Reason for a New Age

Why the Electric Vehicle Will Win

Posted by publius2point0 on 2010/04/04

This might be considered more a prediction for the sake of being able to go, “Ha! I toljaso!”, some years down the line, rather than anything particularly relevant to this blog, but….

The big four alternate automotive technologies being considered for the future are diesel, hybrid motors, hydrogen, and electric.

Europe has, to a fairly grand extent, started to go diesel. Diesel fuel seems to be able to get about +30% the range one can get out of a tank of gas, with fewer CO2 emissions. The success of diesel, in Europe, is largely due to tax incentives that have resulted in the fuel costing about $1 less per gallon, which the local governments hope can bring their CO2 emissions down to acceptable levels. There are questions, however, of whether the lowered CO2 emissions are a net positive:

A hybrid motor, on the other hand, solves the problem by combining two engines. By setting a gas (or diesel) engine to operate at a set rate, one can tune it to be more efficient and less polluting (on average, say by about half). The only real problem with this is that by including two engines in your vehicle, you naturally have a heavier car with a lower power-to-weight ratio, and more complexity–which means there is more to break.

Hydrogen fuel is, at least currently, quite hard to create. It must be subsidized to be competitive with gas. To pump hydrogen into a car, a specialized pump must be used. Overall, to transfer to hydrogen would require a fairly vast change to our infrastructure. In the long run, that cost might be gained, but a “long run” of 30 to 50 years is a bit more than I suspect would be feasible.

And then we have electric vehicles. These run silent and can be refilled at home. Like a hybrid vehicle, since the power is coming originally from a motor that is running at a set rate, efficiency and emissions are lowered (even if it is coal) compared to a regular fuel engine. No infrastructure changes are needed, since electric outlets are everywhere. And whereas, at an average gas price of $2.50 per gallon, we spend about 12-14¢ per mile, in an electric vehicle at about 7.5¢ to the kWh you would be spending more about 2-4¢ per mile. A 6-7 fold decrease in spending is pretty substantial. A hybrid vehicle is about 5.5¢ to the mile.

The one downfall of the electric vehicle is recharge times and energy density. Technologies which solve these problems appear to already exist, though of course it could still take a decade for their introduction into mass production. With those two things solved, the electric vehicle simply has no competitor. Even if hybrid vehicles should find some success (as the most realistic and useful alternate) in the meantime, as soon as a vehicle with a small, light, efficient, and clean engine which uses a cheaper fuel and requires no change to the national infrastructure (at the consumer level), the hybrid, the hydrogen, and the diesel car will all fall to the side. They simply cannot compete with a vehicle that can be recharged at home and is in all-ways better. Even if hydrogen was the perfect fuel to use to create energy, you would still be better off to burn hydrogen at a central plant than to carry around a tank of it.

Unless you believe that the current technological deficiencies of the battery will not be surmounted (and be mass producible), there is no other way to bet.

Further sources:


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