As we’ve seen with the Volt and other green initiatives, GM is working to promote sustainability with perhaps its latest project being enablement of recharging from renewable energy.
On Monday, OnStar Communications contacted us and announced Volt owners “may soon be able to charge their vehicle using renewable energy.”
The actual time frame is “to be determined,” but the kinks are being worked out by OnStar and a company called PJM Interconnection with 17 Chevrolet Volts operated by Google’s Gfleet.
The way it generally works is OnStar-enabled technology receives a signal from PJM Interconnection showing the percentage of available renewable energy on the grid.
Data from this forecast is downloaded to the OnStar cloud, or Advanced Telematics Operating Management System (ATOMS). OnStar uses this signal to simultaneously manage the charging of many Volts and to match the renewable energy availability.
OnStar says a mobile app could be used to alert customers when renewable energy is available.
Google’s Gfleet is based at the company’s headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., and as many of you know, Google is highly involved in other green projects and automotive experiments that include cars that drive themselves.
At the same time, Google is naturally willing to collaborate with real human drivers, as the species does not yet seem ready to go extinct.
The public demo fits with an announcement by Nick Pudar, OnStar vice president of planning and business development, who said it is nearly ready for prime time.
“This demonstration shows that in the near future customers will have a real signal of demand for renewable energy,” said Pudar. “As customers configure their Volts to favor renewable energy for their charging cycle, this real demand signal will influence utilities to tap into renewable sources.”
Note that Pudar says demand will prompt utilities to increase (now limited) renewable energy supply.
We asked Adam Dennison, an OnStar Communications representative who sent the info, “How hopeful are you that this will have a measurable or significant influence that it will push utilities to adopt more renewable energy sources?”
In response, he said “We think that as EVs continue to penetrate the marketplace that customers will drive a variety of demands throughout different industries. Certainly we believe that the energy industry will be one of these. Based on the level of interest a number of utilities have expressed in OnStar’s Smart Grid solutions, we are pretty confident that that they’ll be willing to look to more renewable energy sources.”
At present, peak hours for renewable energy generation from wind is generally between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. according to PJM data.
OnStar says it would therefore be possible for customers to use Smart Grid solutions to further reduce their carbon footprint and – as is already possible regardless of energy source – “save money by charging during these off-peak times.”
“Solutions like this one will ultimately lead to increased renewable energy generation and allow Chevrolet Volt owners to be a key part of that energy transformation,” said Pudar.
If the renewable energy service goes into production, customers interested in using it would need to sign up. Dennison did not say if it would cost extra or be made available with existing OnStar service.
Once signed up, OnStar would regulate customers’ charging using the renewable energy signal.
This video is not directly about the current project, but OnStar says it highlights an app it did for Google’s Gfleet of Volts.
OnStar says this renewable energy technology is the latest addition to its suite of Smart Grid solutions.
For your review, OnStar says it has developed other “intelligent energy management technology solutions,” including:
• Demand response – This solution connects utilities to companies that have intelligent energy management products. These companies can use OnStar to manage energy use for Volt customers who opt in for the service. This future service allows the customer to save money on energy costs while enabling more efficient use of the electric grid.
• Time-of-Use (TOU) rates – OnStar can receive dynamic TOU pricing from utilities and notify Volt owners of the rate plan offers via email. Owners will be able to use OnStar to load the rate plans directly into their vehicle and access them to schedule charging during lower-rate periods.
• Charging data – OnStar also sends and receives EV data that helps utility providers without having to interface with the vehicle’s electric vehicle supply equipment. This includes location-based EV data that identifies charging locations and determines potential load scenarios.
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Recently, GM announced a small investment in a company called Powermat. That company makes wireless device charging systems. Their current product allow users to place a receiver in the charge port of their device (cell phone, iPad, etc) and plug in the mat. If the device is rested on the mat, it is wirelessly charged.
