Dawn of The Electric Cars, Is America Ready For The Change?

By Jeong Doo Cho

In the past decade the automotive industry has been undergoing a slow but sure transformation away from the internal combustion engine that it had for so long favored. Drastic developments in battery technology in the past decade, backed by strong governmental push on environmentalism has seen the rapid rise of electric automobiles. Early models of the electric car date back to as far as 1894. However, they never made it to the production lines, largely because of their limited range and efficiency. Today’s electric cars, powered by lithium-ion batteries, can do much better. Chevrolet Bolt has a range of 383 km; Tesla’s Model S more than 1,000km on a single charge. Adding to the electric vehicles meteoric rise is a drastic increase in cost efficiency-the cost per kilowatt-hour of electric batteries has fallen from $1,000 in 2010 to $130-200 in 2018. Such has led to predictions that the “total cost of ownership” of an electric car will in 2018 reach parity with a petrol car. Certainly, the market for electric cars is looking very optimistic with a projected market share of 14% of global car sales by 2025, up from 1% today. Regulations are backing the electric car movement too. As of September 2017, an upwards of 13 countries are committed to a lengthening list of zero emission automobile countries pledging to ban petrol powered cars by as early as 2030.

But is the world really ready for electric cars?

One large issue lies in lagging charging infrastructure. Currently, with over 44,000 public charging stations across the nation electric car owners in the US have little problem finding a place to charge their cars. But it's important to take into account that in 2017, electric cars represent only about 1% of cars sold in the U.S, and 0.2% of all cars on the road. Scaling up electric vehicle usage to a nation level presents questions about the feasibility of building an accessible power infrastructure to support it.  

“You see models that say, ‘We’ll sell a million EVs this year, then two, then four and so on,’ but I have concerns about the practicalities of this transition,” says Francis O’Sullivan, director of research for the MIT Energy Initiative.

 Research shows that most EV owners charge their cars in their garages, and existing power stations are found in businesses cities and wealthy suburbs where most deep pocketed early adopters reside. However, the state of the current charging infrastructure fails to account for a larger pool of the general public that a large scale adoption of EV’s could call for: everyday city dwellers who lack garages.

All said and done, the electric vehicle industry is only in its early dawn. “All things cannot be sorted before the industry starts,” says Pasquale Romano, chief executive of ChargePoint, which controls the largest U.S. network of charging stations. Only time will tell if cities and nations will be able to implement the necessary infrastructure to sustain the rapidly growing EV industry.