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EVs, have a guess

3 November 2017

EVs (electric vehicles) are great aren't they?

No petrol costs, lower maintenance, no pollution, quiet, clean -- what's not to like?

So why don't we all have EVs already?

Well there are a surprising number of obstacles still standing in the way of widespread EV uptake and use.

For a start, manufacturers can't make them fast enough. Even Tesla, the "EV brand de jour" has said that it won't be able to ramp-up production by any significant amount in the near future (cite: CNN).

People can only buy EVs if they're being made in sufficient quantities.

There are lots of reasons why EV production isn't matching demand and the solution to these bottlenecks may not be as simple as you might suspect.

Obviously the Tesla cars aren't anything to write home about in respect to the basic body shell. Pressed metal, seam-welded and/or glued with safety-glass windscreen and tempered-glass side-windows makes the Tesla pretty much identical to every other mass-produced car on the roads today.

Wheels, tyres, lights etc... these are also pretty much "off the shelf" items that are unlikely to represent bottlenecks in the manufacturing and supply chain.

So what's holding up the supply of EVs to an eager market?

Well batteries are one obvious problem -- a problem that Tesla has chosen to address by building its own mega-battery-factory. In theory, this should give it a massive advantage over its competitors, most of who will have to buy their batteries on the open market and thus suffer the price and supply fluctuations that this will produce.

Another hurdle are recharge stations.

Although a snot-load of money is being spent to create a network of fast-recharge stations around the USA, they're still pretty much like hen's teeth in many countries and locations.

Being reliant on returning to your own home and performing an overnight charge is something that obviously generates "range anxiety" amongst potential new purchasers of EVs.

Run out of fuel on the side of the road with your Toyota Corolla or Honda Civic and the AA can get you going again in minutes -- thanks to a jerry-can of petrol poured into your tank. Find yourself out of battery in an EV on a cold winter's night and you're buggered!

Then there is the issue of energy infrastructure.

(warning, back of napkin maths follows)

A litre of petrol contains a little less than 10KW/H of energy so the average ICE (internal combustion engined) car has the ability to store about half a gigawatt hour of energy in in its tank. Woohoo!

That's ten times more than most EVs.

So why don't ICE vehicles have 10 times the range of an EV?

Simple... ICEs are damned inefficient compared to electric motors, topping out at a little more than 20%. By comparison, electric motors can be over 90% efficient -- so do the sums and you'll find that what the math predicts is pretty much right on the money in terms of actual results in the field -- with ICE cars having almost twice the range of their EV counterparts.

So your average EV will require about 60KW/H per recharge and, if we assume that they need to be recharged once a week, that, for most households, that will place a pretty significant extra burden on the electricity generation and distribution infrastructure of most developed nations. I have read some reports that suggest an "all-EV" transport fleet would produce an increase in power use of around 30% or so.

Do we have the infrastructure to handle an extra 30% demand?

Even if we can handle an average increase of 30%, do we have sufficient generation and transmission capacity to handle the peak-loads that would be placed on that infrastructure in the evening, when every man and his dog start throwing lots of KW/H into their cars?

Can we even grow our electricity infrastructure fast enough to keep up with the rate at which people switch to EVs?

These are all very important questions -- and ones which I don't see much work being done, at least not in NZ.

With all these unanswered questions and other hurdles the EV industry will have to jump, I wonder just how long it will really take before EVs outnumber ICE-powered vehicles on our roads. I'd like to think that this milestone would be reached sooner rather than later -- but I'm not so sure that will be the case.

What do readers think?

Care to put a number on the year in which we'll become more than 50% EV?

If I'm still alive when that happens, we'll revisit this column and see who got it right.

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