“No one can stop an idea whose time has come.”

Victor Hugo

Electric Cars: The Electrical Market Shocker

But has the time for electric cars come? And, are they a disruptive technology or a progressive development? These questions merit analysis of electric cars’ pros and cons.

For one, electric vehicles (EVs) emit less or zero greenhouse gases (GHGs), a prime advantage when Global Warming and Climate Change are signaling the loud ticking of Planet Earth’s ecological clock.

Tesla Model 3
Tesla Model 3

Plus, the quantum of oil-gas reserves will be exceedingly uncertain as these fossil fuels deplete rapidly. Unpredictability will stoke up speculation, triggering massive price swings on either side. EVs are more necessary than we think.

Necessary, yes! But has EV technology reached sufficient development levels? What will be the overall ramifications of EVs on the larger economy? They sure sound like disruptive innovation, but will they be creatively destructive?

Electric Car Technology

Electric vehicles (EVs) use different amounts of electricity for propulsion:

  1. Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs): use only electricity without gasoline (petrol) or diesel engine (henceforth called internal combustion or IC engines)
  2. Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs): also called Extended-Range Electric Vehicles (EREVs), these employ both battery electricity and IC engine. You can charge their batteries by plugging-in them to external electric sources. Regenerative braking also charges their batteries
  3. Hybrid Electric Vehicles (HEVs) utilize battery and IC engine, but the battery is charged only via regenerative braking. IC engine supplements battery power only when loading and speed rise

There are also Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles (FCEVs) which generate electricity by mixing hydrogen and oxygen. Water and heat are the by-products. FCEVs use hydrogen fuel, which they combine with oxygen absorbed from the air.

Regenerative Braking benefits from the reverse motor operation. Electric motors running in reverse generate electricity. Braking slows the EV, running the motor backward. The created electricity is stored and used to propel the car forward.

EVgo provides a comprehensive list of electric vehicles:

Types of Electric Cars

Types of Electric Cars
Types of Electric Cars

Chargers for EV can be:

  • Level 1: utilize 12-volt supply to charge batteries in 8 hours to cover 75-80 miles
  • Level 2: take 4 hours to charge a battery for 75-80 miles distance using 24-volt supply. These are available at public charging points and offices
  • Level 3 or DC Fast Chargers: are found at special charging stations and take 30 minutes to charge an EV battery for running up to 90 miles

Electric Cars: Pros & Cons

Chief pros of EVs:

  1. Eco-friendly: because they don’t burn fossil fuels. And because electric motors convert battery power into vehicle movement more efficiently than IC engines do use fuel power. How much emissions they cut depends on the source of charging electricity:
    • BEVs charged from dirty electricity still emit less than conventional vehicles
    • FCEVs utilizing hydrogen made using dirtiest electricity are yet 30 percent cleaner than IC engine vehicles. Plus, their range and refueling are similar to the latter.
  2. Economical: greater energy efficiency means BEVs save about $1000 per year compared to gasoline vehicles. BEVs shut down automatically when idling to cut energy wastage. Regenerative braking also saves energy
  3. Quieter and Smoother with Fast Acceleration: because electric motors deliver torque faster than IC engines do. Smoother acceleration means less discomfort in typical start-stop city conditions

Tesla is looking to extend the life of EVs to 1 million miles – about 7 times of IC engine vehicles.

Limiting factors at present:

  • Battery Technology Restricts Range
  • Charging Infrastructure Deficit
  • Massive Investments vis-a-vis IC Engine Vehicles

A 2012 study by the US Department of Energy (DoE) concluded that EVs will be commercially viable only when their:

  • production cost takes a 88% dip; and
  • battery power density doubles.

Lithium-ion batteries offer a limited range. For EVs to displace IC engine cars, they need a 200-mile range with under $35,000 price tags. Interestingly, electric cars existed towards the end of the 19th century. It was the longer range of IC engines cars that sidelined them.

The Disruptive Creativity of Electric Cars

Joseph Schumpeter, in 1942, coined the term Creative Destruction – process and product innovations which destroy old ones and create a new order by boosting productivity and reallocating resources.

Thomas Parker’s Electric Car in 1895
Thomas Parker’s Electric Car in 1895

Clayton Christiansen’s 1997 book The Innovator’s Dilemma first used the term Disruptive Innovation – technology that creates a new product or business model by challenging established market players and practices.

While creative destruction captures the overall transition, disruptive innovation focuses on the technological aspect. Government subsidies and fall in battery prices will primarily determine the demand for and disruption by EVs.

And with the specter of ecological catastrophe looming large, governments are doing their bit:

  • Electric Vehicles Initiative (EVI) is an International Energy Agency (IEA)-coordinated measure set up by the Clean Energy Ministerial (CEM) in 2010 to have minimum 30% EVs in all new vehicle sales by 2030
  • The Chinese government is aiming for 20% EV (BEV and PHEV) penetration by 2025
  • Europe may have 25% light EVs (BEVs and PHEVs) by 2025, and the U.S. about 10%

Speaking of disruption:

  • Mega Losers will be the Automotive Sector, Oil-Gas Refiners and Producers, and Gas/Refuelling Stations
  • Big Winners will include Power Utilities as well as Miners of Lithium, Cobalt, Copper, or Nickel

Roaring demand for electricity will spell boom for power utilities as also for companies mining metals required for EVs. Demand for IC engine vehicles and fossil fuels will plummet.

Even if gas stations remodel to electric charging points, few would wait for hours to recharge for another 200-odd mile. Most owners will charge their EVs overnight at home.

Charging stations along busy, intercity routes and those besides long distance tracks will thrive, particularly if they offer specific fleet maintenance services for brakes, tires, and batteries. Motor inns and hotels will need to develop charging infrastructure.

Such disruption is not a foregone conclusion though. Joe Barkai explains why:

  • Players targeting to rattle markets need complete insights into technology, customer maturity, capacity and willingness of markets to change, and the model and ecosystem of business
  • Market resistance can create roadblocks for disruptive innovation
  • Established market players with massive finances and robust networks are not easy to replace, particularly in engineering where innovation matures at snail’s pace
  • Getting to and staying on the top with disruptive technology requires tons of patience, funds, and publicity

Final Analysis

Most innovations start slow. Eventually, there comes a tipping point when they gather critical mass and move onto a high growth trajectory. Often, disruptions are creative. Computers were the dreaded job killers back in the 1970s. Today, they are an essential commodity!

Indrajeetsinh Yadav @ Falcon Words has authored this article. Do write to us at info@falconwords.com or or call us at +91-9822052945 for effective content on Engineering-Technology, Environment, Finance-Economics, Academic topics, and History. Also on offer are eyeball-grabbing Resume-Cover Letters, Web and Social Media content, and Personal Statements.

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