By Sandor Alejandro Gerendas-Kiss
Published on November 13, 2017
A crisis of faith
Somebody who has been writing about environmental issues for more than a decade may have a moment of deep doubt, something like that believer who has ever felt that God has turned away from him so much that he even thinks that the Creator does not exist. He suffers a crisis of faith, but like every crisis, he passes away and then he believes again. It happened to me specifically with the Paris Agreement, whose extensive body I read, and at the end I experienced that moment of loss of faith. It seemed too theoretical, too extensive, too complicated to put into practice, and I considered the complex and delicate maneuver necessary to bring it to a successful conclusion. But my crisis was diluted as I saw that the practice was overcoming the letter of that heavy compendium and was getting closer and closer to his spirit. This is very important to keep in mind.
Within a silent world
When an environmentalist or an activist of Earth goes deep into the subject of the electric car, lands in a world that leaves him pleasantly surprised, by all that has been done and the plans that exist in this important field of the struggle against the climate change. The electromobility goes in the same direction prescribed by the Paris Agreement, since it is based on the drastic reduction of the emission of greenhouse gases (GHG) and the substitution of clean energies. The silent and decarbonized electric car is the hope of cities without smog and a world without noise or gases that increase global warming. For this reason, it is very gratifying to appreciate the determination that exists in the automotive industry to carry out the great transformation, as defined by a representative of General Motors: “there will be more changes in the automotive sector in the next five or ten years than in the last fifty”.
An electric car is a vehicle powered by an engine that uses electrical energy stored in a rechargeable battery. It has a high performance in the transformation of electrical energy into mechanical energy, compared to the performance of cars moved with gasoline, and a weight power ratio much better than traditional. While it is true that these cars are still more expensive, BMW President Harald Krüger is optimistic that the learning curve will lower costs in the future. Its forecast is for 2020, a year that, according to him, these vehicles will be increasingly cheaper until they are equated with those of internal combustion.
Gasoline cars have an expiration date
Companies are clearly determined to replace gasoline-powered cars with cars powered by electricity. Volkswagen (VW) plans to place 25% of electric vehicles by 2020 and 50% by 2030. By 2025 Volvo aims to produce 20% and Mercedes Benz between 20% and 25%. Also some countries have a strong determination to make the big jump to the electric car. Norway has indicated as a deadline to prohibit the transit of internal combustion engines by 2025, France, 2040 and other countries such as India, Germany and Great Britain are studying the issue and will soon give their dates. The global top year for the elimination of GHG emitting vehicles is 2050, to comply with the provisions of the Paris Agreement.
The hope to overcome global warming
If we can replace traditional cars with electric cars we will have won an important battle in favor of life on Earth. As more electric cars are added to the planet’s traffic, global warming will be mitigated, and consequently, climate change, since GHG emissions are largely due to automobile traffic. For all this, the topic of the electric car should not be seen as a one more theme, but “the theme”, for everything it represents and all the time that will mark from now and for the next 33 years.
Already in the nineteenth century there were electric cars
Going back a little over the history of electric mobility, we moved back about 130 years to know that the first functional electric cars were created in the 1880s, and they became popular until the beginning of the 20th century, when internal combustion engines appeared, the automatic starts, and the production in series began by means of the assembly lines introduced by Ford, which cheapened the cars considerably and removed the electric cars from the market. Many years passed, until the oil crisis of 1973 revived interest in electric motors, due to concerns about the increase in the price of oil and the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The first electric car was picked up and destroyed
The EV1 was the first modern electric car to be launched on the market. Assembled in the United States by General Motors, its production reached 1,117 units from 1996 until the program was canceled in 2002 and the vehicles were completely removed from the market by GM, between 2003 and 2004. Most of the EV1’s were destroyed and others donated to museums. The company considered its production unviable, citing little autonomy, recharge time, battery prices, lack of infrastructure, and little acceptance from the public.
Tesla emerged from the ashes of the EV1
The modern history of the electric car begins with the creation of Tesla Motor, today Tesla Inc., and is closely related to the cancellation of GM’s EV1 program, since the high-tech company AC Propulsion, was the one that designed and built the regulator for GM., which served as the basis for the development of the EV-1. In those times AC Propulsion had two work teams in an electric prototype called T-Zero. In one were Martin Eberhard, Marc Tarpenning and Ian Wright, and in the other Elon Musk and JB Straubel. But as both groups were left hanging by the decision of GM, Tom Gage, president of AC Propulsion, proposed that the teams join efforts and continue their developments. This is how Elon Musk, JB Straubel and Martin Eberhard came together to found Tesla Motors, which takes its name from Nikola Tesla (1856-1943), an outstanding inventor of his time.
