A recent Wired article raised a number of important questions. It does it in a way that can be perceived as doubt-inspiring. However, it offers an opportunity to raise hope. Take a moment to read the article and our reflections. Importantly, share your thoughts and suggestions on what we can do to secure our transition to a sustainable future.
“How many gas cars can we take off the road?”
The article suggests that there is a long, difficult road ahead since there is an enormous number of gas cars to replace. Yes – electric cars are a fraction of the vehicles in operation. However, adoption of electric cars is rising and consumers and manufacturers are starting to notice. (Big Island EV growth was close to 50% in 2017.) The number of electric car options is growing every year and electrification is now starting to be seen in more forms beyond the typical passenger car, e.g., SUVs, minivans, buses, freight trucks, and small trucks. As gas cars are removed from operation or come off lease, there will be a likely plug-in ready to take their place.
Consumers will continue to demand more efficient, cost-effective, cleaner, and higher performing cars. Electric cars are now meeting and exceeding these criteria. More and more, we should see increased adoption from consumers who may not even care about the environmental impact of the electric car. They will be motivated primarily by financial reasons and will soon find that the cost to purchase and operate electric cars will meet their needs. There are electric cars that are cheaper to own and operate compared to similarly sized gas-powered siblings today but the general public is still largely unaware.
Importantly, we should also consider the evolution of ownership. The shift to a sharing model (Uber, Lyft, for instance), suggests that transportation may increasingly be treated as a service – people subscribe to, or hail transportation instead of actually owning the cars. This can have the effect of fewer cars on the road as each one will be utilized to a greater extent vs being parked at home or at work.
Today’s transition is enabled by innovations across many industries and sectors. This convergence of new technologies, along with the shifting consumer expectations surrounding transportation, and governmental interventions (perhaps abroad for now), will enable an adoption curve like what we’ve seen with smart phones.
How many gas cars can we take off our roads? How about 99+%? 😉 It’s only a matter of time. Reflect on the transition from the horse-drawn vehicles to gas, steam, or electric in the early 1900s. That transition was relatively fast and was enabled by “cheap”, faster, readily available cars.
“Bring on the batteries”
Absolutely – there will be an incredible demand for batteries (for electric cars and general home and utility – grade energy storage). This will bring about innovations that will not only be focused on the storage device itself, e.g., higher energy density, recharging times, longevity, but also the efficiency of the overall vehicle. Again, this demand will inspire market action and we will accomplish what is seeming impossible.
“What kind of power is charging those cars?”
This (the nature of the electric grid) is an important consideration. It can range from 100% renewable to one that is dependent on fossil fuel. That said, even with the latter, electric cars are still cleaner. They are more efficient compared to internal combustion engine vehicles where a lot of the energy is wasted as heat. There have been many studies on this matter (see example below).
Hawaii has a renewable energy goal – to generate energy from 100% renewable sources by 2045. There is also a push for ground transportation to be powered by renewable energy by that year. At the moment, the Big Island’s grid is over 50% powered by renewables so we’re making progress.
“What are the batteries made of?”
We, indeed, have to be concerned about the overall manufacturing life cycle – we need to understand the components that make up what we use, where they are sourced, and how they are created. People are asking questions about the environmental impact of lithium, copper, and aluminum production. I’m betting that these are not being ignored by manufactures and that advances in storage and recycling that will make the concerns moot.
Fixing one problem by creating another is counter-productive. Fortunately, there is focus on how to responsibly create solutions and constant innovation in the energy storage arena. There is a lot more transparency – consumers are more aware and demand to know and information is more freely shared and discovered. They are questioning and critiquing emerging technology and manufacturer claims.
Reversing climate change is a difficult battle. It is a multi-cause problem that developed over a century. To solve it, we need a systems-based approach, one that will address the root causes and does not involve ‘whacking-a-mole’. It is difficult battle but one worth fighting.
– Noel Morin
- Electric cars emit less CO2 over their lifetime than diesels even when powered with dirtiest electricity – study
- CBS – Hawaii considers 100 percent renewable energy goal for transportation
- HECO Clean Energy Facts
- Ride-hailing industry expected to grow eightfold to $285 billion by 2030
- When will electric cars really take off? Maybe we should ask a horse