ADVERTISEMENT
  About the SA Blog Network













Observations

Observations


Opinion, arguments & analyses from the editors of Scientific American
Observations HomeAboutContact

What will it be like to own an electric car in 2011?

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


Email   PrintPrint



electric car, hybridVery few people really know much today about the experience of owning an electric vehicle of course, given that EVs are not widely available. Nissan hopes to change this by the end of the year when its fully electric Leaf debuts. However, owning an electric vehicle promises to be a lot different than owning any other type of car, different even from plug-in hybrids such as the Chevy Volt set to arrive later this year as well.

The main difference is, obviously, that an electric car has no backup power (such as the plug-in Volt’s gasoline combustion engine). If, for example, you find yourself in your Leaf with an empty battery miles from home, it’ll be a bit like running out of gas, except that in an old-fashioned car you could walk to the nearest gas station or call AAA or a tow truck for help. Re-charging an electric battery requires a power source and, although there may very well be roving re-charge trucks deployed from service stations in the future, this won’t be a great backup plan in the near term.

The 13,000 people who put down $100 deposits for the first Leafs to roll off the assembly line need not despair. Plans are underway to ensure that these forward-thinking motorists have the juice they need to safely get from one power source to the next.

Here’s how the car companies, power utilities and car-charging infrastructure providers hope it will work:

The experiences might vary a bit, but for the most part as you hurry out the door to, say, work or school, you’ll unplug your fully charged electric car and hit the road. Your car, by the way, will have been charging in your garage or driveway from a 220-volt outlet over a period of six-to-eight hours, most likely while you were sleeping. If you chose instead to "trickle charge" your car using a normal 110-volt outlet, don’t expect the battery to be fully recharged.

If your car is a Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid, and you were one of the first 4,400 buyers eligible, you’ll have charged your car using a home charging station from either ECOtality, Inc. or Coulomb Technologies. These will have been given to you and installed for free, thanks to grant money from the Department of Energy’s Transportation Electrification Initiative, part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. This is expected to save Volt drivers about $2,000.

Drivers of the fully electric Nissan Leaf, which goes on sale in Japan, the United States, Portugal and the Netherlands starting in December, will likely get their home charging stations from either ECOtality or AeroVironment, Inc. ECOtality plans to provide free home-charging stations and installation for up to 4,700 Nissan Leaf owners in markets where its EV Project operates, including Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and Houston. AeroVironment, which will install South Carolina’s network of EV-charging stations,  is instead relying on the 50 percent federal tax credit up to $2,000 being offered for those who buy its charging dock and use its trained installers. A 220-volt home charging station is expected to cost about $2,200, excluding any wiring upgrades that homemakers need to make.

Recharging batteries while away from home will be a bit of a challenge, at least until the highly anticipated "fast-charging" kiosks are installed in service stations, parking garages and elsewhere. These charging stations promise to recharge most (although not necessarily all) of an electric car’s lithium-ion battery in about a half hour thanks to a 480-volt connection. It’s not clear, however, how drivers are supposed to occupy themselves for those 30 minutes or so while their car is fast charging. It would be poor form to leave your car alone at the charging station while you go shopping, particularly if someone is waiting behind you for access to the charger. This would be like abandoning your clothes in a Laundromat dryer while others are waiting, with baskets of wet clothes, for your return. If a queue forms for a fast charging station, then "re-fueling" your car will be more like waiting in line for an oil change or car wash than it would be for a fill-up at the gas station.

Image ©iStockphoto.com/ Lya_Cattel





Rights & Permissions

Comments 31 Comments

Add Comment
  1. 1. bAnIntellectual 7:40 pm 07/12/2010

    Very interesting-I wondered how the infrastructure would be set up for the new eco-friendly cars…

    Link to this
  2. 2. Forlornehope 4:19 am 07/13/2010

    What to do while your car is charging? You could always try doing something unusual like reading a book.

    Link to this
  3. 3. bluemetro 8:41 am 07/13/2010

    What to do for 30 minutes while your car is charging? Try meditating.

    Link to this
  4. 4. cabezon 9:31 am 07/13/2010

    gee whiz, how hard would it be to put on a pole and allow four cars to use one charging station? Give walmart a tax break, and there could be a charging station every few miles all over the country. Hell, if Starbucks gets on board, there could be a charging station every few yards. Then you could drink your latte while the car charges.

