10 Things You Didn’t Know About Electric Vehicles

Here’s a consumer-oriented piece from the U.S. Department of Energy: 10 Things You Didn’t Know about Electric Vehicles. Nicely done.

There are a couple of issues with EVs, however, that make this a trickier issue than the article implies:

• Even though the fuel savings versus gasoline are significant, the consumer value proposition, i.e., the cost/benefit proposition for the typical driver, while it’s steadily improving, is still not appealing. Sure, it’s good to save $1000 per year on fuel, but how compelling is that if the cost of the vehicle is $10,000 more, and limits one’s range?

This is more than a rhetorical question. Let’s look at sales numbers. More than 7,000 plug-in and all-electric vehicles were sold in October 2012 — making it the highest month of electric car sales to date. Still, that’s less than 1% of the total.

• As long as coal is our least-cost baseload source of electrical energy, the environmental benefit of EVs will remain dubious. This, of course, gets us back to the issue of pricing in the externalities of coal (i.e., damage to the health of our lungs and ecosystems), or making a concerted effort to scale up wind and build out our transmission grid. These, sadly, are tasks for which we appear to lack the political will.

I believe that the migration to electric vehicles is in the process of happening, but I see a long-term transition here.

Even more to the point, I see a shift in our transportation paradigm. Instead of merely replacing one big, expensive, wasteful hunk of metal with another, I foresee our cities redesigning themselves in favor of a network of interrelated solutions: car sharing, ride sharing, walking, bicycling, mass transit, and small vehicles for commuting and urban package delivery.

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