Electric Vehicles on the Verge of a Breakthrough in 2011

At the turn between 2010 and 2011, a spate of media stories articulated how electric vehicles (or just EVs) saw a major breakthrough in 2010, with commercial models being released to great success (Nissan Leaf, Ford Focus and Chevrolet Volt). In the UK the government started as of January 01st 2011 to give grants to drivers buying electric vehicles.

There are several reasons for the success of EVs. First, a better, wider charging infrastructure is being built, which helps mitigate what has become known as ‘range anxiety’ in EV-speak. The arrival of home chargers is also another great incentive to EV adoption. More efficient battery technology is also offering better performance, and consequently increasing the attractiveness of electric vehicles.

According to Pike Research analyst, John Gartner, by the end of 2011 there will be another 50,000 EVs across America. There will be new models from manufacturers such as Think, Coda, Mitsubishi, Mini, Toyota and Chevrolet. This shows that major auto players are now including EVs in the center of their development strategies.

One company that invests considerably to make electric vehicles a mainstream reality is General Electric (GE). In the second semester of 2010, the technology giant announced it will buy 25,000 electric vehicles by 2015, effectively converting its fleet to electricity. Also in 2010 GE researchers announced a dual battery system for hybrid transit bus, which could cut battery costs by 20 per cent. It mixes a sodium battery and a lithium battery, combining acceleration performance of passenger EVs with power storage that large industrial batteries can offer.

On the negative side, critics say EVs are as green as the source of electricity that feeds into them; if they derive their power from fuel or coal electricity, then they are not Little Rock really green. That is a genuine concern but some people would argue that even when charged with power that comes from dirty sources, electric cars still win out in comparison with average vehicles and match the cleanest hybrids. Even in the worst case scenarios, the use of electric vehicles results in a net positive emissions trade-off. The conclusion was drawn by a study carried out by the Electrification Coalition and took into account the whole life cycle of several types of cars and several types of gases, such as carbon dioxide, sulfur oxide, nitrogen oxide and mercury.

Another critical piece came from a recent study conducted by Oxford University, which argued that mass adoption of electric vehicles in countries with dirty power supplies would make global warming worse and not mitigate it, as supporters claim. In countries like China and India electric vehicles would increase CO2 emissions, the study says.

The jury is still out on this one and it seems like that an EV’s eco-friendliness depends on the energy mix in the region where it is used. But what is a fact is that 2010 marked a turning point for EVs, with growing interest on the part of the industry as well as the public, besides stronger official support. 2011 is very likely to witness an upward trend for vehicles that run on electricity.