Innovating the Electric Car

A recent study conducted by a low carbon vehicle advocacy group concluded that electric and hybrid cars create more carbon emissions during their production processes than those of their gasoline powered counterparts. Ultimately, however, the overall lifetime carbon footprint of a hybrid or electric vehicle, assuming it travels more than 80,000 miles in its life span, pulls steadily ahead of a gas-powered vehicle, making the long term environmental advantages of electric technology more viable.

Unfortunately, a shift to electric spawns a range of new problems, and an array of uncomfortable truths regarding electric cars' current impact on the world. This makes the reality of what, to some, sounds like a simple issue of unburdening ourselves of our addiction to oil vastly more complex than many realize. Added to this, most of these uncomfortable truths about the 'electric model' are wielded confidently by oil interests and free market advocates in an attempt to deflate enthusiasm for electric technology entirely.

Current electric vehicles face a range of limitations related to the time and energy it takes to charge a single battery, and the somewhat short distance that can be traveled on said charge. It takes some time for a hybrid or electric car to 'make itself useful,' so to speak, either in regards to its overall carbon footprint, or its practicality and usefulness for the consumer.

Acquiring raw materials necessary for the unabated manufacturing of these batteries creates geopolitical burdens around mineral acquisition. The high cost of manufacturing and recycling batteries is another problem. There is also the unavoidable financial and environmental cost of replacing an electric car's lithium battery numerous times during a car's life cycle. This creates an added financial burden for the consumer, only offset by tax incentives and discounts decided upon by participating companies and communities, and subject to change. Replacement batteries for electric vehicles can cost upwards of several thousand dollars, creating an added impact.

What we see trending with the emergence of this new technology, as with any technology meant to upset an old model, is an influx of new challenges that, in some ways, usurp the old ones. This is the innate curse of innovation. Every step forward meant to tear down the old way often creates new complications and costs that complicate the industry, and make everything more burdensome and expensive. I work in the innovation industry, and I know first-hand that new ideas are the toughest to introduce. Not only is the burden of proving the novelty of a new idea tougher than ever, it requires the most paperwork, and the most syncopation with the communities the idea will impact.

Despite inconvenient truths about electric cars, we must embrace the technology. The electric car, while far from new, has taken bold, unprecedented steps in recent years. Critics laugh at this assertion, and point to a hundred years worth of back and forth flirtation with the idea, a flirtation that led to nothing, time and time again. They will tell you that each time, the excitement of innovation hit the brick wall of reality, cost, and technology. What sounded like a great idea suddenly made no sense whatsoever. Critics are not entirely wrong on this point, but it is not the whole story. We are innovating all the time. The industry is not static. Not only that, but there is a priority shift in our culture now that we have not experienced before, when it comes to the specific issue of oil dependence. The need to relieve that dependence, along with some bold investment, has opened the door a crack and allowed the auto industry to mass market electric vehicles formerly constrained to trade shows.

Innovation will eventually shift the burdensome realities that the electric car faces. In time, given the proper allocation of resources, we can 'build a better battery.' In time, given the proper priority shifts, we can endure the hiccups of an imperfect, costly and environmentally unfriendly production system and come up with something greater. Right now, things are far from perfect. Our infrastructure is not ready for the change. Many communities have not made the necessary adjustments. That does not mean we should abandon our efforts.

We still have a long way to go. Right now, the hard statistics don't tip the odds in regards to price, carbon footprint, or convenience. Electric cars' superiority is debatable. There is still a lot of work to be done. We may ride through generations of early adopters before electric car owners began to feel an immediate advantage in owning one. The one advantage they have now is the satisfaction of knowing their participation gives the green light to innovation that will make the electric car a true force to be reckoned with when we need it the most.


Popular Posts