The first automotive application expected to result from this partnership is an option for the 2012 Chevy Volt that will become available next year. It will be a wireless charging mat in the center of the console that drivers can rest their cellphones on while driving to have them wirelessly recharge.
The technology works through the use of induced magnetic fields:
Powermat uses magnetic induction to transfer energy. Specifically, energy is transferred from a transmitter (which will be embedded in vehicle) to a receiver (which is connected to or embedded in the device) through a shared magnetic field. Communication between the Mat (transmitter) and the Receiver (personal device) allows the mat to deliver an exact amount of power for the proper length of time so that the transfer of power is safe and efficient and no energy is ever wasted. When a device reaches full charge, power is shut off to that device. This not only saves energy, but it also prevents overcharging of the device’s battery, which can shorten battery life. -Powermat
This story begs the question as to whether this option could this be all the relationship is about? After all, GM Ventures is a VC unit that invests in small companies that may have big automotive futures.
Over the years there has often been talk and theoretical discussions about wirelessly charging not only small devices, but whole electric cars themselves.
The concept would be to have a large wireless mat in one’s garage, simply park on top of it, and the battery will recharge automatically.
Powermat spokesperson Scott Eisenstein admits his company is looking at how to charge large electric car batteries. “Yes, we are certainly looking into that,” he said.
Also according to Volt vehicle line executive Tony Posawazt, so is GM. “We are studying many exciting new technologies for the future, said Posawatz. “This includes wireless, hands-free inductive charging of the high voltage battery.”
As its on-sale date and production start approach, this week Chevrolet released more info on the 2017 Bolt EV which is a first in its class of next-generation electric cars.
Automakers are always looking for ways to amplify excitement for their products, and Chevrolet’s bite-sized revelations are a latest trend to tease a new product along in the public eye, but ultimately the car’s merits will have to speak for themselves.
General Motors said it made it a priority to fast track the first EV with over 200 miles range at a $30,000-after-subsidy price point, and to date it’s been so far so good for the merit count.
People interested in the car – or already pre-sold in their mind – are still anticipating when Chevrolet will open up ordering through its network of dealers who’ve signed on for this and other electrified vehicle sales, though it has started a new website for it.
Many other questions remain, but meanwhile here’s a list of 5 cool things about the 2017 Chevy Bolt
238 Miles Range
Chevrolet said the Bolt EV would provide “more than” 200 miles range, and its EPA estimate of 238 miles in combined city/highway driving is remarkable for the car with a 60-kWh battery which is the size that nominally comes also the base Tesla Model S.
Drivers accustomed to the tremendous energy stored in gasoline may not appreciate a whole 38 miles over the minimum 200-mile target but at this stage, it was a big jump. In contrast, the first 2011 Nissan Leaf came with 73 miles from its 24-kWh battery, and that started the current major manufacturer EV era. Nissan then upped this by 11 miles in 2013, and again by 23 miles in 2016.
To test whether the Bolt’s 238 miles was attainable, drivers from various media were sent on a 240-mile road trip from Monterey to Santa Barbara, Calif., and without recharging en route all completed it, with a few finishing with over 30 miles potential remaining on the Bolt’s range meter. Does that mean a careful driver might get 270 miles from a Bolt in slower driving? More?
While not being positioned as a mega-distance conveyance for traveling salesmen, or for long road trips, the Bolt EV has radically upped the range-comfort zone for those looking for zero emission city/suburban cars at this cost level. Many people may be able to go a few days between charging instead of the typical daily plug-in with today’s lower-range EVs.
Stupendous Energy Efficiency
Earlier this year GM’s engineers were brimming with pride for the efficiency of their powertrain, and this week’s revelation of estimated EPA MPGe numbers of 128 city and 110 proclaim that was not idle boasting.
Remarkable is the Bolt’s frontal area is larger than that of a Tesla Model S, yet the 60 kWh Model S is rated for 20 miles less range.
