Green living and green concepts are the new buzzwords in our age, and use of electric cars is gaining popularity in the green town. For most people, use of electric cars is an alien or a new concept, but it is not that these cars never existed, or were never tried. A good look at the history of cars will tell you that people started using electric cars way back in mid-19th century (some time in 1830s). These cars were popular even before the gasoline (or petrol) cars were even invented. In fact till 1900 the record for the fastest speed of a car was recorded for an electric car. But in early 20th century, gasoline powered cars started providing better speeds and long running range, thereby putting Electric Cars out of vogue. But life comes in full circle, the rising concerns for environment and excessive pollution caused by Internal Combustion Engines have forced humans to look again at Electric Cars as an alternative.
Because we focus on energy efficiency and a lot on the greening space, we get this question many times that what is our take on the latest buzz around EVs (Electric Vehicles), and how do we see the future. This article presents the pros and cons of electric cars as a mode of transport, a means to reduce carbon emissions and at the end also presents our vision for the future of electric cars.
Electric Cars and Energy Efficiency
Working in the space of energy efficiency, the first thing that we tried to look at is: energy efficiency of an electric car as compared to a car that runs on gasoline. As per research done by General Motors, electric cars convert about 60% of electrical energy they get from the grid to power at the wheels (source: Fueleconomy.gov). In comparison gasoline (or petrol) vehicles convert only about 20% of energy.
In India we have about 10-15% transmission and distribution losses, which makes electric cars better in terms of energy consumption as compared to petrol vehicles. Even in states with worst transmission and distribution, the losses are about 40%, which still makes use of electric cars more energy efficient.
From an Individual’s perspective (living in India): If we look at the Mahindra Reva E2O model, it’s per KM unit consumption of electricity is 0.111 units (source: Mahindra Reva). You can use our calculator (Online Electricity Bill Calculator for all states in India) to find out the per unit cost of electricity applicable to you, but if we assume average cost of electricity at Rs 5 per unit, the cost of running of Reva per kilometer is just Rs 0.555 per kilometer. Compare it to a car that has a mileage of 15 km/ltr, at a cost of Rs 75 per liter of petrol, the cost per kilometer is about Rs 5.
In India, most of the fuel is imported (both coal and petroleum), thus moving to electric cars and improving efficiencies certainly provides a lot of advantage in terms of energy efficiency. In fact import of petroleum is of the order of 70% while that of coal is 20%.
Comparing Environmental Impact
Electric cars make zero emissions/pollution as they do not burn any fuel but run purely on electricity. But one of the reasons given by opponents of electric cars is that by using electric cars, we still use electricity generated by power plant, which still cause a lot of pollution. Which to a great extent is true. But by doing it we can decentralize all the pollution from city centers to places away from the city. Currently there are millions of cars in the city that are causing a lot of pollution. The whole of it can be shifted to power plants. On top of it, it will be easier to apply emission control systems and processes at a centralized power plant, than applying the same to millions of cars running in the cities.
Along with that, electric cars provide an option to use electricity generated by renewable sources of electricity: like solar, wind, hydro, etc. Which cause zero pollution. Companies like Mahindra Reva are also coming out with solar charging stations for their electric cars, which make these cars the greenest option available.
Various other benefits of Electric Cars
Below are some awesome benefits that are there in using electric cars:
- Electric Cars provide very quite and smooth operation. There is absolutely no noise like those in cars that run on gasoline (or petrol). This is because the electric cars have very less moving parts.
- Electric Cars have automatic transmission, which makes them very convenient for a city ride, which is mostly stop-and-go.
- While gasoline (or petrol) cars consume petrol even when the car is standing and the engine is on, an electric car does not consume any electricity during those moments. Thus saving a lot of energy during heavy traffic and making it a great option for people mostly having city drive.
- While gasoline (or petrol) cars loose energy while braking, electric cars have a regenerative braking system that provides it ability to recover energy lost during braking. In a heavy traffic drive, this again can be quite beneficial.
- Because they have less number of moving parts, the maintenance cost of electric cars is much less as compared to cars with internal combustion engine.
Current Challenges with Electric Cars
The biggest challenge with electric cars is their energy (or electricity) storage capacity. This was one of the main reasons why gasoline (or petrol) cars got prominence in early 1900s. And it still remains an issue. Although a lot of research is going on for this.
The Mahindra Reva E2O in India runs for about 100 kms with a full charge. Latest technologies available internationally make cars capable of running for about 160 to 320 km per full charge.
Charging of the batteries is another concern as it takes about 4 to 8 hours to charge the batteries fully. Even a quick charge to 80% capacity takes about 30 mins. Currently there is no infrastructure to charge the batteries on highways, although one can charge the battery anywhere where electric point is available.
Many people in India worry about speed of electric cars and they do so mostly because electric vehicles available in India in the past were quite slow. But Mahindra Reva offers a top speed of 104 km/hr and the fastest electric car in the world Tesla Model S can go up to the speed of about 200 km/hr.
Future of technology with electric cars
The future looks quite promising for Electric Cars. There is lot of research happening in this space. Speeds of electric cars have already improved significantly and there is no doubt that it cannot improve further (as trains in many countries already run on electric motors).
Storage and Charging remain the major area of focus for the future. But there are many companies working to solve this challenging problem. We already see cars with batteries that can make them run for 160 to 320 KMs. Then there are companies like Better Place that are trying to design switchable batteries and switching stations. Charging is one of the major concerns for batteries as it takes quite some time to get fully charged. Better Place has designed a system where empty batteries of electric cars will be replaced with a fully charged battery in a few minutes. To do this they are trying to setup a network of switching stations. They have already testing the concept in countries like Israel, Japan, China and Western European countries.
Research is on to develop quick charging batteries, and the day is not far when electricity distribution companies will set up their charging posts on highways, with all such posts connected to the electricity grid (or smart grid). Charging will be quick and will be as simple as charging a mobile phone with payments made by swiping a card on a machine connected to the Internet.
Future of electric cars look bright as it certainly has potential to reduce our dependence on oil and fossil fuel, which can significantly bring down global pollution and help control climate change. If you are someone who is keen on buying an electric car, we would recommend you to go buy one, because any support to a new and upcoming technology just helps to makes it better. If you live in India and are looking to buy a Mahindra Reva E2O, check out this nice review by Team BHP on this link: E2O.
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About the Author:
Abhishek Jain is an Alumnus of IIT Bombay with almost 10 years of experience in corporate before starting Bijli Bachao in 2012. His passion for solving problems moved him towards Energy Sector and he is keen to learn about customer behavior towards Energy and find ways to influence the same towards Sustainability. More from this author.