A world leader, very little known
It is important to note that AC Propulsion Inc., founded in 1992, in California, by Alan Cocconi and Wally Rippel, “specializes in current-based alternate transmission systems for electric vehicles. Its purpose is the development, manufacture, and licensing of its technological systems and components for electric vehicles. Since its foundation, AC Propulsion has positioned itself as a world leader in this sector.” Its founder and president, Alan Cocconi, graduated in engineering from the California Institute of Technology. As an engineering consultant, he developed tracking and solar capture systems for the GM SunRaycer that won the World Solar Challenge Award, 1987, Australia, created for solar powered vehicles.
A company born to fight global warming
Tesla Motors was created in 2003, with headquarters in Silicon Valley, name given to the southern area of the Bay of San Francisco, northern California, United States. Tesla established itself as a mission to accelerate the transition to sustainable transport, combat global warming and deaths from smog caused by motor transport. Among its principles had as a priority to demonstrate that you could make electric cars in small series, high performance and dismantle the myth that electric vehicles were slow, heavy, ugly and with little autonomy. And in truth that was the perception that was had in those early years of electric cars: a slow toy that could never compete with internal combustion cars.
Tesla Roadster, first electric car that was taken seriously
Tesla produces electric cars, batteries and other components for its vehicles, but also provides parts and technology for other brands, including Daimler and Toyota. The first car to go on sale at the Tesla plant was the Roadster, in 2008, a fully electric sports car, the first mass produced car that uses lithium-ion batteries with autonomy of more than 200 miles (322 km) per load. The base model accelerates from 0 to 60 miles per hour (97 km / h) in 3.9 seconds. With these features Tesla achieved its goal and caused a great impact on the public. The company had the merit of capturing the attention of people for the first time to the electric car and getting it to believe in the possibility of its success. The prototype of the Roadster was the cover of the year of Time magazine, in 2006. The annual production was only 500 units. But the star of the manufacturer would be the Tesla Model S, which started its sales in 2012. It has the highest autonomy in the market. Using a 100 kWh battery, it can run without recharging up to 539 km or 335 miles. Between 2012 and July 2017 its sales reached about 185,000 units. In 2013 it was declared “Green Car” of the year.
A successful alliance
Renault, Nissan and Mitsubishi, through an unprecedented and bold operation became strategic partners in 1999. The Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance controls ten major brands, including: Renault, Nissan, Mitsubishi and Lada. The Alliance sells more than 10% of the world’s total cars. As of December 2016, it is the world leader in plug-in cars, with sales of almost 425,000 pure electric vehicles, between 2010 and 2017. The Nissan Leaf is the best-selling electric car in the world, with more than 300,000 units delivered from 2010 to September 2017. Nissan already presented the second generation of the Leaf through its model 2018.
And how many are rolling around there?
Leaving history behind, the question that remains is: how many electric cars circulate around the world? Giving an exact figure is not easy. The data with which we must stay is that, despite the production boom, the number of units still hovers around 1% of the total number of vehicles in the world. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), already two years ago, at the end of 2015 it was possible to reach the figure of one million cars between electric and hybrid vehicles, powered by electric and gasoline engines at the same time. According to the IEA, as of 2016, 648,770 electric cars were circulating on China’s roads, which has made it the holder of the largest number of vehicles of this type. By May 2016 Europe was registering half a million electric passenger cars. The IEA has determined that, to comply with the commitments made through the Paris Agreement in the fight against climate change, it is necessary to reach 600 million units by 2050.
The future of the electric car is unstoppable
If we consider this astronomical figure, we conclude that it is no small thing to try to leave behind hundreds of millions of vehicles moved by fossil fuels, to replace them in a third of a century by cars powered by electricity. But already the marathon has begun, and with good force, sign that the future of the electric car is unstoppable, as well as the fight against the global warming of our kind planet Earth. This is demonstrated by most manufacturers and many countries. Unit production is on the rise, as is the desire to restrict the use of cars that emit greenhouse gases (GHGs). We can check it using the following table.
Countries with the largest number of electric cars 2015-2016
Table by: Sandor Alejandro Gerendas-Kiss
Hybrid cars not included
Fewer parts, less repairs
Regarding the maintenance cost of an electric car, it is considerably less than that of an internal combustion engine, starting with the price of electric power, which is cheaper than gasoline. With no gearbox, clutch, spark plugs, nozzles, fuel filters, exhaust pipes, mufflers and many other moving parts and fixed parts, there are fewer repairs to make. The obstacles that could threaten its low cost is that the rapid growth of the electric vehicle fleet could affect the price of batteries due to the high demand of lithium and cobalt. About the current price of an electric car, you can see the following table:
Base prices of some electric vehicles
Table by: Sandor Alejandro Gerendas-Kiss
Hybrid cars not included
Autonomy, there is the question
About the autonomy of an electric vehicle, a primary factor to consider when deciding the migration to the new system, depends on the model of the car and the characteristics of the battery. With the lithium batteries it is possible to reach an autonomy close to 124 miles (200 km). With some technologies that have begun to be applied, the distance between recharges can reach 190 miles (300 km) and up to 310 miles (500 km). Batteries with more than 250 miles (400 km) of autonomy are expensive and the recharge time can reach about nine hours at home, which can be reduced to two hours at public recharging points. To avoid the waiting time, in some places the discharged batteries are exchanged for those charged in advance. About charging points, the German company BMW claims to offer 70,000 stations in 29 countries. On the other hand, they are planning to create a European network of fast freight on highways. But there is still much to do and invest in this matter to be able to meet the high demand that is forecast for the coming years. On the other hand, the Chinese government announced that it will build recharging points for five million electric cars by 2020.