The larger, more-powerful Model S weighs much more which can’t help. And, the Model S may actually surpass the Bolt’s range with its superior aerodynamics at higher speeds than the EPA tests at, but preliminary test results from the aforementioned magazine drivers indicate the Bolt is not too shabby at all.
Respectable Speed and Performance
Although a city/suburban runabout designed to make the Prius look like a gas guzzler, the Bolt is being praised for satisfactory road handling and spritely acceleration from a stoplight – and on the highway.
Its 0-30 mph time from its 200 horsepower, 294-pounds-feet motor and single-speed transmission with two drive settings is as quick as 2.9 seconds, and its 0-60 is reportedly 6.5 seconds. Its 50-75 mph passing power speed is 4.5 seconds.
Top speed is only 91 mph, so it appears the emphasis was on legal performance, and thus usable get-up-and-go power.
As for cornering, the battery in floor lowers the center of gravity for the 3,580-pound hatchback to let it drive and feel normal – not boring. Low rolling resistance tires do not help the ultimate lateral acceleration g-force potential – though enterprising drivers willing to forego some efficiency may opt to change out to stickier aftermarket rubber.
Even as delivered however, while not a hot hatch by any stretch, nor likely to best what Tesla’s Model 3 is hoped to deliver, the Bolt should not disappoint.
Excellent Space Utilization
GM developed flat in-floor battery “skateboard” chassis in the 2000s ahead of others which used the concept first including Nissan, BMW, and Tesla, and now GM is using the smarter design in the five-passenger Bolt for maximized interior packaging.
A flat vehicle floor without obtrusive transmission tunnel or battery occupying valuable space is basically like a palette for designers to build the car of their ideals upon.
The automaker says its 16.9-cubic feet of cargo space tops that of the 16.6-cubic feet Honda Fit which itself is the next best thing to Dr. Who’s Tardis for being big on the inside while small on the outside.
Details like thin-frame seats also lend to the roominess in an interior with a mix of trendy but functional design elements.
Outside dimensions are 102.4-inch wheelbase, 164 inches long, 69.5 inches wide, 62.8 inches high. Its 94-cubic-feet of passenger space plus the 17-cubic-feet of cargo room add to 111 cubic feet which technically just makes the cut for mid-size by volume under EPA rules.
GM just says the car is two sizes bigger on the inside than it is on the outside.
Final pricing for the Bolt EV is not set although materials previously sent out by Chevrolet indicated $37,500 which would bring the car to $30,000 assuming a $7,500 federal tax credit. Potential state incentives also stand to reduce the outlay, as could in due time, dealer discounting.
Though not as easy on the eyes as is a sleek Tesla – in the estimate of many observers – the main takeaway here is the Bolt is as close as one comes today to a comparative steal in the range-for-dollar metric.
The 60-kWh Model S starts in the upper 60s, so if the objective is to have an electric car with maximum range, the Bolt could be had two for the price of one – though again, it is not being positioned against the Model S, or even the promised Model 3.
Actually, a more-even comparison for the Bolt would be to the Leaf, and other EVs in the sub-$40,000 range – and even a bit over that if including the BMW i3.
Compared to Leaf with the 107-miles range at just over $35,000 before incentives and discounts, the Bolt has more than doubled what the EV buying dollar can get in this echelon.
Nissan says it has a competitive second-generation Leaf in store but has not indicated when it will get here, and meanwhile 238-miles EPA rated range for the Bolt for $30,000 – or $37,500 MSRP – otherwise blows anything else in this league out of the water.
It’s a neat experience driving a quiet, smooth, high-tech pure electric car, and Chevrolet’s 2017 Volt provides this with no range or refueling drawbacks.
Uniquely, the car acts as a pure EV for all intents and purposes, but once its range – EPA-rated at 53 miles combined – runs out, it morphs into a 42 mpg hybrid able to be fueled at any gas pump.
If you really did not want to, you could even choose not to plug it in. That of course would defeat the purpose, but the idea is it’s intended to be a flexible and user-friendly car, and that it is.
