is reduction in carbon dioxide emissions. Yet, carbon dioxide emissions from a natural gas hybrid (CNG-hybrid) are less than that of an EV. Of course, we are talking about a hypothetical CNG-hybrid, since we know of none on the market. We assume such a hybrid would have the same fuel efficiency as the average hybrid (31%), and 50% of the electricity for an equivalent EV is generated from coal-fired plants, and 20% from natural gas. In which case, carbon dioxide emissions for an EV are 124% that of an equivalent CNG-hybrid. The cost premium for a hybrid is considerably less than that of an EV. For example, the Toyota Prius (MSRP of $24,000 and fuel efficiency of 37%) sells for about $4,000 more than an equivalent gasoline vehicle. In addition, this vehicle already meets the 2025 CAFE standards. Compare this to the Volt with an MSRP of $39,000. We assume a CNG-hybrid, where the gasoline engine is replaced with a CNG internal combustion engine, would sell for roughly the same as the gasoline equivalent. In any case, we would bet on the auto industry’s ability to reduce the cost of a CNG-hybrid over reducing the cost of an electric vehicle. With the abundance of natural gas in the U.S., it seems that the auto industry is going in the wrong direction. If the industry moved to natural gas vehicles, they could kill two birds with one stone—get off of oil, and reduce carbon dioxide emissions, even below that of an EV.
For Evs to cross the tipping point the focus should be to put them in all kind public transportation where the daily routes , mileage between stops , etc is predictable and the recharging patterns can match exactly the usage pattern and maximum mileage can be retrieved during the lifespan of the bateeries.
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