The Future of Cars and the Coming Electric Crisis
I was reading a story today that Volvo has pretty much said that the “fuel only” car is as dead as a dodo and that by 2019, all of their cars will either be hybrid or full electric. This is a shocking turn really, a fast response to a marketplace that appears to be rapidly shifting gears towards a plug in future.
The all electric car has a fairly long future, but outside of nutjobs and back yard tinkerers, it’s only been a really short time in car years that electrics and hybrids have been around in any meaningful way. The Toyota Prius was released just 20 years ago as the first hybrid car, and the Honday Insight was released a couple of years later. Now Hybrid cars sell millions of units a year, using a combination of gas engines, electric engines, regenerative braking, and in some cases plug in technology to recharge. The most radical of hybrids seems to have come from GM, with their Volt model, offers up to 53 miles from the plug in charge and then uses a gas engine to recharge / power the car up to 420 miles total.
The full electric / no fuel engine revolution has been lead by Tesla, who put the first 200 mile range all electric car into the marketplace. AS significant as the range was the fact that the car wasn’t a golf cart, but rather a very decent normal looking car that didn’t at all reveal it’s electric nature. Tesla has gone on to have many models and is a unicorn company worth billions. They are releasing the model 3 shortly, which will be priced where most consumers can afford it. Nissan, BMW, and many others all have full electric cars with long ranges, and it seems pretty much every other company is either there or about to be there.
Electrifying of vehicles seems to be coming way faster than anyone seemed to predict. In this article, Bloomberg suggested that 35% of all cars by 2040 would be all electric. Now it’s looking much more like that number may be way below reality. At this point, the potential is that by 2025, every car sold (at least in North America and Western Europe) would be either hybrid, plug in hybrid, or full electric. The potential is in a place like Japan that the number could trend very heavily towards full electric models.
Various reports and papers on the subject of electrical demand for these cars have been written, but most of them seem woefully out of date even only a few short years after they are written. If the US gas consumption was completely turned from oil to electic, the demand for electrical power for all these plug ins would be about a third to a half of the total demand for power. More significantly, this demand would generally happen in the overnight hours, when solar power is not available and when wind power is often at it’s lowest generating level.
The real question is the long run will be how all of this electrical demand will effect the economy. Will power prices be driven up? Will the utilities be able to generate enough power, and how will that power be generated? It may be hard to imagine, but “clean” electric cars may be driving the US (and other countries) back to dirty sources like coal and burning fossil fuels to make power. The net positive effects on both the environment and oil demands seems to be less than we hoped.