Present and Future of Electric Vehicles

Before I bought a Prius, I thought EVs were a bunch of toys and would have no market anytime soon. Granted that a Prius is not an EV, after I got one, I felt as if I was driving a computer. After all, I am an IT guy and what is better than driving a computer system? Even though I drove a gas car for more than 30 years, I never connected with a gasoline engine mentally, but an electric engine with a bunch of IT gears makes me feel very close to it. Although EVs have not crossed the chasm yet, as I see more of them on the street and learn of others’ enthusiasm, I am becoming sold on them.

The major problems with EVs are price, driving range, long recharging time, and lack of public charging stations. At Greentech Media’s recent Networked EVs conference, the status of EVs in conjunction with these problems and predictions was discussed. I plan to write about some sessions in more detail, but in this blog I’ll summarize the conference and inject my thoughts. For some of the acronyms, refer to here.

PG&E is getting ready to accommodate EVs in their territory. Several media sources state that there will be 1 million EVs in California by 2020. There are now about 2,200 EVs in PG&E territory, 2,000 EVs in SCE territory, and 200 EVs in SDGE territory, so the total in 2011 is less than 5,000. But many car companies are planning to introduce BEV and PHEV, as shown in the slide by PG&E.

Some of PG&E’s and Greentech Media’s findings were interesting.

  1. Most charging—85%—takes place at home, not requiring public charging stations too much for now.
  2. Level 1 charging at 110 V for 10 hours is good enough for average users.
  3. Current generation capacity is adequate for 1 million EVs.
  4. The distribution grid needs to be run intelligently to accommodate EVs’ power demands.
  5. Vehicle to grid (V2G) may not work until 5 to 15 years beyond the horizon.
  6. EVs are real this time, with solid EV technologies and with commitments from car manufacturers, government, and utilities.
  7. EVs’ emergence will accelerate smart grid.
  8. Only 5% of new cars today are web ready, but 100% will be in 3 to 5 years.
  9. Standards for car communications protocols are 1 to 2 years away.
  10. Nearly two-thirds (60%) of daily driving is 30 miles or less, and 70% is under 40 miles.
  11. The per-gallon equivalent of the electricity cost is about $1, and the price of gasoline is expected to rise.

The points made in #1, #2, and #10 may change significantly. As I wrote here, the battery capacity may increase and its cost may go down significantly around 2015. If an EV’s driving range extends to 620 miles, on par with a typical gasoline car, people will demand more public places for rapid charging. Incidentally, the Prometheus Institute for Sustainability Development predicted a battery breakthrough around 2015. Point #10 indicates we need two types of cars, one for commuting and the other for extended distance driving. With an improved driving range, this requirement will go away.

Utilities and other expert participants agree that the US has enough power capacity for the time being, even if we need to support 1 million EVs in 2020. The real problem is how to distribute adequate power to EVs without breaking distribution power grid components like transformers, which are getting old (some have lasted more than 40 years beyond their normal span). This coincides with several research studies demanding the improvement of distribution automation (DA). Point #7 is a natural conclusion from this.

Energy Impact of Increased Server Inlet Temperature

Point #9 is essential to making EVs part of smart grid. There are two major coupler technologies, Chademo and SAE 1772. The Nissan Leaf, for example, supports both in Japan but not in the US. The US standard is SAE 1772.

Point #11 is a good motivator for people to consider changing their cars to EVs. I think the oil price will increase, and we need energy independence from foreign oil.

As for #5, there was no disagreement on this among the speakers. Their reasons were (1) warranty of batteries and (2) need for an understanding involving several parties. I totally agree with their conclusion. I also would like to add one point. A battery needs a higher capacity with a large number of cycles and a low price before this is even considered. But as I wrote here, V2H might be a reasonable application, and some of the speakers also said that.

As for #6, this time all the stakeholders seem to be in sync with one another to make EVs a reality. I will seriously consider buying an EV after my Prius. Hopefully, by the time I replace my Prius, a reasonably priced EV with a reasonable driving range will be available.

Regarding #8, Airbiquity does design, operation, and management of telematics connectivity infrastructure. Mission Motor also generates monitored data to a cloud. See a video here.

This shows that automobiles will be one source of Big Data, as discussed by Lew Tucker.Other sources of Big Data include the Web on desktop and laptop computers, mobile devices, and sensors.

Networked EVs stand in the intersection of ICT and energy, touching smart grid, cloud computing, and intelligent distribution of resources (i.e., power). This is truly fascinating to me.

Zen Kishimoto

About Zen Kishimoto

Seasoned research and technology executive with various functional expertise, including roles in analyst, writer, CTO, VP Engineering, general management, sales, and marketing in diverse high-tech and cleantech industry segments, including software, mobile embedded systems, Web technologies, and networking. Current focus and expertise are in the area of the IT application to energy, such as smart grid, green IT, building/data center energy efficiency, and cloud computing.

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