Our Everlasting Struggles at the Pump

Introduction

So many of us have experienced the agonizing feeling of watching our bill soar skyward as we seek simply to fill up our gas tanks. Gas prices have seen a twelve percent increase in the last year and have quadrupled over the past thirteen years. And the demand for this precious resource only looks to be increasing; mega-developing nation China forecasts their demand for petroleum to increase five percent this year alone [1]. What can be done about this?

Solutions
To reduce our extreme dependence on such a very limited resource, many have placed faith on a very simple solution: stop using it so much. The best way to do this in many minds is to develop a practical electric car that can be used in place of gas-based vehicles. Recently, electric vehicles have seen an explosion of development, hindered only by the perception of price as compared to gas. Yet the Department of Energy’s Vehicle Technologies Office predicts that the cost of making lithium-ion batteries will drop dramatically, from $800 per kWh today to nearly $300 by 2015 [2]. This cost drop could result in electric cars becoming a cheaper option than the cars we utilize today.

Another issue haunting current electric car supporters is how far they can drive without having to stop to plug in. Lithium-ion batteries have seen a recent world record setting with a 400 watt-hour/kilogram battery, which results in a 300 mile range compared to the current 80-100 mile range seen today [3]. But how to manage these swarms of cars all thirsting for electricity at once? For a successful climb to prominence, the electric vehicle must also be able to charge up seamlessly. Development of the energy grid and smart interactions between the grid and the vehicle are paramount to the success of the electric car. Projections indicate that cars will be able to coordinate across the grid and communicates with the grid to charge based on a schedule that will reduce price and increase efficiency [4]. When factored together, these multiple developments and projections should yield a practical electric vehicle for many people to rely on for years to come.

Conclusion
The development of Electric Cars promises to be a feasible option to relieve our petroleum dependence. While several issues still face its viability, trends indicate that before long the technology will catch up and that Electric Vehicles will be a tremendous part of our future.

References
[1] http://www.forbes.com/sites/johndobosz/2012/02/20/blame-iran-and-china-for-rising-gas-prices/
[2] http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=tale-of-two-us-electric-car-companies&page=2
[3] http://venturebeat.com/2012/02/26/envia-world-record-battery/
[4] http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/02/23/idUS114748+23-Feb-2012+HUG20120223

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Our Everlasting Struggles at the Pump

  1. rachelmarie88

    I agree with your post how the continual increase in gas prices is driving the demand for alternative fuel sources. You also make a good argument for electric vehicles which is definitely one solution to this transportation problem. While gas prices are busting wallets, electric cars reduce the energy cost per mile that EV owners have to pay for fuel; the U.S. Department of Energy provides a nice chart which shows this difference between the energy cost per mile for electric and gasoline fueled cars here: http://avt.inel.gov/pdf/fsev/costs.pdf (2011, http://www.afdc.energy.gov/afdc/vehicles/electric_benefits.html). In addition, the advantages of electric vehicles over gasoline fueled vehicles would only increase if, like you mentioned, developments were made to the smart grid to improve the availability of recharging as well as the time spent on recharging. Luckily, there are other fuel alternatives such as hybrids, natural gas, air-powered, and flex fueled vehicles to also aid in lowering people’s dependence on petroleum for transportation. Though additional research and development still needs to be applied to each of these different alternative fuel vehicles, including electric vehicles, society benefits from their introduction into the market; we need to prepare ourselves for a future that will not have the resources to keep petroleum as a fuel source.

  2. lbissey

    I agree that the electric car is on the rise. I think another challenge limiting large scale use is the development of higher capacity electric SUVs and trucks, since the recent American trend has leaned towards these larger vehicles. You are right in that the cars still have a ways to go in price and range, and once these aspects are more attractive, I think the next step is sizing up. Should be interesting to see the advances!

  3. Diana Duann

    I agree that electric vehicles are playing an increasingly larger role in our society, and will continue to increase in prominence into the future. Seeing the looming concerns of our petroleum resource, our government has taken moves in public policy to move us towards less dependence on the limited resource. A measure that was passed to help this shift was the stimulus plan, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA). President Obama passed this plan to fuel research and development, and production. In part of the plan, Obama hopes to be able to have 1 million fully electric vehicles (EVs) to be on U.S. roads by 2015 [1]. With the government emphasizing on electric vehicles specifically, I can see that the technology of lithium-ion batteries in electric vehicles will allow EVs to become more commonly used than regular conventional vehicles in the future.

    I find the smart grid concept remarkable. It is being explored all over the world. Recently, in Ireland, the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) developed three energy roadmaps [4]. With the grid and smart interactions with the EVs, I can see the success of electric vehicles.

    I have found another source that has a similar but slightly higher estimated cost of battery costs in EVs. It is estimated that battery cost will decline to about $350/kWh by 2020 [2]. However, it is still a close value to the one estimated in the Scientific American article you found. Overall, it means that money fueled by ARRA will help to further the research and development of batteries in EVs [3]. If there are major research breakthroughs or if battery production increased significantly, economies of scale would push battery costs lower, allowing more affordability in EVs in the future. With these different developments in the field of EVs today, EVs will hold an increasing role of importance in our society in the future.

    [1] http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R41709.pdf
    [2] http://www.bnef.com/PressReleases/view/166
    [3] http://www.c2es.org/docUploads/ARRA-White-Paper.pdf
    [4] http://www.telecomengine.com/article/ireland-draws-smart-grid-electric-vehicle-roadmap

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