The real problem with electric cars

September 20 2012

Much has been written in the popular and technical press lately about the emerging electric vehicle, both pro and con. In spite of wishful thinking, don't expect significant penetration any time this decade. There is probably a role for EVs but it is not the widespread consumer market. Rather, it is more likely to be various fleet applications such as delivery vehicles or limited urban transit applications. For all but the most dedicated clean energy afficionados and hobbyists, or those who can afford a third vehicle, how many consumers can afford to pay the prices being charged for a vehicle with such limited capability? Most cannot. Second, there is still the issue that, in most places, the electricity used to recharge an EV will come predominantly from coal. So, the environmental benefits, at best, are muted. But, cost and performance aside, there is another difficulty with an electric transportation infrastructure that few seem to speak about. If you loved Big Oil, you will really love Big Monopoly Electric Utility extending its dominance to the transportation sector. Gasoline prices have at least been shown to be sufficiently elastic that they respond to consumer demand. And, within a limited range, consumers still have a choice of providers. Hence, there is at least some semblance of a free market at play -- even if it is an oligopoly. In contrast, a consumer's only choice for recharging that overpriced EV is the local monopoly utility and to pay whatever its regulator-approved rate is. Good luck there. So, there is a use for electro-motive transportation. It just isn't the one everyone is talking about.

Richard Mignogna, Ph.D., P.E.
Golden, Colorado

comments powered by Disqus