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The roadblocks stopping EVs

6 May 2019

Yep, EVs (electric vehicles) are coming, and they're coming faster than anyone (in power) has the sense to realise.

I've seen how quickly the convenience, efficiency and economics of electric power can revolutionise a sector -- and it's scary. Less than 10 years ago, virtually all of my RC planes were powered by internal combustion engines (ICE) and consumed liquid fuel.

Back in the day, electric was "possible" but largely impractical -- kind of like the EV was a decade ago.

Today however, I rarely get out my old ICE-powered models. With fuel costing around up to $20 a litre and regular maintenance taking extra effort every time I get them out, it's just so much easier and cheaper to charge a battery and fly.

Lithium batteries, brushless motors, rare-earth magnets and a host of other technologies have combined to absolutely transform this hobby.

What's more, the pace of development in the RC flying area now means that, as in the automotive world, an electric-powered model usually far outperforms its ICE equivalent in terms of speed and power. But things have progressed even further and now electric models generally have a greater endurance than their liquid-ingesting peers.

This is why I believe that, within less than a decade, EVs will outsell ICE-powered vehicles and the composition of our road-transport fleet will see dramatic change.

However, thanks to this unprecedented rate of change to electric, there are several looming problems which need to be addressed right now.

The first and obvious one is the electricity generation and distribution infrastructure in place around New Zealand.

To be honest, if we changed even 1/3 of our transport fleet to EVs we'd probably incapable of recharging them.

Years of concerns about the "lesser red breasted widget pied double-crested stilt" and its breeding grounds on the banks of the Waiputadamhere river have effectively thrown a spanner in the expansion of our hydro generation plans and the shortfall has only partially been compensated for by the growth of wind-power systems.

How ironic would it be if we start going green by way of EVs, only to have to turn our fossil-fuel generation stations up to 110% capacity, munching coal and gas, just to meed the increased load that these EVs place on the grid?

Seriously people, we need to either get rid of the aluminium smelter down south (and thus free up an enormous amount of electricity which is presently being almost given away), or we need to start investing right now in added generation capacity of the renewable kind.

Imagine if even just one third of NZ's personal transport fleet was electric. That's over a million vehicles. Now imagine if each of those vehicles was topped up with a 10KW/H charge overnight. That's an additional 10 GW/H of demand on top of the current energy consumption of the nation.

Do we have the capacity to deliver this much extra energy -- especially during the long dry summers where we draw heavily on our hydro storage? (hint: the answer is NO).

Can we build this extra *renewable* energy capacity in time to meet the demand?

Answer: not if EV growth continues at the rate it looks set to.

However, that's not the only fly in the ointment of EV growth.

Tesla themselves have warned of looming mineral shortages due to the massively increased demand from the EV industry.

Your average EV uses a hell of a lot more copper, nickel, lithium, cobalt and other elements than the present ICE vehicles -- and the increased demand will undoubtedly cause problems in ramping up manufacturing capacity to meet demand.

When you consider that an 85KW Tesla battery pack for one of its cars uses over 7,000 individual lithium-ion cells, it's easy to see that meeting the demand for the materials used in the fabrication of those cells is a herculean task and that this could become an even bigger problem than it already is, in the very near future.

So perhaps we won't see the rapid growth of EVs as I predicted. That won't be because people don't want EVs though. It will almost certainly be because we won't have either enough electricity or enough raw materials to meet the demand.

Now it strikes me that when you have a demand that vastly exceeds supply, there are fortunes to be made.

Anyone for mineral futures and shares in power companies? I would think that now would be a great time to start diversifying your investment portfolio into these areas. Invest wisely and you could be one of the lucky few who can not only afford to buy but also afford to charge a shiny new EV :-)

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