Now in its seventh model year, the original “extended range electric vehicle” (EREV) and still only in its class, the Volt’s electric range towers above that of “blended” plug-in hybrids that mimic its formula albeit with only about half the Volt’s EV range at best.
Electric range is the primary reason why anyone would buy a plug-in hybrid in the first place. Compared to the Volt’s 53 miles, blended plug-in hybrids like the Ford Fusion Energi, C-Max Energi, Hyundai Sonata PHEV, Kia Optima PHEV, are really not in the same league. They are actually converted variants of conventional models, whereas the Volt is purpose made to be what it is.
It’s an odd trade-off though, because those midsized cars are more akin to one another in interior volume and electric range – 22 miles for the Fords, and 27 miles for the Kia and Hyundai – and so again, the compact Volt is in a class of one.
How so? It is not a blended plug-in hybrid, it is an EREV. Why does that matter? This is not an argument over semantics. People have bandied terms, and we take no stand other than to say the Volt is the only one that stays in EV mode all the way to top speed – 98 mph – and the gas engine stays off.
On the other hand, if one were to take any of the other blended PHEVs out for a drive and stomp on the go pedal do you know what happens? The gas engine kicks on.
What happens when you stomp on the accelerator with a Volt on its way to its claimed 8.4 second 0-60 speed in EV mode? The doubly sized battery digs deeper, and the car is able to stay in EV mode for full speed acceleration runs with zero emissions, and engine off.
Sure the others claim 0-60 in a 7-point something range, but they need gas to do it. In EV mode, a Fusion Energi is otherwise neck and neck with a Ford Pinto at 15 seconds.
Do you know what that means? Functionally, the Volt really is an electric car with extended range!
They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. To date, there are only imitators, and even the first-gen Volt’s 35-38 miles EV range is unmatched by blended competitors. The Volt is also the first plug-in car be fully revised.
It’s the only one that is quite like it though an odd exception also hard to pigeonhole is the BMW i3 REx which has a 2.4-gallon gas tank, and is speed and power limited in range-extended mode, especially up hills and on highways. All the others mentioned are as capable in gas or electrified mode, with zero drivability compromises, and as coast-to-coast capable as any conventional car.
Of them all, the Volt is the one most able to offer pure EV driving akin to that of a Nissan Leaf, BMW i3 BEV, Kia Soul EV, Tesla, etc.
The Volt can thus be just as much an EV as these dedicated all-electric EVs, and that’s good news for those wishing to curb petroleum and emissions. The U.S. Energy Department says more than 74 percent of drivers can meet their average driving needs with even less than the range the updated Volt provides. The Volt does something even the all-electric EVs don’t, however, in that while it’s an EV when you want it, it’s a hybrid when you need it.
What’s also neat for the wallet is it’s eligible for the same $7,500 federal tax credit full EVs get. This is more than the blended PHEVs are eligible for, as it’s pegged to battery size, and in cases where state incentives are available, the Volt edges them there too.
Obviously the Volt comes with its own set of pros and cons besides. It is its own uniquely styled car, and there’s more to buying a car than energy efficiency, but for folks looking for a bridge between gas and electric, this may be the best thing going.
Amazingly, no one has quite copied the formula. Amazingly also, there are a gazillion people out there who still don’t get this simple fact and pass it up in the showroom – though it is America’s best seller for what that’s worth in this yet-sub market.
Some say the Volt has had a blind spot hanging over it since originally introduced in 2011, with no thanks to all sorts of confusion and politics, rendering it essentially invisible to many buyers.
Whatever the reason, this review focuses on points we think have been somehow overlooked by many consumers – not just the “fans” and those who already “get it.”
Lots of people have said lots of things about the Volt, but most people we speak to think it looks handsome enough.
It does however have more than a passing resemblance to a much-cheaper Cruze. And, from some angles you see a hint of Honda, a pinch of Kia, and a dash of generic car du jour thrown in – and the car has “braces,” as in the silver grille.
