Disruptive EV Technology

I believe by 2020 the majority of new automobiles sold in the United States will be electrified. In 2014 I would consider the current crop of electric cars available for sale and lease are experimental in nature. Current battery technology does not offer densities capable of providing low cost, extended range. Promising new technology is coming along that may more than triple the energy densities over today's Lithium Ion batteries. In the coming years automakers are expect to release electric cars with more than 200 miles of driving range, that are capable of recharging under an hour, and will be sold for under $35,000. When this happens the internal combustion car will be judged obsolete.

The shaded area shows a 200 mile radius around my home in Santa Clarita.

The main reason electric cars will overtake gasoline cars is the low operating cost. For example, a 25 mpg gasoline car will drive 200 miles at a cost of around $25. A similar sized battery powered car will travel the same distance for less than $4 in electricity. It is also hard to ignore the performance benefits of electric cars over their gasoline powered counterparts. Electric cars are quieter, faster to accelerate faster than internal combustion automobiles.

As a professional Land Use Planner I often ponder how electric cars will change the land use landscape around us. As part of my day job I regularly review land use applications for gasoline stations. I have had the opportunity to discuss the fueling station business with various owners and universally they are all oblivious to the coming electric car threat. It is human nature to ignore the coming threat that new technology offers.

Many people believe that the current gas station model will survive into the electric vehicle era. I have heard it stated that as electric car penetration increases, existing gas stations will install fast charging stations so that drivers will now be pumping electrons into their cars instead of liquid gasoline. I hate to be a sourpuss, but it is not go going to go down this way. With electric cars every house already has a fueling station called an electrical outlet. A basic 120 volt 15 amp circuit will add 3-5 miles of range each hour. An overnight charge will provide enough top off to keep the car charged. For about $1500 a homeowner can install a 240 volt charging station that will triple or quadruple the charge speed. Think that is a lot of money? It is not much different than the extra cost options most people buy their cars with these days. Things like leather seats, upgraded stereo, gps, heated seats add thousands of dollars into the base price of cars. Buyers don't seem too concerned about

If your car is capable of driving 200 miles with a single charge, then how often will most drivers exceed this during a particular day? Based on statistics by General Motors there would be very few days this will occur. At the end of the day most drivers will plug in their car and charge overnight while they sleep. This enables the driver to start each day with a full charge. Using this scenario a driver will only visit a public battery refueling station when they travel beyond the range of the automobile.

So what is a driver to do if they intend to exceed the car's range? That is where fast charge stations come into the picture. Standard 240 volt electric car charging stations typically add 25-30 miles each hour. This is not conducive for traveling as few people will want to hang out at charging station for seven hours waiting to gain a full charge so they can drive another 200 miles.

We currently have fast charge technology that allows for a extremely high amperage direct current to be pumped into the battery, enabling a car to be nearly fully charged in 30 minutes. While not as fast as the 5 minute gasoline pit stop, I wouldn't consider 30 minutes unworkable But where would you find these high speed fueling stations?

Most people will charge at home so there won't be a whole lot of business to justify these stations away from major metropolitan connecting highways. Installation costs for a single fast charge station exceed $100,000. With this high cost there isn't a great enough return for an owner to develop a station that might see a few recharges a day.

According to consumer reports the average lifespan of a gasoline powered automobile is 8 years or 150,000 miles. Assuming that half of automobiles sold in 2020 are electrified we can expect that by 2030 gasoline stations will have a 25% decline in business. Within a few years as gasoline auto sales continue to decline we will see the decline accelerate.

While gas stations near major highway arteries may be repurposed to electric charging facilities, I would expect up three quarters of gasoline stations to close up by 2035. There just won't be demand for the liquid fuels anymore.

Corner fueling stations like this might be out of business by the middle 2030's.

By the early 2020's I expect to see a new fueling station model appearing along highways connecting metropolitan areas. These stations will be capable of charging perhaps 200 cars at any given time. They will have large parking lots with solar canopies to keep the cars shaded during hot and rainy weather, while feeding electricity to the operation. In some respects these stations resemble highway rest stops with picnic areas, restrooms, and food establishments so customers have something to do while their cars charge.

The high voltage DC power required to supply these massive facilities will require a sizable grid connection. These stations could possibly be placed in rural areas where land is inexpensive, thus allowing for the electricity farming. Perhaps the facility could have acres of solar voltaic and wind turbines to feed into the system. Surplus energy generation could be fed back into the grid.

Taking the project a step forward, the station could vary prices depending upon the market value of electricity at given times of the day. Visiting the station during off peak hours might result in a discounted electricity price, while filling up during the day will be more expensive. Stations could encourage off-peak travel to better utilize their facilities bydiscounting electricity during the overnight hours.

This gasoline station along I-5 in Southern California might potentially survive the transition by changing its gas pumps to high speed car chargers.

Hotels and motor inns along travel routes will also be forced to upgrade their electrical infrastructure to support electric vehicles. Electric car owners will be looking for properties that offer overnight charging for their guests. A standard charge station should be able to fully charge a car completely in nine hours.

Lets take a look at a hypothetical trip between my home in Santa Clarita, California and Walnut Creek, California. The distance of 344 miles passes over a mountain range and up California's flat Central Valley. Although my hypothetical car has a range of 200 miles, range anxiety will lead me to recharge two times en route to my destination.

Charging stop locations we will be making on our fictional drive in the future.

Leaving Santa Clarita we ascend the Sierra Pelona Mountains almost 5000 feet to Tejon Summit. While the distance over the range to the Central Valley is only 55 miles, I expect to use half the car's range getting over them. For this reason I will stop in Tejon Ranch at the mouth of the Central Valley for a top off charge. Since my battery will be half empty I expect the recharge to only take about 30 minutes.

After Tejon Ranch I would drive another 123 miles to Harris Ranch near Coalinga. The run is flat and straight and I expect to use perhaps 3/4 of my charge driving at a speed of 70 mph. At Harris Ranch I plug in 45 minutes and enjoy lunch at the restaurant. While the car would have had 50 miles of range remaining before the charge, there isn't much civilization beyond Harris Ranch for another hundred miles.

The final leg of the journey is 166 miles to my destination in Walnut Creek. In Walnut Creek I will be visiting a relative that happens to have an electric car and I will partially recharge at his house, and finish charging at my hotel so I have a full battery for the return.

This scenario is already possible with a Tesla Model S sedan. In fact, the company has installed Supercharge locations in the same places as these are logical stops for travelers. I suspect that these very locations will become the sites of other competing charge networks.

While the owners of Tesla's can already make this electric trek, I do not consider the Model S disruptive technology. By the time you add in tax and licensing you are looking at over $90,000 for the car. A disruptive electric car would have to be set at a price the same as an internal combustion car to make an impact.