And who is going to generate so much electricity?
At this point, the question is: could environmental problems increase with the increase in electric power generation? To begin, we must remember that the production of electricity with traditional methods is being replaced by wind energy, a source of clean energy generation, and one of the most push is having in the world along with solar energy. The next question that arises is whether there will be enough capacity and space to place the number of windmills and electric cells that will be needed to power the batteries of the estimated 600 million electric vehicles by 2050, if what class of vehicles or transportation systems can be predicted that we will be using within 33 years. If the wind or solar energy will not be enough, perhaps it will be necessary to continue resorting, at least in part, to hydroelectric power.
Avoid the generation of hydroelectric power
The environmental problems inherent in the generation of hydroelectric power are important and cover several aspects: in the construction of new dams enormous areas of land are flooded, and complex ecosystems are annihilated, affecting, in addition, the flora and fauna of large surrounding regions flooded, due to the invasion of the fauna that manages to escape from the flood. As for rivers, water flow conditions are altered, and fish migration routes are blocked, preventing spawning. To place the long stretches of electricity transportation, it is necessary to cut trees and deforest long stretches of forests, jungles and other lands. This, in addition to damaging vegetation, affects migration routes of fauna, causes soil erosion and facilitates human access to previously isolated sites. Finally, in certain cases, the electricity used to recharge the batteries is obtained by polluting raw materials such as coal.
What will happen to people who cannot change their combustion car for an electric one?
Time will tell if the countries will include subsidies to low-income individuals for the exchange of traditional vehicles for electric vehicles. Currently there is an excellent example to consider, such as Norway, the most advanced country on the planet to adopt the covenants included in the Paris Agreement. The Nordic country is changing its vehicle fleet very quickly. The secret is that the Norwegian government offers subsidies for the purchase of electric cars, as well as tax incentives such as exempting the taxes that are levied on car sales, which is not economical in Europe. These cars do not pay tolls and can park for free, as well as travel free of charge by ferries crossing the fjords. On the other hand, the French Minister of the Environment, Nicolás Hulot, announced that there will be assistance to low-income people who decide to get rid of their current vehicle and buy an electric one, a kind of aid for the transition to clean energy. Hulot is creator and president of the “Nicolas Hulot Foundation for Nature and Man”, an environmental entity created in 1990.
But we must also consider that the electric car, to the extent that the production of cars is accelerated, will open a giant market and a new business opportunity, which will be joined by more brands and models that will fight to the death to capture to the buyer through aggressive marketing and sales strategies. Surely we will see initial quotas close to zero, low interest and deadlines to pay increasingly longer, which will make easier access to electric mobility.
What will happen to countries that do not have the capacity to generate enough electricity?
The Green Climate Fund, an entity included in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, created at the end of 2011 to help developing countries in their needs for adaptation and mitigation, as would be the case of the generation of clean electricity, will have $ 100 billion per year for such purposes, although the way to collect these resources is still under discussion.
A final acknowledgment to Elon Reeve Musk
(Pretoria, South Africa, June 28, 1971), inventor and entrepreneur from South Africa, as well as being the co-founder of Tesla Motors, it is also from PayPal, SpaceX, Hyperloop, SolarCity, The Boring Company and OpenAI. Musk says that the purposes of SolarCity, Tesla and SpaceX revolve around his vision of changing the world dramatically. Among its goals is to stop global warming by abandoning fossil fuels by renewable energy, especially solar energy.
Elon Musk, maybe in the future we could see him inscribed in the same album where are the photos of Bill Gate, Steve Jobb, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Mark Szuckemberg, Jeff Bessos, Jimbo Wales and Larry Sanger, and why not, Walt Disney, pioneer of the visionary pioneers of the twentieth century who managed to install their exclusive commercial premises on the main street of this global village called Earth. Like them, Musk has had to travel through a dark sea with intermittent periods of good weather, but that has finally allowed them to sail forward and bequeath their contributions of ingenuity to create a new world that has completely transformed the life of humanity, as nobody could have imagined half a century ago, and whose outcome is still unpredictable, and we hope that Steven Hawkings this time is wrong in his predictions.
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