Pictured above: Tesla charging stations at our Modena office.
Electric cars have been around for a long time. Technological advancements in electric motors and batteries were made in the 1800s. It was only a matter of time before these two technologies were paired together to create the electric car. In fact, an electric car of sorts was being manufactured in Germany as early as 1888 and it was called the Flocken Elektrowagen. It looked like a horse-drawn carriage without the horse. In London, electric cabs were being used in the late 1800s. They were manufactured by the Samuel’s Electric Carriage and Wagon Company. And in America, electric cars were being widely used. As early as 1912, 33,842 electric cars were registered in the United States. This meant that 40 percent of American automobiles were powered by steam, 38 percent by electricity, and 22 percent by gasoline! Why was the electric car so popular? Quite simply, the internal combustion engine was loud, uncomfortable and smelly. In order to start the machines, you had to crank the engine to get it started. This required quite a lot of effort, making the gasoline car unpopular with woman. In contrast, electric cars were quiet, smooth, comfortable and easy to start and operate. Of course, advancements were made with the gasoline engine and it soon beat out electric cars to become the most widely used today.
I personally bought my very first car a few years ago. A wonderfully white, peppy, and reliable Ford Focus. How I do love that car! Unfortunately though, it does have a fundamental flaw; it is a gas powered vehicle. A little tiny piece of me dies every time I pull into a gas station. (Dramatic though that wording may be, I think it perfectly describes the feeling.) There is something absolutely despicable about filling my tank with a finite substance, a substance made from long-dead biomass. It is a ritual I follow about once a week, and it pains me every time. Everything about a gas station just screams “DIRTY!”. In my opinion, it also screams “OUTDATED!”. Our transportation infrastructure needs a major makeover, and I think electric cars can once again start the revolution.
The electric cars of today are a far cry from the electric vehicles of the late 1800s and early 1900s. Lithium ion batteries are being used extensively to drastically improve the range that electric cars have. Multiple electric motors can be used to propel a vehicle at amazing speed. Unlike gasoline cars, electric cars have only one gear, no multi-speed transmissions required. This also means that all of the potential horsepower is available instantly, resulting in intense acceleration. Yes, many of the electric cars manufactured today are fun to drive. Not only this, they are also cheaper to drive. How much cheaper? At a national level, electric cars on average cost three times less per mile to operate than a gas powered car. This is largely due to the cost of gas and maintenance. While electric cars have nearly no moving parts in the motor, internal combustion engines have hundreds of moving parts. This means that gasoline cars wear more quickly than electric cars. Electric cars do not need engine oil to function properly, so less trips to the mechanic! What are the challenges? I will focus on two: battery technology and public charging infrastructure.
Even though battery technology has improved exponentially over the lead acid batteries commonly used in the early electric cars, they still present some challenges. Similar to the batteries powering your phone and computer, electric car batteries have a “Cycle Count“. This is how many times the battery is discharged and then recharged. After a certain number of battery cycles, the battery will begin to under-perform. This will result in reduced range, poorer performance, and longer charging times. When this happens, the battery will need to be replaced (which can cost thousands of dollars). This being said, the battery should last for many years before this happens. Just don’t expect to put 300,000 miles on one battery (unless it is a hybrid, but that is another topic). Another problem with modern batteries is the charging times. Electric cars can take hours to charge sufficiently. But again, this is changing. Tesla and Chevrolet have developed quick charging methods to provide many miles of range in just 30 minutes. But a majority of electric cars must deal with long charging times. The last challenge is where the raw materials to manufacture the batteries are obtained. Lithium ion batteries are largely made from cobalt and nickel. These two metals must be mined in large quantities, contributing to global carbon emissions. Not only this, but the raw material must then be transported to manufacturing plants, once again contributing to global carbon emissions. (It should be said that the raw material to manufacture combustion engines is just as bad if not worse.)
The second challenge has to do with public charging infrastructure. Anywhere you go, there is going to be a gas station. It is as simple as that. There is hardly ever a real concern for where you will get gas when you take a road trip or just a quick trip into town. With electric cars, this is different. A certain level of stress will always exist when trying to find a place to charge up. Fortunately, this is changing. Tesla offers businesses incentives to install charging stations at offices, gas stations, supermarkets and even libraries. Here at the New York State Solar Farm office in Modena, we have several Tesla charging stations in the parking lot where electric car owners can plug in for free. Sure, you have to wait a little bit longer, but it’s free! Despite this, charging infrastructure needs to be improved. What about the plug itself? Fortunately, this is not much of a problem since most electric cars use the same plug. And if it doesn’t use the same plug, you can always use an adapter. So while the infrastructure needs to be improved, it has still come a long way from where it once was.
In conclusion, electric cars are a wonderful technology with exciting and innovative applications. I definitely think that in a few years time, our roads will be filled with more and more electrically driven vehicles. So why is a solar company writing about them? Because SunPower and Ford have a partnership I would like to inform you about. You can read more about it if you copy and paste the link below into your web browser.
Thank you for giving me your attention! I hope you enjoyed reading about electric cars in this blog post. If you have any suggestions for future blog post topics, message us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at 845-255-0610. Also, if you would like to receive a free quote for a SunPower Solar System, just let us know by emailing or calling us. Have a beautiful week!
Writer – Ethan J. Powell