Monday, October 11, 2010

Electric Cars Boom: Is U.S. Infrastructure Ready?

Electric Cars
As major automakers are ready to roll electric cars in the U.S., the question doing the round is if charging infrastructure and electricity supply are up to the task.

Many industry watchers and experts have questioned the ability of charging infrastructure to suport electric vehicles even though they form a fraction of the entire car market.

How and where will drivers be able to recharge their all-important lithium-ion batteries, particularly if those drivers venture far from home? In most cases, this means they plan to drive farther than the 160 to 240 kilometers they'll get from a fully charged battery.

But as CO2 emissions rules tighten, carmakers need to take action. "We need a radical solution," Renault and Nissan Chief Executive Carlos Ghosn said at the recently concluded Paris Auto Show.

Ford, Chevrolet, Nissan, and Daimler are in the process of developing mass-produced electric vehicles. Tesla Motors already makes a high-end sports car that runs on battery power.

"Electric vehicles are seen as one possible solution automakers can focus on to meet increasingly stringent emission regulations around the world, since electric vehicles release no carbon emissions while running on electric power," PricewaterhouseCoopers said in a research report.

New York will be joining such cities as San Francisco, Austin, and Detroit in installing battery charging facilities for the public. The US Department of Energy (DOE), as part of the economic stimulus package, is providing much of the funding for many of the new sites.

PricewaterhouseCoopers estimated in a report last month that by 2020, purely electric vehicles could represent between 2 and 5 percent of the total output of light vehicles.

While certain types of electric vehicles, such as GM's Chevrolet Volt, include range-extending gasoline engines that act as battery chargers, purely electric vehicles, such as Nissan's Leaf, would be solely reliant on the driving range that their battery pack provide.

"Inadequate infrastructure...will delay a widespread shift to electric vehicles," Steve D'Arcy, PricewaterhouseCoopers' global auto leader, said in a prepared statement released along with the company's report.

The lack of an available network of charging stations restricts drivers to short commutes, while it can take several hours to fully recharge an electric vehicle. The space required to place charging stations, coupled with a suitable means for consumers to pay for the electricity they use while charging their vehicles, are open issues, the PWC report said.

HARD SELLING:

Despite AeroVironment, Better Place and other various copmanies offering the idea to sell electric cars, the electric business is yet to catch up due to lack of sufficient charging infrastructure and an unclear plan for who will end up paying for it.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has taken steps to alleviate the battery backlog, this month awarding $2.4 billion in funds for 48 advanced battery and electric drive projects.

On the infrastructure side, the DOE is giving $99.8 million to a project led by Electric Transportation Engineering Corporation (eTec), a subsidiary of Scottsdale, Ariz.-based ECOtality, for installation of up to 12,750 charging stations across five markets: Tennessee, Oregon, San Diego, Seattle and the Phoenix/Tucson, Ariz., region. The project also includes the deployment of up to 1,000 Nissan Leaf electric vehicles in each market.

source: ibtimes