While the title of this article may be a little premature, if you ask any auto company about their most exciting models coming out in the next few years, you would be hard pressed to find any auto maker without a plug-in hybrid or all-electric vehicle hitting the market in the next few years. And as fellow CleanTechies blogger Levent Bas suggested in August last year, “the future of electric vehicles may be here sooner than we think.”
With expected release dates in 2010, the plug-in Nissan Leaf, plug-in Toyota Prius and many other models will offer a green/clean-tech alternative from their gas-powered competition. Recent estimates place the number of models available by 2014 at over 70. Not all these vehicles will make their way to the US market and some wonder if the market will be ready but in other circles there are different concerns about the electrification of the transportation industry. Will the electric grid be ready for the additional load?
“If all our vehicles went from gas-powered to electric tomorrow, we would have some major issues” according to Andrew Tang, Senior Director, Smart Energy Web of PG&E in a presentation about net zero energy homes.
However, no one really expects this to be an overnight transition. Just like any other new technology, there will innovators, early adapters, mainstream purchasers, late adopters then your grandparents. The curve for electric vehicles should follow what we saw with CDs, DVDs, flat panel TVs, computers, and just about any other technology you can think of over the last few decades. People will consider electric vehicles as their gas-powered vehicles wear out. This means more than 10 or 15 years before one could expect that a majority of vehicles on American roads will be powered by electricity.
Will the masses really understand, trust and desire electric vehicles the next time they purchase a vehicle? If the success of the first few generations is any indication, the answer is a resounding “Yes!” The automobile market is changing and customer acceptance of electric vehicles is increasing but many think it will take at least another 5-10 years for people to believe electric vehicles are as good or better than their fossil fueled predecessors. This provides a large transitional window for utility companies across the country to upgrade their energy grids and for states to legislate rebates and/or incentives for what is called distributed generation of energy or small power generation in multiple locations i.e. solar, wind, geothermal, etc.
The need to wean ourselves off of fossil fuel is hardly debatable, in addition to the pollution created from gas powered vehicles, every day the US sends over $1 billion to other countries for the import of oil. The quicker the US moves to cleaner energy vehicles, the sooner our foreign oil dependence will disappear. Electric vehicles cost less to operate on a per mile basis and maintenance issues are drastically reduced. With all the benefits expected for our air quality, bank account and national security, serious challenges remain in the transition to transportation electrification, namely customer acceptance of electric vehicles, price parity with gas powered vehicles, battery technology, charging infrastructure — especially for those who do not have easy access to outlets for charging, and the ability of each state to react to higher energy needs. For those entrepreneurs willing to take the risk to solve these challenges, the road ahead may be paved with gold.