Electric vehicles are the future’s ride

Tags: Op-ed
Electric vehicles are the future’s ride
Bloomberg
GREEN MOVE: In this 2012 file photo, an electric charging cable is seen connected to a Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid automobile during the Geneva International Motor Show in Geneva, Switzerland
In present times, three types of vehicles are powered by electricity: electric vehicles (EV), hybrid electric vehicles (HEV), and plug-in-electric vehicles (PHEV). According to the US department of energy, all these vehicles have the potential to offset foreign petroleum usage and cost less to refuel per mile than conventional vehicles.

EVs are propelled by a battery-powered motor while the battery is charged by plugging the vehicle into the electric grid either at home or at a public charging station. EVs do not have an internal combustion engine and therefore do not use petroleum. In contrast, HEVs are powered by conventional or alternative fuels as well as electric power stored in a battery. In these vehicles, the battery is charged through regenerative braking and the internal combustion engine. In other words, the battery captures energy normally lost during breaking by using the electric motor as a generator. Furthermore, PHEVs are powered by conventional or alternative fuels as well as electric power stored in a battery. The battery can be charged by plugging it into an outside power source, by the internal combustion engine, or by regenerative breaking. Unlike HEVs, which still depend on petroleum, it is possible for PHEVs to run on only electricity when fully charged. Because PHEVs can run off petroleum or electricity, they are a good option for driving long distances if one is uncertain about the availability of a charging station.

EVs use a battery to store the electrical energy that powers the motor. Although the electricity production, if done via conventional sources, may contribute to air pollution at the source, the US environmental protection agency (EPA) considers Evs to be zero emission vehicles because their motors produce no exhaust or emissions. Since Evs use no other fuel except electricity, they help reduce petroleum consumption. At present, available Evs have a shorter range per charge than most conventional vehicles have per tank of gas. EV manufacturers typically target a minimum range of 100 miles per charge. According to the US department of transportations federal highway administration, 100 miles per charge is sufficient for more than 90 per cent of a typical household vehicle trips.

Because of their improved fuel economy, HEVs usually cost $0.05 to $0.07 per mile in fuel compared with conventional vehicles which cost $0.10 to $0.15 per mile in fuel. When running on electricity, a PHEV can cost $0.02 to $0.04 per mile in fuel (based on average US electricity price).

As EVs only run on electricity, a typical EV would cost $0.02 to $0.04 per mile for fuel (based on average US electricity price). Although EVs cost much less per mile, they also have some disadvantages. At present, EVs might take forever to charge. Also, there’s an obvious lack of charging stations around the world and their range at 100 miles per charge is likely to be too small. PHEVs, on the other hand, do not depend on having a charging station near you at all times, since they can create the electric energy on board, using the internal combustion engine.

The main disadvantage relies on the fact that at present, the PHEVs and EVs are expensive to manufacture. After all, they are cars using a completely new technology and have two engines on board, of which only one is used to actually power the wheels. Light duty HEV, PHEV, and EV models are becoming available at present from a number of auto manufacturers, with additional models expected to be released in coming years. For example, the Nissan Leaf is an EV car, which needs to be recharged in order to keep moving. In contrast, the upcoming Chevrolet Volt is a PHEV.

The Chevrolet Volt will cost close to $33,500 in the US, which is exactly $8,220 more than the Nissan Leaf. The Volt comes at a hefty amount, but it gives a 340 miles range instead of the 100 miles the Nissan Leaf provides. According to some studies, the average household drives around 12,000 miles (about 19300 km) per year. That’s about 1,000 miles (1,600 km) per month, which in turn translates to about 250 miles (402 km) per week or approximately 40 miles (64 km) per day. After that distance is covered and the Volt’s battery level drops under 30 per cent, the internal combustion engine (ICE) kicks-in to power the car on board. That will add another 300 miles to the car’s range, in case you want to use the Volt for more than just commuting to the office and back. Of course, in the future the internal combustion engines onboard PHEVs might become smaller, more efficient and use alternative, greener fuel.

At present, there is almost no government support to encourage EV ownership in India and the EV ownership and awareness is also low. The federal government has also halted a subsidy programme in 2012. In August, 2012, however, the national government announced the National Electric Mobility Mission Plan 2020. The plan targets six to seven million electrified vehicles on the road by 2020, including hybrids. That will require up to $4 billion in investment, the government figured, with just over half coming from the government and the rest from industry. Incentives are set to begin in 2014.

The best way to boost EV ownership in India would be for the government to make it mandatory for 5 per cent of vehicle registrations annually to be battery-electric vehicles. It should also provide a 20 per cent upfront subsidy to buyers and announce a nationwide strategy for expanding public and workplace charging. Another challenge to overcome is the low public knowledge in India of electric vehicles. Indian consumers know little about the financial or economic benefits of EV ownership. Given the increasing fuel prices, the awareness of the benefits of electric vehicle ownership is expected to rise in the coming years.

(The writer is on the faculty of Indian Institute of Technology, Mandi, India)

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