Sunday, September 26, 2010

Electric cars finally making headways



Growing concerns about climate change and peak oil have car manufacturers scrambling to find greener and more sustainable ways to fuel the world’s estimated 750 million automobiles. If trends continue, that number is expected to double in the next 30 years.

Hydrogen was once considered to be the forerunner to replace gasoline as a primary fuel, but most auto manufacturers have dropped plans to develop a hydrogen vehicle because the costs are simply too high.

General Motors CEO Fritz Henderson estimated that a hydrogen vehicle would likely cost ten times that of an electric equivalent.

"(GM’s electric) Volt will likely cost around $40,000 while a hydrogen vehicle would cost around $400,000,” says Henderson.

GM, Toyota, Renault-Nissan and Mitsubishi lead the pack of car manufacturers that are now focusing on electric vehicle production. Unlike combustion engines, which operate pretty much the same regardless of the vehicle, electric cars offer a variety of power options for consumers, from 100% electric to various hybrid offerings.

“There’s no silver bullet, there’s only silver buckshot,” says Jason Easton, Communications Manager for General Motors of Canada. “It’s about diversity and flexibility.”

Last week, auto manufacturers from around the world gathered in Vancouver for the Electric Vehicle 2010 Conference to unveil their latest offerings. Mitsubishi’s i-Miev made the trek right across Canada in the weeks leading up to the Vancouver Conference.

Pending government approvals, the i-Miev, (which is 100% electric) and the Chevrolet Volt (a plug-electric hybrid) are expected to hit the Canadian market sometime in 2011. Prices expected to range between $30,000 and $50,000.

For green consumers who just can’t wait, Tesla Motors’ Roadster is already available in Canada. Priced at $120,000, the 2-door Roadster, which was designed on the Lotus Elise frame, is a high-speed beauty that literally leaves every other electric vehicle in the dust.

The Roadster can go from 0 to 100 km/h in about 6 seconds. Tesla CEO Elon Musk says that the upcoming Sport version will hit the mark in "well under five seconds.”

For those who want a more moderately priced vehicle, Tesla is expected to launch a 4-door sedan within the next year that will be in the $50,000 range.

Regardless of your preference, the range of electric vehicles that will soon be available in the Canadian market promises to offer something for everyone.

“It’s a fascinating time to be involved in the auto industry,” says Easton.

Where does the power come from?

As electric vehicles hit the market, a charging infrastructure will be needed to support them, much like the network of gas stations that fuel gasoline-powered vehicles. Two innovative initiatives are already underway in Canada:

1. Project Get Ready

The Rocky Mountain Institute’s Project Get Ready is partnering with cities in North America to help them prepare for the coming plug-in revolution. To date, Vancouver and Toronto are the first two Canadian partners. The plan:

Create a menu of strategic plug-in readiness action, including the business rationale

Provide a web database of plug-in readiness activities

Convene a virtual network of 20 cities to share lessons learned and best practices

2. A Better Place

Better Place is working to create a network of charge spots, battery-switch stations and systems that optimize the driving experience and minimize environmental impact and cost.

Ontario became the first province in Canada to partner with Better Place in 2009, with a goal of creating an electric network for the province’s estimated 7.3 million vehicles.

In Israel, Better Place is well on its way to creating a sustainable transportation grid for the entire country. With all of its major urban centers less than 150 kilometres apart and the average car owner traveling less than 70 kilometres per day, Israel is ideally suited for electric cars. If all goes according to plan, an electric vehicle will replace every gas-guzzling car in the country within the next few years.

The idea is simple, elegant and completely doable. Every parking space is being equipped with an electrical outlet for quick recharges, ensuring that car batteries will always have at least 160 kilometres of driving capacity.

For longer trips, battery-switching stations, much like existing gas stations, are being constructed. Depleted batteries will be replaced automatically in less time that it takes to fill up a fuel tank.

source: lifewise.canoe.ca