The electric car today
Today, more and more manufacturers are offering electric vehicles to their customers, as governments across the world have announced future plans to reduce or even remove diesel and petrol cars from their city centres. Consumer interest has clearly been piqued by the stream of new offerings from automakers — the number of electric cars in the world surpassed the 2 million mark in 2016, with the Nissan LEAF the most sold electric vehicle in the world (320,000).1
What does the future hold for electric vehicles?
The International Energy Agency estimating that number will skyrocket to 140 million by 2030, boosted by increasing affordability and more investment in electric vehicle technology. There are forecasts electric cars will be as cheap as gasoline models by 2025 and that battery manufacturing capacity will triple in the next four years, making electric cars more easily accessible than ever before.
Some manufacturers are already taking significant steps to ensure they’re prepared for a changing automotive landscape. For example, all new cars launched by Volvo from 2019 will be at least partially or completely battery-powered, in what the global manufacturer has called a ‘historic end’ to internal-combustion-engine only models. Not only has Volvo committed to hybrid engines for all its conventional petrol and diesel range, but it has also announced that it will introduce five 100% electric models between 2019 and 2021.
Although Volvo is the first major manufacturer to make such a bold move within the industry, several other major car makers, including Renault, Nissan, BMW and Volkswagen, have also declared ambitious plans for electric cars. This significant investment in electric vehicles has been strongly supported by several governments in countries across the globe, with manufacturers offered financial incentives and grants to expand their electric vehicle portfolios. There is a growing viewpoint that electric vehicles will be instrumental in tackling the pervading problem of air pollution and climate change.
And with autonomous cars close on the horizon, the need for electric vehicles will be greater than ever before, as several automakers have revealed that their driverless cars will run on electricity. Ride-sharing continues to surge, with estimates that, by 2030, it will account for more than 25% of all miles driven globally, up from just 4% today.2
It is predicted that we will soon see autonomous vehicles integrated as parts of everyday life. In the future, autonomous vehicles will also cost significantly less per mile and could reduce congestion and traffic incidents.
With change, comes challenges. Electric vehicles will require rapid charging, which has prompted concerns regarding infrastructure constraints. Systems will need to supply an adequate amount of energy to a vast number of vehicles, as well providing an efficient distribution system.
For electric cars to become the consumer’s car of choice, drivers will need to have easy access to charging infrastructure, but simultaneously, investors will want reassurance that there is sufficient demand before investing large sums of money into charging outlets. This is where utilities and traditional oil and gas players come in to action. There needs to be a broad-based development and equitable access to infrastructure, regardless of what houses people live in or whether they’re buying a new or second-hand car. Auto manufacturers and utilities working together on infrastructure seems to make the most sense to provide the best monetary value for customers.
When it comes to distribution, consumers will face a major change in the way they interact with fuelling infrastructure. Currently, filling up a car with petroleum fuel typically takes under 10 minutes, whereas charging a battery that has the hundreds-of-miles range of present-day vehicles takes between four and eight hours. Experts have compared charging the battery to producing the gasoline there and then. Additionally, there is still the unanswered question of what to do with the batteries once they’ve worn out — according to Ajay Kochhar, CEO of Canadian battery recycling start-up Li-Cycle, there could 11 million tonnes of spent lithium-ion batteries to recycle by 2030.3
An encouraging prospect
Despite the challenges, it is predicted that as technology evolves, charging electric vehicles within five minutes could become reality. The idea of swapping batteries at fill stations has become popular, but charging that many vehicles will still demand a sizable amount of energy. For example, in a cul-de-sac of 10 homes, charging cars for each house could double the load, particularly at peak hours.
A study by the WWF found that motorists would spend £170 a year to charge their vehicle at home by 2030. However, “smart charging” (at times of low demand, such as overnight) could cut the cost by £70. The study states that the typical annual petrol bill is £800. This would be a dramatic decrease to the annual fuel bill, meaning that electric cars could be charged for only £100 a year.