On the plus side the car is like an arrow through the air, with sleek coefficient of drag to save energy. It also otherwise blends in like any new normal car, and does not stand out like a science oddity with frog eyes, or weird proportions, screaming look at me, I’m green.
Nope, no holier-than-thou design language expressed or implied there, and that was purely intentional by Chevrolet whose marketers have struggled to position the competent car GM’s engineers have built.
The goal was “mainstream,” and it is inside as well, with Chevrolet family design coupled with functionality, and relative comfort.
The new car has less of a blind spot from the A-pillar which was more robust on gen one, and the back seat space is 0.6 inches longer in legroom, 0.2 inches less on head room.
Shoppers will definitely want to sit back there and play with the front seat adjustment fore and aft to see if the tighter back seat is going to work for them.
You don’t need to know how a car works to know if it works. Nor do you need to know how a car works in order to benefit from it.
So, you can skip this, or for those who want to know a bit, this section is for you, and for the real tech geeks, here’s a deep dive into the special drive unit – electric transmission.
Some of the engineering leading to the Volt has been confusing for some people. Others also have questioned whether hybrids are over-complicated and therefore potential maintenance nightmares.
Actually normal maintenance items like brakes tend to go longer due to regenerative braking which uses the motor-generator instead of friction pads, calipers, and rotors as often. Also oil changes can be fewer and farther between, assuming EV usage, with engine off for a proportion of it operation.
To date, the Volt’s reliability record has been relatively good, and its battery has had a superlative record. One driver has even done over 100,000 EV miles since 2012 – 300,000 in total – and reports zero battery charge holding loss – though we imagine there are counter examples out there too.
Realistically, it is expected to lose some range over time, but the Volt’s liquid cooled battery has proven robust.
Driving the car is a new all-aluminum engine and drive unit.
For 2016, the drive unit is 100-pounds lighter, and shed rare earth magnets in the smaller of its two motors and reduced them by 40 percent in the larger. It delivers more torque at 298 pounds-feet over the former 273, and the same 149 horsepower (111 kilowatts).
Inside the drive unit now are two connected planetary gearsets. One motor is 117 horsepower (87 kilowatts), the other is 64 horsepower (48 kilowatts). They are connected by a sophisticated traction power inverter module (TPIM) and merged with a new all-aluminum 1.5-liter Ecotec engine. It features direct injection, 12.5:1 compression ratio, cooled exhaust gas recirculation and a variable displacement oil pump, and is rated for 101 horsepower at 5,600 rpm.
The EPA rates it for 57 all-electric miles in the city, and 49 all-electric miles highway. Efficiency has also been improved in gas operation to 43 mpg city, 42 mpg highway, 42 mpg combined on regular gas from a former 37 mpg combined on premium, and “miles per gallon equivalent” (MPGe) is 113 city, 99 highway, 106 combined.
The 243-pound lighter, 3,543-pound 2016 Volt can accelerate from 0-30 mph in 2.6 seconds – within realm of what a 60-kwh Tesla Model S can do, give or take a tenth of a second. Zero-to-60 mph is estimated at 8.4 seconds.
From its inception, the new drive unit was also designed to enable GM to spin off hybrids – or plug-in hybrids – at will, and the 2016 Malibu Hybrid was co-developed with a similar drive unit, but only 1.5-kwh battery, and no plug.
Power for the Volt is supplied by a new 18.4-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery replacing the former 17.1. Fewer and larger LG Chem cells are used, and the T-pack sheds 20 pounds.
When the battery is depleted – actually when the computer tells it to stop delivering power after about 14.0 kWh used – the gas engine kicks on. This is about 76 percent usable power of the nominal 18.4 total kilowatts, and GM upped it from about 65 percent of the battery used on gen-one.
