Electric vehicles (EV) presently and will continue to suffer one crippling flaw for most applications: the lack of range. Note the words 'most applications' for there is an imaginative and practical means of using them that is discussed later on.
A recent National Post 'Motor Mouth' article by David Booth points out that the batteries required to move EVs generate electrical energy far less efficiently than do gasoline or other fuels. Gasoline produces about 6,000 watt-hours/pound whereas the "most optimistic numbers" he has seen for advanced lithium-ion batteries is 110 watt-hours/pound.
"That means good old- fashioned gasoline punches 54 times harder for the same amount of weight, the fundamental reason electric cars' ranges are so pitiful compared with those fossil fuelled," writes Booth.
Simply put: there is no way you can pack that much battery power to match what gasoline, or even less efficient fuels like compressed natural gas (used in fleet vehicles, like taxis) can produce for your typical trips.
What about the vaunted greater efficiency of electric motors?
"In the electric vehicles' defence, electric motors transmit that energy more efficiently to the road," says Booth. "Some electric motors boast 90% efficiency, while internal-combustion engines can transmit as little as 15% of their energy into vehicular motivation. However, even being generous, that means EVs face a nine- times deficit versus traditional cars."
And that doesn't take into account driving on hilly terrain. My city is noted for just that. I sit on the city council's transportation advisory committee and had my vote recorded against the majority that supported endorsing allowing small EV maintenance vehicles on local streets as they would have to crawl up the grades, blocking traffic; they are not fitted with the cumbersome flywheels or heavy gasoline engines that would have given them the needed oomph.
Moreover, re-energizing EVs are just as inefficient compared with filling up the tank even with the latest technology. GE has come out with GE WattStation that it says on average decreases electric vehicle charging time from 12-18 hours to as little as four to eight hours compared to standard charging "level 1", assuming a full-cycle charge for a 24 kWh battery.
In contrast it takes me about 5 to 7 minutes including payment time to fill up my-recreational/occasional-trip-only (I work from home) Subaru Forester.
For that reason EVs are limited to about 80 miles-90 miles per day. This may seem a lot but not when the typical urban or more accurately sprawl-to-sprawl commutes run in the range of 20 miles or 30 miles or more: less in stop-and-go traffic as well on grades. The real crippler though is the personal trips e.g. picking up/dropping off kids, food shopping, stopping by the hardware store, going out for lunch, meeting the gang after work, or having to take Aunt Millie to the airport.
So does that relegate EVs to the realm of jetpacks and other cool if ultimately impractical means of getting around?
No, because there is a way to use them that minimizes their downsides i.e. range and charging time and maximizes their benefits: zero-direct-emission mobility and that is as a bidirectional "station cars".
In this app EVs would bring commuters from their suburban homes to bus, ferry or train park-and-ride lots in the AM, take those coming off these modes that are going to suburban workplaces or other destinations e.g. conference centers, institutions, back to the transit terminals in the PM, and finally transport commuters on their last legs back to their domiciles. Next-(ahem)-gen chargers like GE's WattStation would be installed at residences, offices, institutions, which would permit morning, evening and work-time errand journeys. EVs can be deployed single-occupancy or better yet in shared-ride configurations.
As with vanpools, those who drive get to use EVs on weekends. This for all practical purposes would favor the suburban residents but there are many instances where both can benefit i.e. trip to the city on the train for a ball game, ride out to the country to a resort or beach or see some friends, depending on the frequency of transit service.
This use of EVs will help to not only reduce emissions in general but it affordably manages the air-killing matter of reaching suburban destinations that are at present impractical i.e. very costly to reach by mass transit because they are laid out to exclusively favor auto access. It also maximizes the use of this investment. Recharging at home and work gives the range needed for both sets of users' personal trips, which makes EVs practical for them.
So how do you employ EVs in this fashion? In much the same fashion as vanpools, with the use of computerized booking, plus with new-gen password vehicle access and starting. Transit agencies either independently or preferably (as they are cash-strapped) in partnership with the power companies would buy them and the chargers at fleet rates and in turn charge drivers, much like car renting or leasing. The renters/lessors and their employers would pay for the power to juice up their vehicles.
This is a multi-win application of this technology. Commuters will not have to own (and gas up) a second vehicle, thereby saving them thousands of dollars a year. Transit agencies will not have to extend routes to office parks or can conserve resources by pulling back poor performing ones if EVs are used instead while the ridership and revenue on bus, ferry or train reverse commute runs will grow because there will now be a viable option for such commuters. There will be fewer vehicles-miles travelled and resulting less pollution and congestion and accidents.
Yes, the markets that EVs can be used in this fashion are limited, but they are the ones with the biggest pollution and sprawl problems and with long transit spines e.g. Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas/Fort Worth, L-A basin, New York /Tri-State, Philly, San Francisco Bay area (including Silicon Valley), Seattle/Bellevue, Washington, D.C and in Canada: Montreal and Toronto.
How about it? Who wants to climb aboard?