A couple of years ago I wrote a piece about how we would all be driving electric vehicles in ten years’ time. Given the shifts surrounding the EVs since then – technologically, environmentally, governmentally, globally, and consumer wise, I thought now might be a good time to revisit the EV revolution to see if we’re still on track.
What happens when the oil runs out?
Many people believe that one of the primary drivers behind EVs is the need to find an alternative for oil, the finite resource that many assume will be completely depleted at some point later this century.
In 1977, US President Jimmy Carter famously announced to the American people on live TV that the oil and gas the country depends upon was rapidly running out. He described this as an unprecedented problem and the greatest challenge the country would face in the lifetime of its citizens. Today, we have more oil than we need. What’s fuelling the boom in black gold?
What we know now that the 39th POTUS didn’t know then, is that as well as bountiful oilfields in North America, Russia, and the Middle East, there are massive, barely tapped reserves in South America, Africa, and the Arctic equating to trillions of barrels of oil.
According to BP’s Statistical Review of World Energy, global oil reserves at the end of 2012 was 1.7 trillion barrels. At the time, the world was consuming approximately 86 million barrels of crude oil per day and were those figures to remain the same, it was easy to conclude that the oil would run out in around 55 years.
However, as new technologies such as horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (fracking) developed and new oil locations were discovered, reserves began to outstrip levels of consumption. Below are examples of how new technologies and new locations have impacted global oil reserves:
- In just six years, fracking increased the number of barrels being produced by the Bakken formation, a unit of shale rock in North Dakota, 100-fold – from 6,000 a day to 600,000 a day – making North Dakota the second-biggest oil producer in America, after Texas.
- In 2013, Linc Energy announced that it was hoping to extract 233 billion barrels of oil from shale rock in the Australian outback, with a potential worth of £13 trillion.
If Peak Oil – the hypothetical point in time when the global production of oil reaches its maximum rate, after which production will gradually decline – is no longer a concern, why now is there such a drive towards EVs?
Following a decision in 2001 by the Labour Government to slash fuel duty on diesel cars, the number of diesel vehicles on Britain’s roads has risen from 3.2 million to more than 10 million.
It has since emerged that diesel vehicles emit harmful nitrogen dioxide, which can cause strokes, heart attacks, and asthma attacks. It is believed that the UK’s high level of air pollution could be responsible for 40,000 premature deaths per year.
Further, ministers in the UK believe that petrol and diesel vehicles pose the largest environmental risk to public health, costing up to £2.7 billion in lost productivity per annum.
Michael Gove, the Environment Secretary, warned that Britain “can’t carry on” with petrol and diesel cars because of the damage that they are doing to people’s health and the planet.
These comments show that regardless of a new found abundance of oil reserves, there has been a seismic shift in attitude that embraces cleaner sources of energy as governments across the world introduce policies that attempt to combat global warming.
As part of its clean air initiative, the current Conservative Government last month pledged to ban the sale of all diesel and petrol cars and vans, including hybrid vehicles, by the year 2040. The announcement came just weeks after French President, Emmanuel Macron, had made an almost identical pledge.
There are, however, voices within the industry who believe that market forces are working faster than the legislature.
Dale Vince, founder of Ecotricity, a company that operates a network of EV charging points said: “The market will beat both governments to this, there won’t be any new petrol or diesel cars to buy in 2040. I’d guess by 2030 you’ll have to work hard to find one of these old fashioned things. Volvo will be there in 18 months, who’s next?”
Vince’s comments picked up on the recent announcement from Volvo that effective from 2019 the Swedish manufacturer will exclusively manufacture EVs or hybrids. A move which the company called a “historic end” to building models that only have an internal combustion engine. It is the first major manufacturer to make such a bold decision.
Lenge bor norge
As progressive as these promises from Britain and France may be, it is Norway that is currently leading the EV revolution.
In the 1990s, Norway launched an initiative to cut pollution, congestion, and noise in urban centres. That initiative evolved to include a dedication towards combating climate change.
Today, Norway has the highest per capita number of all-electric [battery only] cars in the world. Last year, EVs constituted around 40 percent of the nation’s newly registered passenger cars. Oslo even has dedicated bus-lane access for EVs, as well as an abundance of recharging stations, privileged parking and toll-free travel for EVs.
Earlier this year, Norway opened the world’s largest fast-charging station, which can charge up to 28 EVs in around an hour prompting the CEO of Tesla Motors, Elon Musk, to tweet: “What an amazingly awesome country. You guys rock!”
What’s more, since 98 percent of Norway’s electricity comes from hydropower, the country’s burgeoning EV fleet leaves almost no carbon footprint.
Hurdling the stumbling blocks
Unfortunately, the biggest obstacles that have hampered the EV revolution remain, but these challenges are being met. Broadly, these are:
- the cost of an EV;
- distance travelled between each charge;
- duration of a charge; and
- the number of charging stations available
According to a report produced by the research firm Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF): the cost of EVs will reach parity with internal combustion engine vehicles by 2022, after which time EVs will become increasingly cheaper than their dead dinosaur guzzling counterparts.
The economics of this would remove the biggest EV revolution obstacle to date – that they cost too much.
The author of the study, Salim Morsy, said: “We project that the cost of manufacturing electric vehicles will fall dramatically, and faster than most people realize.” Morsy argues that the key to this trend is the cost of the battery pack.
At present, the lithium-ion batteries that EVs depend upon to run account for around 40 percent of an EVs cost. But the price for these batteries have fallen by two-thirds since 2010 – much faster than experts had anticipated, and they will continue to decrease.
Industry experts suggest that the average EV battery could drop as low as $125 per-kilowatt-hour in the near future, a significant reduction from their current cost of $350 and much less than the $1,000 it would have cost just six years ago.
Another sticking point in potential EV buyers’ hesitation is the distance between charging facilities, which the RAC refer to as, “range anxiety.”
At present, the average distance between charging points in England is 6km, compared to 1.6km. But a recent report by Nissan claims that this is all about to change with the number of EV charging points in the UK outstripping petrol stations by 2020, marking another key milestone in the adoption of zero emission vehicles.
“As electric vehicle sales take off, the charging infrastructure is keeping pace and paving the way for convenient all-electric driving,” said Edward Jones, EV manager at Nissan Motor (GB) Ltd. “Combine that with constant improvements in our battery performance and we believe the tipping point for mass EV uptake is upon us.
The report comes on the back of findings that the number of traditional fuel stations in the UK has fallen from 37,539 recorded in 1970, to just 8,472 in 2016. In contrast, the UK’s EV charging network is expanding exponentially driven by ambitious plans from operators and a doubleheader of growth and demand in the EV market.
The EU is also firmly behind the push for more charging points stipulating that by 2019, every newly built or refurbished house will have to include an EV charging station.
Another report by IHS Automotive forecasts that the global EV charging stations installation base will grow from 1 million units in 2014 to more than 12.7 million units in 2020.
In respect of battery technology, developments have witnessed vehicle range extended roughly from 100km to 200km and full battery charging cycle times slashed from what was as much as eight hours just a few years ago.
At present, a Tesla supercharger can currently replenish 270km of range in its EVs in about 30 minutes. Recently, Samsung announced their “next generation” battery, which they claim will offer 600km of driving with just a 20-minute charging time.
As the cost of batteries tumble, charging station infrastructure expands and new technologies ensure EVs go further and charge faster, the rate of adoption for EVs will skyrocket and the revolution will have been fulfilled.