Electric cars good go go BEFORE all those fast-charging stations arrive

The Conversation succinctly phrases an argument I’ve put to doomers for years:

3 reasons to get an electric car BEFORE all the fast-charging infrastructure arrives.

* cars are generally not used at night, and so this is the ideal time to charge
* there is a greater availability of electricity at night, at potentially lower cost
* a home charging station guarantees you somewhere to charge

The biggest hurdle at the moment appears to be making them affordable!

But on the price, friend and blogger OSO said:

The Nissan Leaf is often cited these days as a “failure”. Obviously there are problems with the battery (in hot places it seems to degrade quickly) and then there is the problem with recharging sites (many of them do not have the “quick charge” option, which renders any long distance Leaf driving impossible and then there’s the problem with the US electrical system (being 110v, home charging takes a long time, but in 240v places like Australia, it takes about one-third less time).

But of course one problem is cost.

I did some comparisons between the Leaf and the Prius in the first few years. So far more Leafs have been sold in the first two years than the Prius sold in its first two years. However the comparative cost of the two shows how expensive the Leaf is. Adjusting for inflation and all that, I found the Leaf to be noticeably more expensive than the Prius at the two year production point (comparing the price of the Leaf after two years to the price of the Prius after two years).

The good news, however, is that two new production plants are about to start up. The Leaf factory in Oppama, Japan, is currently the only Leaf
factory in the world and it can produce up to 50,000 units per year. In the next few months, a Leaf factory in Tennessee will begin production, and it can produce up to 150,000 vehicles per year. Another factory in England opening early 2013 will be able to produce an additional 50,000 cars.

In short, maximum production of Leafs will soon increase from 50,000 per year to 250,000 per year. The increase in production will bring costs
down (“economies of scale”). Already Nissan is making noises about an improved battery (adding about 25% more range) and a reduction in price
to a more affordable level (a price which I calculated to be approximately the same as the Prius at the same stage). ie things are looking bright. I think the EV naysayers will be proven wrong.

Not only this, but there is a coalition of EV enthusiasts and battery technicians called the United States Advanced Battery Consortium. As Technology Review reports:

Battery makers have driven costs down over the last several years, from about $1,000 per kilowatt-hour to $500 per kilowatt-hour, says Yet-Ming Chiang, a materials scientist at MIT and one of the founders of A123. And those costs are likely to be cut in half again over the next decade, he says. If startups are to succeed, they’ll need to offer something far cheaper and higher performing.

The United States Advanced Battery Consortium, a collaboration between major U.S. automakers, has a goal of bringing costs down to under $150 per kilowatt-hour to achieve large-scale commercialization of electric vehicles. “The conventional approach to lithium-ion batteries is not going to drop the costs enough,” Chiang says. “It may drop them by a factor of two, but not by a factor of four. And in the long term we need to be down by a factor of four or more.” (Chiang spoke to Technology Review in his capacity as an MIT professor, not as a representative of A123 Systems.)

Now that’s an exciting goal! My only concern is that if we continue to make EV’s too good, it might reduce the pressure to adopt New Urbanism which could, ultimately, reduce suburban sprawl to 10% of the land suburbia currently hogs. Only by reducing suburban sprawl and reclaiming greenfields and local farms growing food and fibre can we hope to feed ourselves as the population peaks mid-century. Right now, the food per-person index seems fine, according to OSO’s graph.

But with the accumulating pressures of peak oil, peak phosphorus, peak fresh-water, etc, we’re going to have to plan our Urban and Farming needs very carefully as we navigate the tricky decades ahead.

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