Getting a Charge Out of EVs in 2010?

Are we ready for the brave new world of electric vehicles? And is the EV era truly upon us? Maybe, but the coming year likely will clarify the answers to those questions.

There are still major worries about batteries, storage capacity, EV range, charging stations, and by the way, the current low cost of oil, which seems diabolically timed to undercut the development of EV and biofuel development.

This is the time of year for predictions and lists about the coming year. And Pike Research has weighed-in with a report outlining its 10-predictions for electric vehicles in 2010.

But first this “big picture” outlook from Pike: Over the next decade “millions of vehicles that primarily run on electric power and are plugged in to be recharged will enter roadways as the automotive industry slowly begins to wean itself from fossil fuels.”

The transition will be slower than many, especially those with climate change concerns, have in mind but the “impact on auto manufacturers, battery makers, utilities and smart grid companies will be profound,” Pike says. Over this period sales of plug-in hybrids (PHEVs), and pure battery electric vehicles (EVs) will grow rapidly, but the hybrid electric vehicle (HEV) market “will continue to be the largest market for the foreseeable future.”

Pike continues that the combined market for electrified vehicles will comprise a mere 2.5 percent of the vehicle market over the next few years but will require “billions of dollars in investment in charging equipment and upgrades to the power grid to manage the additional load.”

Pike is forecasting that in 2015 there will be more than 5.3 million locations around the globe to plug and charge electrified vehicles, and that there will be an $8 billion market for lithium-ion batteries by that year.

For 2010, the Pike list starts off with the cost factor. In other words the idea that driving on electric power will cost a fraction of using gasoline as fuel will have to wait, if it ever really materializes: “The cost of owning and driving an electric vehicle is not likely to be cheaper than using gasoline.”  The bottom line on cost, according to Pike’s comparison, is that gas would have to stay above $5.00 for an extended period of time and the cost of EVs would have to decline before electric driving “might” become cheaper.

Other points from the Pike list:

  • 2012 will be a critical year for the commercialization of EVs and plug-ins, a year likely to be well past government incentive programs and the purchase commitment of true believers. That’s the year when consumers interested in driving on electric power will require EVs that are much more cost-competitive with conventional vehicles.
  • “The plug-hybrids of 2020 may not resemble the plug-ins of 2010.”  This gets to the range and capacity of battery packs based on bets for the most desirable range that will make potential consumers comfortable. “Range anxiety” is real and something the EV makers are struggling to resolve.
  • Li-ion batters sold with the first wave of EVS likely will have little or no resale value, and battery swapping, i.e. swapping stations rather than waiting 2-8 eight hours to recharge on a long trip, is not likely to be a significant industry.
  • Operating commercial electric vehicle charging stations “will not be a very significant or profitable industry” because EV owners will do the majority of their charging at home or work.
  • Meanwhile, “Asia will be the dominant supplier and consumer of electric vehicles and batters” over the next half decade and beyond.

Harsh realities, but the dominance of Asia in both EV and battery production is perhaps the most telling and troubling of Pike’s points: Those countries’ aggressive goals for production, consumer incentives and the creation of charging infrastructure will leave the U.S. gasping the ozone in 2010 and beyond.

writer, editor, reader and general good (ok mostly good, well sometimes good) guy trying to get by