    Link to this
  5. 5. taylodl 9:54 am 07/13/2010

    JamesDavis – you’re not thinking through the power requirements for your proposal. According to the tech specs of the AeroVironment charger it draws 30 amps at 220 volts – which is 6600 watts or 6.6 kw. You want a parking lot with a thousand of these chargers? That’s 6.6 MEGA watts! That’s a LOT of power – especially during peak load. There’s no way we can support that – we don’t have the generation capacity for it.

    Maybe when we’ve made further advances in solar cells would the lot you envision be able to provide it’s own power. Until such a time, this proposal simply isn’t feasible.

    Link to this
  6. 6. rumpole 10:52 am 07/13/2010

    Having lines of EV’s waiting to charge at Level 3 chargers isn’t quite a problem yet, but it’s a good problem to have, once we have it, since it means that EV’s will be taking off. Personally, I think that aside from the environmental and economic benefits, people are going to love driving EV’s. New EV drivers will probably account for the majority of speeding tickets, for a while……

    Link to this
  7. 7. rumpole 10:52 am 07/13/2010

    Having lines of EV’s waiting to charge at Level 3 chargers isn’t quite a problem yet, but it’s a good problem to have, once we have it, since it means that EV’s will be taking off. Personally, I think that aside from the environmental and economic benefits, people are going to love driving EV’s. New EV drivers will probably account for the majority of speeding tickets, for a while……

    Link to this
  8. 8. bloggermouth 10:56 am 07/13/2010

    I predict increased sales of portable electric generators.

    Link to this
  9. 9. weinstone 11:06 am 07/13/2010

    Yes,it’s great.

    Link to this
  10. 10. JamesDavis 11:10 am 07/13/2010

    "taylodl", supplying power to charging stations in a parking lot or a rest stop along a highway is more feasible than supplying power to a huge corporation to power all their equipment and assembly lines. The charging stations are not going to be used all the time, just like gas stations today don’t always have cars pumping gas at them 24/7. Once we adopt Telsa Motors advanced battery or Japan’s advanced battery that can get 350 and 600 miles between charges; most of the charging stations will only be used occasionally. Let’s get the charging stations in place and worry about brown-outs later.

    Link to this
  11. 11. ChrisJones 12:06 pm 07/13/2010

    2011? I’m thinking that it’ll be pretty much like 2010… only a year later. The support "infrastructure" for EVs is not changing that fast and 2011 hardly represents "the future." Maybe by 2021 we’ll see significant developments in support for EVs. But, 2011? Don’t expect much.

    Link to this
  12. 12. michaelb 12:28 pm 07/13/2010

    You mistakenly referred to the Volt as a plug-in hybrid. The Volt is hot a hybrid vehicle. Hybrids are defined as vehicles that have two propulsion sources, commonly an electric motor and an internal combustion engine. The Volt has one propulsion system, an electric motor. The Volt’s drive train will only be powered by the electric motor, which gets its power from the battery. This is a totally different class from a hybrid, and a huge difference in engineering/performance/features etc.

    Link to this
  13. 13. BMR 1:14 pm 07/13/2010

    Is it just me, or does Nissan need to talk to Starbucks (regarding the 30-minute fast-charging kiosks)?

    Link to this
  14. 14. ormondotvos 3:28 pm 07/13/2010

    I predict a big increase in sales of Honda eu2000i portable generators. Easy to lift, extremely quiet, 2,000 watts.

    Also great for power outages, opening at your house this summer, for heat waves, and ice storms, and for your electric weedeater and mower, or camping or survival in the economic breakdown.

    Honda might even sell a 220v version specifically designed for EV charging.

    Link to this
  15. 15. jerryd 3:52 pm 07/13/2010

    Terrible article with bad data. First if one plugs in a 12vac outlet it will be charged by morning. You rarely use all the charge so you don’t have to completely recharge.

    Since few people drive 100 miles/day they rarely need to charge other than home.

    I do drive my EV’s every day and haVE NO PROBLEM WITH CHARGING as I have a large number of places to charge here in Tampa. Every parking garage, gas station and the Libraries have lugs I have permission to use and many places are now putting in the large charge points needed for 2 hr charge in the Nissan Leaf.

    But future EV’s will have smaller battery packs because they will be smaller, lighter. In mine on a Leaf battery pack I’d get 250 mile range!! By then I’d need a 30 minute break!! I get 100-140 miles on a 12kw pack of lead batteries. Lithium’s being so much lighter I’d get better mileage.