Recharging takes about 4.5 hours on 240-volt level two power, or 13 hours for 120-volt house current. Many Volt owners don’t opt for level two, but some do. Some also wanted a bigger on-board charger, and it is, 3.6-kw instead of 3.3 which makes charge times comparable when charging at 240 volts. But not available is a 6.6-kw charger as some requested. This would have enabled quicker recharging, and some said they’d have paid extra for it, but this is one of the cost-reducing compromises GM settled upon.
Living With the Volt
We already gave away a lot on the Volt’s main benefit up top, but in sum that is what you are looking at: The distinguishing characteristic that puts the Volt in a class of one is the ability to play EV for 53 EPA rated miles, then run as a hybrid.
Can the EV range go lower? Yes, in cold, expect a range drop because batteries like people prefer balmy temperatures. What’s more, its electric heating takes much more energy than A/C and can reduce range by one-third or even half in the worst winter conditions.
And, there’s an annoying characteristic below freezing that is only partially adjustable called “engine running due to temperature.” All plug-in hybrids have it, and it basically means the engine must come on at freezing temperatures to provide more heat.
As for summer operation, the Volt we had for a couple weeks was good for its 53 miles combined as rated, and could get a few extra if driven slower. As with a conventional car, efficiency depends on the driver, and conditions.
On the highway, we got 44 miles after going 8 miles in suburban traffic, and the remainder in cruise control at 70 mph on the Pennsylvania turnpike. Slowing for traffic or passing a few times was involved. Other tests would make it reasonable to expect over 40, and the EPA’s rated 49 EV miles is attainable with lower highway speeds as well.
Around bends, the car also shows they did not check fun at the door when making one of the lowest-potential-emissions cars available.
Braking action also is predictable and regenerative braking can be modulated to feed range into the battery. Several times we saw a regular drive of 9.4 miles use only 4-5 miles indicated range given all the regeneration, and use of the regen paddle on the left back side of the steering wheel instead of the foot brake.
Overall, the Volt is all-day comfortable with its plethora of expected infotainment, Nav, adjustable heated – but not ventilated or electrically operated – seats and considerable leg room up front.
Utility wise, it’s a hatch disguised sort of like a sedan; not as spacious as a midsized Toyota Prius, but OK.
Is the Volt A Good Choice?
A full analysis could pore over more details than covered here, but we’ve provided a few to get started.
The Volt is a compact family car with the usual limitations space-wise. It is probably best for one or two people day to day, or those with kids or people of shorter stature if speaking of who will spend time in the back seat.
Once more frequently touted as a means to amplify fuel savings, carpooling with the Volt is feasible, but your back seat riders better be OK with the space. The lens view in our video does not fully show it can be more cramped back there than it looks. Here is where bigger cars mentioned will edge it out.
Closer comparisons can also be done with tools by the U.S. EPA’s fueleconomy.gov which lets one look at mpg, electricity usage efficiency, electric range, and emissions – tailpipe and upstream on an idealized national average or by zip code basis.
Price for the LT starts at $34,095 including destination fee. An upscale Premier trim starts at $38,445.
Eligible for a full $7,500 federal tax credit – a couple thousand more than the PHEVs – and state subsidies where applicable, its total cost of ownership can prove amazingly good. Considering non-plug-in hybrids don’t get any subsidies now, the Volt can be competitive even with the household-name Prius.
The Premier in Siren Red tint coat we drove included two $495 advanced safety packages, $495 Chevy MyLink w/Nav radio, and bottom line was $40,325.
Further, though Chevy salesmen have been known to steer people to the easier to sell Cruze, Edmunds True Cost To Own calculator has shown compelling numbers. 2017 data is yet unavailable, but a last-gen 2015 model priced at $32,500 after dealer discounts could earn back the difference and then save an average driver in Southern California $6,000 in five years compared to a $21,400 Chevy Cruze. And now, the new one is better.
Obviously the Volt will not work for everyone, and even its biggest supporters have said it is a shame GM has chosen not to proliferate larger sedan, crossover, SUV and other models using its “Voltec” architecture.
Otherwise, the Volt really is an excellent solution.
