Electric cars are poised to be the automotive reality of our future. Here’s what you should know.
Electric vehicles (EVs) are on track to lead a dramatic technological revolution. Demand for greener transportation has swelled due to growing environmental awareness, billions of dollars’ worth of investments and innovation by original equipment manufacturers.
Increasing government support around the world is also paving the way for the mainstream adoption of electric cars. The British government is testing road technology that would allow electric cars to recharge while driving, while in Western Australia, the RAC Electric Highway maps a route for electric car owners to use any of 12 fast-charging stations along the way to complete a full charge in just half an hour. EVs are gaining institutional support in Asia, too. The Chinese government is handing out subsidies for EV purchases, while India is planning to ensure that the entire country runs solely on EVs by 2030.
According to research by Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF), the sale of EVs is expected to reach a staggering 41 million by 2040 – almost 90 times the amount sold in 2015. Taking into account the fact that global EV sales already escalated approximately 60 per cent last year, this figure doesn’t seem like a stretch. Bloomberg also predicts that the cost of EVs will become even more attractive than their gasoline- or diesel-driven counterparts by the 2020s, at which point EV sales are expected to skyrocket.
Powering up for the tipping point
Perhaps the biggest hurdle in the advancement of the electric car is the current state of battery technology, which, although greatly improved, presents challenges that don’t exist for gasoline.
At the moment, the driving range for the average EV is 40–200 miles (64–322km) on a single charge, and the shortage of charging stations necessitates advance planning. The current challenge, therefore, lies in extending the capacity of electric car batteries to improve the driving range of the average EV, while simultaneously keeping prices as low as possible.
The technology is expected to improve to the point that EVs will one day be as affordable as gasoline-driven cars, while performing just as well. At that point, the industry will finally experience the mass market demand it needs to propel the development of other supporting factors. For instance, carmakers will be able to offer a wider range of EVs, governments will be pushed to improve and expand EV infrastructure, and more training will be provided for service technicians to specialise in EV maintenance and repairs.
However, there’s good reason to be optimistic. The BNEF report also highlighted that battery prices fell 35 per cent last year. Within six years, we could be looking at EVs that, even when unsubsidised by governments, are as affordable as their gasoline-powered equivalents.
Producing tomorrow’s EV batteries in the Gigafactory
Recognising the crucial role that battery technology plays in spurring on the EV revolution, Panasonic reached an agreement with Tesla Motors in 2014 to construct the Gigafactory – a large-scale battery manufacturing plant based in the US.
By 2020, the Gigafactory alone will produce more lithium-ion batteries – which most EVs use today – than were produced in the world in 2013. Additionally, the cost per kilowatt hour of the Tesla battery pack is expected to be reduced by more than 30 per cent. The Gigafactory’s goal is to achieve net zero energy through the use of renewable energy sources to power its operations.
As the EV revolution hinges on the ability of carmakers such as Tesla to extend the capacity of batteries, investments such as the Gigafactory are fuelling what looks to be an ever more certain reality.