What tech breakthrough will make electric vehicles affordable to all?

Who would not wish the entire world to run on electric vehicles? These have the potential to significantly reduce the CO2 emissions from one of the main sources of emission – transportation.

But it is not so easy to have all of us give up our diesel or petrol (gasoline) cars/bikes and switch to electric.

What indeed can make the entire world run on electric vehicles?

In one word: Batteries

The strength for electric vehicles is derived from its batteries, because that is essentially the storehouse from which the vehicle derives its energy. The battery is to an electric vehicle that gasoline is to a gasoline driven car – essentially, its life blood.

At the same time, the battery is also its Achilles Heel, its weak link.

Batteries are the weak link because

  • They cost a heck of a lot
  • They need replacements.
  • They also need to charged every time they run out of their juice.
  • And some batteries, like the Lead Acid batteries are pretty heavy too!

Efforts are being made to address these challenges:

  • While there are various claims about battery costs coming down in the past decade, I think a lot of that is just hype. Battery costs have come down, but not perhaps at the rates that are being claimed. Regardless of claims and counterclaims, one thing is for sure: The battery of today is still a very expensive way to store electricity.
    • This becomes a problem especially in the case of large capacity batteries as required by electric cars (or solar power plants), as it necessitates a large upfront investment. For electric vehicles especially, different models are being worked out to reduce the upfront cost, but eventually someone has to bear the high cost of batteries! And that cost will inevitably get passed on to the vehicle owner!
    • Primarily as the result of the high costs, electric vehicles today are still a small niche in the overall motor vehicle segment.
  • Better battery technology will hopefully increase the battery lifetime significantly in the not-too-distant future. But not everyone is optimistic on this front. Some argue that as long as the battery is based on an electro-chemical process, limitations of power density and short life expectancy must be taken into account.
  • In addition to technology for fast charging (and even ultra-fast charging), concepts such as battery swapping are tried out to address the challenge of long charging times.
  • And finally, Lithium ion batteries are significantly lighter than lead acid batteries, though the former are far more expensive per unit of energy output ($/kWh)

If tech breakthroughs enable the cost of batteries to come down significantly (by 60%-70% compared to costs in 2016), and if its recharge time, weight and other performance parameters improve, the use of electric vehicles – be they two, three or four wheelers – will zoom.

Like most others, I keep getting more and more impressed on the way Tesla is moving with their electric vehicle plans. At the same time however, my estimates suggest that even the brains of Elon Musk has not been able to bring down the cost of the batteries to a level when we all would like it to be – at least not yet (as of 2016)!

What tech breakthrough will make electric vehicles affordable to all? - Cleantech Guide

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