Pain at the pump: Are we now ready for electric vehicles? | Inquirer Business
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Pain at the pump: Are we now ready for electric vehicles?

/ 08:38 PM January 10, 2012

Remember: There will come a time when the continuously rising fuel prices will no longer be sustainable.

With car owners’ stagnating wages and rising cost of living, their capacity to bear the grunt will force a lot them to reconsider using the public transport or look for personal rides that will no longer use expensive fuel or at least one that barely needs one.

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Electric cars, perhaps?

There’s no denying that electric vehicles, or EVs, are here to stay. In just a few years, they will replace the fuel-guzzling vehicles that are still in use all over the world.

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Even the Philippines will eventually welcome to its shores either all electric or “plug-in hybrid” vehicles (both can be charged from home and run on electric power alone, although the latter has the ability to switch to gasoline or diesel power whenever the battery charge runs out).

Acknowledged

Even automakers have acknowledged this fact, as evidenced in the various EVs they have displayed in recent motor shows around the world.

And judging from the EVs this writer have recently driven, it is clear that automakers have created a new generation of high-tech transport that will surely entice consumers but one that won’t require them to read the manual or master new driving techniques.

In fact, driving one is no different from getting behind an automatic car—the gear selector is still there with the familiar “PRND” labels. There’s also the familiar information display located on the dashboard, although in the case of EVs, it tells the driver of the remaining battery charge or in the case of plug-in hybrids, which power source is in use.

If EVs are so easy to drive, what’s keeping the rest of the world from embracing them? Here are some of the reasons.

Price. The biggest issue around the subject of EVs is probably the up-front cost. It is very expensive to build one because of the battery. EVs such as the all-electric Mitsubishi i-MiEV, the Nissan Leaf and the Chevrolet Volt, a plug-in hybrid from GM, rely on larger versions of the lithium-ion batteries that also power smartphones, iPads and almost all laptops. This type of battery uses materials that are expensive if not tough to procure.

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While the traction motor, power electronics and internal combustion powertrain also add cost, developing them is not as expensive as these batteries.

Until a better battery is developed, the only way to bring the cost of an EV is for its manufacturers to ramp up production volume and use economies of scale. However, for this to happen, the world should buy a lot of EVs—something that will not happen unless governments intervene to subsidize its price.

Infrastructure. Just like in the 1900s when cities and towns are still warming up for internal combustion-powered cars, roads and fuel stations are needed for the convenience of motorists. In the case of EVs, a change to the country’s infrastructure will be needed such as charging stations.

This means EV owners will require charging stations at home, at their work place and even in commercial areas (in the United States, some shopping areas have already set up charging stations for EV owners).

Another issue that must be resolved is the fact that transformers (which convert electricity to the right voltage before it enters a home) in residential areas may not be able to handle the kind of load that will be created once a number of EVs start drawing large amounts of power from the grid (this instance may cause neighborhood power outages).

In this regard, both the local government and the energy service provider must be prepared with detailed information about the behavior patterns of EV owners, such as when do they charge, how much the provider will charge and how such charging will affect equipment such as transformers and the peak load on the grid.

Perks. Here is another challenge for countries wanting to welcome more EVs: Are utility companies willing to set up cheaper rates during the night (when people are more likely to charge), are local governments ready to incorporate public charging station in their area like devoting a parking area where EVs could be safely charged while their owners are at work, shopping or dining?

Range. This issue is probably the easiest to deal with as range anxiety is almost taken care of by the developers of new generations of EVs now sold in the market. A fully charged Mitsubishi i-MiEV will get you from 160 km to 180 km of distance. The Nissan Leaf is not far behind with its 160 km maximum range.

For the Chevy Volt, the range is much improved as its battery will power the car for the first 40 km to 80 km. After that, should one continue to need to drive, the on-board gasoline generator provides electricity for the motor and allows the car to drive 553 km more (the gasoline tank could hold 35 liters). Incidentally, the Concept PX-MiEV II, a plug-in hybrid SUV that Mitsubishi unveiled at the recent 2011 Tokyo Motor Show, has a range of more than 800 km.

With these plug-in hybrids, drivers would even have less reason to worry about.

Charging time. Unlike internal combustion-powered vehicles that require their drivers to just drive by a fuel station to fill up (a process that takes about five minutes), such convenience will never be possible for EV owners as charging one’s battery isn’t quite so simple.

The best production EVs in the market today still need seven hours (200 volts, 15 amps) to 14 hours (100 volts, 15 amps) to be fully charged. Even with the use of quick chargers (which charges the battery to up to 80 percent) they still need the owners to wait about 30 minutes.

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TAGS: electric cars, electric vehicles, Motoring
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