Introduction to Electric Cars
In recent years, electric cars have seen a rapid uptake, and there’s no sign of it slowing down. In the United States alone, 361 000 EVs were sold in 2018 and a significant predicted rise in 2019 with the coming of new EVs such as the Rivian truck, SUV and the Tesla model Y. Of course, all that sounds great, but we must consider the question: is this a good idea, or should we be sticking to the traditional internal combustion engine (IC) cars?
Why go electric?
So what’s the point of electric and how is it better than IC cars? Well, one rather compelling argument towards EVs is the money which customers save. Although the $7500 tax credit in the US is no longer available for Tesla buyers, there is still a sizable sum of $3,750 available. However, it is worth noting that this will be reduced to $1,875 at some point and will eventually be removed entirely.
Though this may sound problematic, EV owners still benefit from a healthy decrease in running costs, especially if charging in a free area or for cheap at home. In fact, Tesla’s supercharger rates in the UK are £0.24 per kWh and $0.28 per kWh in the US, significantly cheaper than petrol or diesel.
Another benefit of EVs is the fast, instant torque that they can deliver. In standard internal combustion engines, most of the torque is delivered around 3000-4000 RPM. But why can’t internal combustion engines deliver torque instantly?
Well, that’s down to one formula: torque = force x distance. So, if we want more torque, we must either increase the distance or the force. At higher engine speed, there is a larger explosion inside of the cylinder, pushing down on the piston, which creates a higher torque. In an EV, maximum torque occurs instantly, before starting to tail off at around 3000 RPM. This makes them great for quick accelerations and blistering 0-60 times.
Finally, since electric cars have giant battery packs, manufacturers such as Tesla have enabled features such as leaving the a/c or heating on all night. This led to features such as dog mode and the upcoming camping mode, increasing the utility of EVs. Additionally, these battery packs have advantages in the commercial world, for example, charging tools from an electric truck’s battery pack or running broadcasting equipment for radio and TV shows.
So why not just get an electric car?
Unfortunately, it’s not that simple, electric cars are still largely in development, meaning some of their technology is not where manufacturers want it to be yet. One example of this which sticks out like a sore thumb is the current charging rates. Tesla’s current V2 supercharging network, one of the fastest mainstream networks in the world can charge a standard range Tesla model s to 80% in 30 minutes and 100% in 1 hour. This is made worse by the supercharger ‘sharing’ when they are busy.
Now, this is fast compared to previous iterations of the technology but nowhere near the charging speed of gas cars. Tesla’s idea on battery swapping at superchargers (which would operate at the same speed of refuelling a gas car) seems to have disappeared, though it came with a few caveats anyway. More on that in a future article.
The problem with increasing the charging speed is that it greatly reduces the number of cycles a battery can take. Cleverly, to get around this with supercharger V3, Tesla has made vehicles approaching a new supercharger automatically precondition the battery ready for this fast charging (but not suitable for driving at high speeds).
In theory, the V3 can charge 1000 miles worth of range in 1 hour, or 75 miles in 5-10 minutes as Tesla said in their launch event. Incredibly, some prototype chargers such as the Porsche Taycan chargers aim to charge at 350 kWh. As well as the slower charging rate, there are fewer electric charging stations than gas stations, resulting in owners having to take more direct, planned routes to their destination. However, this is aided by in-car navigation systems which plan the route with chargers in mind.
Thankfully, these are problems which can be solved using different battery technology. JB Straubel, one of the members of Tesla’s founding team, said that 5-10 minute charges will be possible in years to come. We have no time scale on this, it could be within the decade or maybe a few decades at worst.
Should we just keep hitting the gas?
Currently, IC cars are cheaper and easier to refuel than electric cars, but that may be about to change soon. As a general rule, all new technology which requires heavy development is expensive, and yes, that includes electric cars. But are there more advantages to these gas guzzling monsters?
Let’s start with the noise. Internal combustion engine vehicles are noisy, especially supercars. Of course this can be good or bad subjectively, but let’s assume it’s good in this case. If a person is crossing a road on a bend and an electric car comes round the corner, the pedestrian has a low chance of hearing the vehicle before a ‘smack’ is heard and the pedestrian ends up on the ground. If this was a gas car, the pedestrian would have a higher chance of hearing the car and a lower chance of being hit.
Another great feature of gasoline cars is the fuelling grid, expansive and always ready. There are an estimated 144,000 gas stations in the US, there are far less electric charging points. Not everyone can charge at home either, say you live in a flat in NY, or you park on the road. If everyone had a cable going to their car, the pavement would be covered in them and the US electricity demand would increase dramatically. However, this can be solved with the advent of cheap, renewable energy.
But aren’t electric cars just as bad for the environment? Well, at the moment, nearly, but no. If 100% of the US power grid comprised of burning fossil fuels, electric cars would still be better for the environment. Here are the steps from the ground to the car:
Electric – Extraction of fossil fuels – transportation – burning – efficient electric cars
Gas – Extraction of crude oil – transportation – fractional distillation – transportation – low efficiency cars.
Which is better and should we be switching? I accept that there are problems with electric cars at the moment, but almost all of them will be fixed in the future. As renewable energy becomes available and fast charging points such as the supercharger V3 start to appear, we will be well on our way to a sustainable future, and electric cars are just one step we must take. I’d love to hear what you think in the comments below, and if you have any questions, feel free to contact me via my contact page.