    EV’s generally are not for long distance though with a 100lb Lotus Range extender generator, they would get unlimited range by renting one put on a trailer hitch. I do this with mine though haven’t needed it yet.

    Even my 40 mile range Harley size EV trike rarely needs charging away from home though if I do I get an almost full charge in under 2 hrs from a 120vac outlet. EV’s like it with a light cabin for all weather use could cost only about $6-8k with 100 mile range. I think soon you’ll see quite a few of similar, cost effective EV’s.

    But even the Leaf EV compared to a 30mpg similar car will over 10 yrs pay for itself in gasoline cost savings. So keep driving gas cars if you want, but I drive for 25% of a similar ICE would cost. I’ll be laughing all the way to the bank!!

    Link to this
  16. 16. evdriver 3:59 pm 07/13/2010

    I drive an EV and it’s amazing to me the amount of misinformation being spread about. I use my car to commute. I plug it in to a 220v line on a timer. I get discount power after midnight, so that’s when the timer charges it. In the morning I unplug it and drive it to work. When I come home I plug it in – that’s all there is to it. I pay about $10/month for the car’s electricity.
    Yes, I plan my trips on weekends or when I need to run errands on my lunch hour, but it really isn’t that difficult. We need to get off this public charging discussion – it’s a non-issue. It’s more of a hassle to go to a gas station, but people adjusted to it and they will adjust to home charging. End of story.

    Link to this
  17. 17. jack.123 6:35 pm 07/13/2010

    As for getting a discount for charging at night,this won’t last for long,a number of states are already passing laws to average the cost.Now if the rest of 98% of us could afford to buy one.

    Link to this
  18. 18. davekyte 11:48 pm 07/13/2010

    Why recharge? Standardized battery packs would allow changing batteries and assure current battery tech. Automated stations that remove dead cells and add fresh recharged cells.

    Link to this
  19. 19. davekyte 11:55 pm 07/13/2010

    Why recharge? Standardized battery packs would allow changing batteries and assure current battery tech. Automated stations that remove dead cells and add fresh recharged cells. Once cells reach life limit, they are recycled. Maybe even different quality and brands, premium and regular, long life v cheap.

    Link to this
  20. 20. davekyte 12:06 am 07/14/2010

    So picture your car warns you you are low on charge, and before your car goes into low speed limp home mode, you pull into a Cell Station of your choice. You pull into a bay, you buy the amount of charged cells you want and the robot cell changing setup pulls the dead cells from under car and adds fresh ones. You drive home and plug in to finish the job or fill-up the next day.

    Link to this
  21. 21. DanBandini 6:58 am 07/14/2010

    I live in Lisbon, Portugal, and have a little problem conceiving how I will be able to charge my car overnight. Like nearly everyone, I live in an apartment block. People park their cars on the street, on the pavements, anywhere in fact. It may be fine for the very few with a private garage but for the vast majority overnight charging is not possible….. any ideas how these subsidies and electric cars this may benefit anyone bar the very rich in cities like lisbon? There are far too many cars here, and it would be great to reduce the pollution from our overcrowded roads, but giving subsidies to the rich while prices rise on public transport (on our famous electric trams?!) , surely a little unfair?

    Link to this
  22. 22. ennui 7:01 pm 07/14/2010

    Just wait till the system that Tesla used for his Pierce Arrow Car in 1931 is available. It is being worked on now.
    No, you will not be able to buy it. It will be leased only to give the investors and taxman their due. Other wise there will be too much opposition from Governments.

    Link to this
  23. 23. dickr 4:52 pm 07/15/2010

    Hoods, trunks and top of cars can have PV surfaces. What about fog or clouds, without backup? We all seem to be stuck in old ideas. We need an equivalent to tuning in on a radio station.

    Link to this
  24. 24. Big#21 12:47 am 07/22/2010

    I’m sure that I would be a lot happier waiting in line to recharge my EV than I was when I was waiting to buy my allotted $10.00′s of gas in queues that stretched for several blocks, or the times when you weren’t allowed to buy gas unless you were at the station on the correct odd or even day of the month!

    Link to this
  25. 25. danohp 10:52 pm 08/9/2010

    Green Technology isn’t just how to develop energy saving vehicle, but furthermore it’s a well-planned long term project involving mutual assistance between industrenergy sourceial people, goverment as well as scientists, even the UN to Save The Earth (water, soil, resources, vegetative, tiny organisms, animals and others). Nobody can carry them out alone, but we can as mutual. A Nuclear and Solar Energy should be taken a part as energy sources for either public transportation and public electrification. Your opinion ???

