“Electric Car: Lessons Learned in a Global Movement”

By Marcie Barnes

This is a live blog post from the talk entitled “Electric Car: Lessons Learned in a Global Movement” at SXSW. Speaker is Benjamin Holland – Project Mgr, Project Get Ready, Rocky Mountain Institute.

Stimulus to support the development of batteries, infrastructure, etc. by President Obama to get more electric cars on the road is a big goal, but still only accounts for 1% of total fleet in America. Prius is an “early adapter vehicle” but considered mainstream.





Brief history:

This is not a new technology – Edison & Ford collaborated to produce affordable electric vehicle.

The discovery of abundances of oil accelerated the demand for the internal combustion engine.

Model T’s release in 1908 marked little hope for electric vehicles at the time.

Signaled growth, fueled economy but had negative consequences.

During the wars people were encouraged to drive less, share rides.

Economic costs of US oil dependence have been huge.

Now, every major auto maker in the world is planning to release an electric car of some kind.


On price:

The reduction in operational costs is the biggest feature of electric (not paying for fuel, about 1000 less moving parts).

Tax credits – federal and some in-state are available.

Batteries have 10 year warranties, are still useful after the car itself is retired, can be used for other purposes.



Range is a concern – not knowing what charging will be available. There are a lot of cities (Austin is one) that are wanting to be leaders in getting cities “EV ready”.

Data is being collected on charging stations to see how they are used, etc.

Tesla Model S can go up to 300 miles on pure electric, most people don’t drive more than 40 miles a day, anyway.

Charge time is a huge owner concern, not where to charge but how long it will take. “Fast chargers” are available, but not being implemented so much right now.

Most people are charging at home, there needs to be more workplace charging, less public charging (i.e. at rest stops or gas stations where people won’t stay for 5 hours).

Raleigh NC is a good example of a city holding events and educating people.

San Francisco is the most progressive in the US due to the progressive population, progressive utilities, and partly because Tesla is based there.



Argument: Are we replacing oil with a coal plant? In coal city WV the CO2 emissions are still less for an electric vehicle than gas, and coal plants are being retired so the grid is getting cleaner.

Since the grid demand is lower at night, it’s a perfect time to charge. In addition, windmills are more efficient at night.

Rare earth metals, plastic, etc. needed for EV: energy footprint is still 10x less in vehicle operation over it’s lifespan.

The grid:

Argument: that EVs are taxing the grid. Fact: 1M EVs = 1% increase in electricity. Adjusting charge times to off-peak hours will help balance the grid.

Smart grid, utility incentives, etc. are emerging, people need to get used to a different relationship with their utility where they may use apps or get texts, etc. in order to maximize their energy efficiency.

Battery-swapping is another idea where batteries are stored and you exchange your low batteries for full ones. Automakers need to build the cars to be compatible with this, Tesla is the only one doing that option right now.

Many new technologies on the horizon that will change the game.



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