What do you think things will look like for transportation five years from now? Ten? — Jeff
If anyone is still wondering whether electric cars are the future, the future of EVs may be tied to the future of us all, according to a report by the International Energy Agency (IEA).
Citing scientific and market data, the influential Paris-based intergovernmental agency’s Global EV Outlook 2016 recommends 20 million zero-emission vehicles by 2020 to contain average temperature increases to 2 degrees C.
At present, the cumulative global count of plug-in electrified vehicles (PEVs) sold since 2005 is approaching 1.7 million. By year’s end, it may be at 2 million.
If 20 million EVs sounds ambitious, the agenda for a sea change in how people get around further calls for as many as 100-150 million electric cars which today consist primarily of PEVs, although fuel cell electric vehicles also qualify.
“The transport sector accounts for about a quarter (23%) of global energy-related GHG emissions (IEA, 2015b),” says the IEA report. “The ambitious GHG emissions reduction required to limit global warming to less than 2°C is unlikely to be achievable without a major contribution from the transport sector. The IEA 2DS indicates that the global transport sector must contribute about one-fifth of the total reduction of GHG emissions from energy use in 2050.” Source: IEA.
The goal has actually been in circulation at least since the 2009 Electric Vehicles Initiative (EVI). And, the need is great says the IEA representing 29 member nations, and progress is underway said co-author of the study Pierpaolo Cazzola in a phone interview from France yesterday, and via email.
While odds look long, the document builds on outcomes from last December’s historical agreement in Paris on climate change more formally known as the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
Just this past Saturday, President Barack Obama and China’s president President Xi Jinping agreed to the Paris accord’s broad goals for all sectors including transportation to cut greenhouse gases, adding to the strength of what is gaining momentum.
“The IEA 2DS, describing an energy system consistent with an emissions trajectory giving a 50% chance of limiting average global temperature increase to 2°C, outlines an even more ambitious deployment pathway for electric cars by 2030 (150 million,” says the IEA. “The 2DS of the IEA ETP 2016 sets a deployment target for electric cars exceeding the goal of the Paris Declaration: 140 million (10% of the total stock of passenger light-duty vehicles [PLDVs]) by 2030, and nearly 900 million (40% of the PLDV stock) by 2050. This translates to sales targets close to 20% by 2030 and 40% by 2040, with accelerated deployment in member economies of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and rapidly developing emerging economies (IEA, 2016a, 2016b),” says the IEA report. “Meeting the 2030 target of the IEA 2DS implies that the global stock of electric cars should maintain annual growth rates above 25% by 2025 and in the range of 7% to 10% between 2030 and 2050. Meeting the targets of the Paris Declaration requires stock growth rates a factor 0.1 lower than those needed for the IEA 2DS until 2030.”
The Paris agreement itself is not yet fully in force worldwide, but the signatures of the heads of the world’s two largest economies adds strength to what advocates believe is a matter of time. Under the agreement, the New York Times reports countries accounting for 55 percent of global emissions are required to present formal ratification documents to make it so. China and the United States combined generate almost 40 percent of worldwide emissions.
“Despite our differences on other issues, we hope our willingness to work together on this issue will inspire further ambition and further action around the world,” Obama said.
When asked whether the IEA’s aggressive goal for 20 million zero-emission cars by 2020 was an actual expectation, or an aspirational goal, Cazzola said the latter, while the former would be what is best.
“I would say aspirational goals, or milestones needed to limit the average global temperature increase to 2 degrees centigrade, against which actual developments can be benchmarked,” said Cazzola. “Twenty million is a value that, according to our analysis, could be coherent with a pathway that is clearly meeting a 2 degrees C scenario.”
Cazzola conceded others had their doubts the target would be hit in time, but said the study outlines how 10-15 million PEVs was less unrealistic, and could be achieved by 2020.