    Link to this
  26. 26. DANO HARI PRAWOTO,ST 10:54 pm 08/9/2010

    Green Technology isn’t just how to develop energy saving vehicle, but furthermore it’s a well-planned long term project involving mutual assistance between industrenergy sourceial people, goverment as well as scientists, even the UN to Save The Earth (water, soil, resources, vegetative, tiny organisms, animals and others). Nobody can carry them out alone, but we can as mutual. A Nuclear and Solar Energy should be taken a part as energy sources for either public transportation and public electrification. Your opinion ???

    Link to this
  27. 27. DANO HARI PRAWOTO,ST 10:55 pm 08/9/2010

    Green Technology isn’t just how to develop energy saving vehicle, but furthermore it’s a well-planned long term project involving mutual assistance between industrenergy sourceial people, goverment as well as scientists, even the UN to Save The Earth (water, soil, resources, vegetative, tiny organisms, animals and others). Nobody can carry them out alone, but we can as mutual. A Nuclear and Solar Energy should be taken a part as energy sources for either public transportation and public electrification. Your opinion ???

    Link to this
  28. 28. Wayne Williamson 6:00 pm 08/13/2010

    very excited with whats coming….

    davekyte…i agree with you but that should be an end game solution, doesn’t have to be in place now…

    Link to this
  29. 29. salvatoregiardiello 9:33 am 08/21/2010

    E’ possibile un auto elettrica nel 2011, ma con l’ Ecomotor,
    l’unico motore elettrico funzionante con lo stesso principio del meglav peccato che si parli di tutto dapertutto e nonci si accorge che il mondo ci crolla addosso con l’ utilizzo scellerato del petrolio.
    Qualcosa grazie alle rinnovabili anche se non ci renderanno mai in termini economici ed energetici quanto si spende, l’aspetto positivo e’ dato dal fatto che non inquinano, ma
    anche come impatto ambientale non scherzano.
    L’ unica opportunita’ innovativa in termini energetici e’
    ed ambientali e l’Ecomotor con la spernza che ci rimanga
    ancora un po di tempo.
    Da Piedimonte Matese Salvatore Giardiello
    http://www.webalice.it/salvatoregiardiello

    Link to this
  30. 30. tulcak 1:47 am 09/7/2010

    uh, the chevy volt is not a hybrid… wtf… it amazes me (especially not being a scientist myself) how ignorant the writers of some of the articles that are presented here by SCIAM. this writer is playing catch up and is just as ignorant as the rest of society. isn’t the purpose of this "magazine" to provide the reader with cutting edge advancements in science?… or has this "magazine" just become a rag to sell advertisements where solid science is not part of the equation. shouldn’t SCIAM be pushing the idea of how science can help solve our problems? or is it more important to make sure that the oil company sponsors are happy? and therefore, downplay any "new" technology as "untried and risky". did it take an economic disaster to push us over the tipping point? hopefully, we remain in this crisis long enough where we have to make fundamental changes. because, the market does not know best.

    Link to this
  31. 31. salvatore giardiello 3:30 am 09/7/2010

    proprio per i limiti dell’ auto elettrica strutturata in questo modo, che oltre cio’ aumenta l’inquinamento nei luoghi di produzione di energia elettrica mettendo in crisi anche la rete sovraccaricandola, propongo l’Ecomotor che oltre ad avitare tutte queste problematiche rende una energia pulita e gratis la stessa sfruttata dal treno veloce Maglev-inductrack
    che,mentre nel treno viene sfruttata per levitare il treno
    nell’ecomotor viene sfruttata per fini prettamente energetici,
    e’ mai possibile che questa cosa non interessi a nesuno essendo in grado di risolvere il 99% dei problemi legati
    all’ambiente con tutti i disastri climatici in atto
    Da Piedimonte Matese Salvatore Giardiello
    http://www.webalice.it/salvatoregiardiello

    Link to this

Add a Comment
You must sign in or register as a ScientificAmerican.com member to submit a comment.

More from Scientific American

Scientific American Holiday Sale

Give a Gift &
Get a Gift - Free!

Give a 1 year subscription as low as $14.99

Subscribe Now! >

X

Email this Article

X