An electric vehicle charging station near the San Francisco city hall. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
With gasoline now below $2 a gallon in many parts of the country, it might not seem like the most urgent priority to consider electric vehicles.
But the analysts who spoke at Monday’s panel on electric cars at the annual meeting of the Transportation Research Board were looking not primarily at today but 30 and 40 years into the future.
Major takeaways from the panelists:
- One baseline scenario is the electric vehicles won’t be more than five percent of vehicles on the road, unless there are big decreases in the cost of batteries and much higher oil prices than the Energy Information Administration forecast for the next few decades.
Using a systems dynamics model, Dawn Manley of the Sandia National Laboratories tested a number of scenarios, including one that was very favorable to electric vehicle adoption by consumers.
“What if batteries were nearly free out into the future, 25 or 30 years from now? What if people who were willing to pay [a higher price for an electric car] had a longer payback period that they were willing to consider?”
The typical consumer is willing to wait three years to recover the higher cost of a higher-priced alternative technology. What if they were willing to consider a nine-year payback period?” And what if oil prices were much higher than they are today or under EIA projections? Then market penetration could reach 20 percent.
- Support for home recharging should take priority over workplace charging and building more public recharging stations, according to Jonn Axsen, a researcher at the Energy and Materials Research Group at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia.
Market failures have locked drivers into a fossil fuel-based infrastructure, said Axsen. “We need a strong climate policy” which should include a carbon tax to stimulate innovation on batteries and recharging facilities, for example.
- For the most cost-effective deployment of public recharging stations, “it’s all about finding the hot spots,” said John Smart of the Idaho National Laboratory, that is specific locations where vehicle ownership supports big demand, places like the San Francisco Airport and the Fred Meyer store in Kirkland, Wash.
Most of the electric vehicle recharging infrastructure that was built with money from the 2009 stimulus act was not used, but the data gathered from those projects can be used to identify and perhaps predict where the demand for public recharging stations will be, Smart said.
- On the coldest days of the year, today’s electric vehicles suffer more than a 40 percent decrease in their range, said Tugce Yuksel of Carnegie Mellon University.
That decrease in battery performance and range may limit the customer interest in buying electric vehicles in colder weather states, such as those in the Upper Midwest and Upper Plains states.
And as it currently stands, electric vehicle sales are highest in states with milder winters in their urban areas such as Washington state and California.
According to Yuksel, a round trip in an electric vehicle from Washington to Baltimore and back could be done in an electric vehicle, but on a very cold day the driver would need to stop and re-charge on his return trip from Baltimore, adding up to two hours to the total duration of the trip.