November 18, 2017

The two biggest problems holding back widespread adoption of electric cars

Filed under: Economics, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Warren Meyer explains why the current crop of electric vehicles are still only niche players, despite lots of overblown media hype and over-generous government subsidies:

There are two problems with electric vehicles. Neither are unsolvable in the long-term, but neither are probably going to get solved in the next 5 years.

  1. Energy Density. 15 gallons of gasoline weighs 90 pounds and takes up 2 cubic feet. This will carry a 40 mpg car 600 miles. The Tesla Model S 85kwh battery pack weighs 1200 pounds and will carry the car 265 miles (from this article the cells themselves occupy about 4 cubic feet if packed perfectly but in this video the whole pack looks much larger). We can see that even with what Musk claims is twice the energy density of other batteries, the Tesla gets 0.22 miles per pound of fuel/battery while the regular car can get 6.7. That is a difference in energy density of 30x. Some of this is compensated for by heavy and bulky things the electric car does not need (e.g. coolant system) but it is still a major problem in car design.
  2. Charge Time. In my mind this is perhaps the single barrier that could, if solved, make electric cars ubiquitous. people complain about electric car range, but really EV range is not that much shorter than the range of traditional cars on a tank of gas. The problem is that it is MUCH faster to refill a tank of gas than it is to refill a battery with a full charge. Traditionally it takes all night to charge an electric car, but 2 minutes at the pump to “charge” a gasoline engine. The fastest current charging claim is Tesla’s, which claims that the supercharger sites they have built on many US interstate routes sites will charge 170 miles of range in 30 minutes, or 5.7 miles per minute. A traditional car (the same one used in point 1) can add 600 miles of range in 2 minutes, or 300 miles per minute, or 52 times faster than the electric car. This is the real reason EV range is an issue for folks.

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