“Transport contributes almost one-quarter (23 percent) of the current global energy-related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and is growing faster than any other energy end-use sector,” says the Paris Declaration. “GHG emissions from transport are anticipated to rise from today’s levels by nearly 20 percent by 2030 and close to 50 percent by year 2050 unless major action is undertaken.” And, adds the IEA: “The climate change-related benefits of EVs can be fully harvested under the condition that their use is coupled with a decarbonized grid, an additional challenge for countries that are largely dependent on fossil fuels for power generation.”
Like other reports of its kind, the IEA’s Global EV Outlook 2016 goes through what has been an admittedly modest start in a global market wedded to petroleum in which 72 million passenger vehicles were sold last year.
Forces that both “push” and “pull” the adaption of PEVs include the usual list of charging infrastructure rollout, incentives to manufacturers and consumers, and special perks besides.
The IEA says things are falling into place, including major implementation of electric vehicle supply equipment (EVSE) to date, and planned, as well as industry, governments and early adopters which have started EVs are feasible.
“Improvements in the energy density of batteries allowed a larger electric range of commercially available EVs, making significant progress to address range anxiety issues. In 2008, the energy density of PHEV batteries was at 60 Wh/L. In 2015, it attained 295 Wh/L, improving by almost 400% (US DOE, 2016).” says the IEA. “The 400 Wh/L target set by the US DOE to 2022 requires an additional 36% improvement to be achieved in the next seven years (US DOE, 2012).” Source: IEA.
“There’s still lots of policy support required to make it happen,” said Cazzola. “In order to be on track several steps are needed: Governments need to maintain the current policy support and cooperate with the car industry on further battery technology improvements.”
One huge plus is the cost of batteries – simultaneously the enabling and limiting factor for plug-in cars – has been slashed by four times. Last year, GM revealed it is getting cells from LG Chem for 145/kWh and, citing HybridCars.com whose data was cited in the EV outlook, the IEA noted Tesla says by 2020, the cost will be $100/kWh or less.
“Battery costs will need to be cut by more than half in the next decade,” said Cazzola. “Moreover, the electricity industry needs to roll out a smart recharging network that addresses range anxiety and enables the flexible charging of cars to help renewable integration. We’re not there yet, but there are encouraging signs.”
Shoot for the Stars
In 2010 the first major-manfacturer plug-in cars were offered against resistance in the U.S. and today more than two dozen models are sold, albeit some only in limited U.S. markets. Worldwide, there are over 50 models sold.
Whether the world is ready to buy another 18 million plug-in cars between now and 2020 is beyond the estimates of even optimistic analysts, but the need is there, says the Union of Concerned Scientists.
“EVs are a critical technology to reducing transportation sector emissions, and it’s important to have ambitious goals to motivate policymakers and countries to put strong policies in place to support the deployment of EVs,” said Media Team Manager Lisa Nurnberger on behalf of analysts with the UCS.
The IEA itself knows the challenges are real, but the high-level target could itself highlight what is being portrayed as an equally critical need to slow climate warming.
“I do think 20 million by 2020 is ambitious, but is the right target to avert a climate catastrophe,” said Roland Hwang, director of the energy and transportation program for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “The IEA analysis is a strong ‘call to action’ for the world’s three major auto markets, U.S., EU and China. It’s clear the U.S. needs to move faster on its key policies — next generation of strong vehicle standards, extension of federal tax credits and billions more in public and utility infrastructure investments.”
The plug-in electrified vehicle market has grown in spite a raft of backlash, cheap gas in the U.S., consumers sitting on the fence or unaware, and initial lack of commitment by manufacturers. The IEA, which does also track fuel cell vehicles, focuses on PEVs, and to date, FCVs have not gained much market share at all.
Things are still wide open for all technologies, however, and of them all, battery powered plug-in vehicles have the head start.
Tesla has said by itself it wants to be producing half a million cars annually by 2018, and as many as one million in 2020. Whether this will come about, or it is a kindred aspirational goal in its own right is also up for debate.
Today 80 percent of the PEVs are clustered in the U.S., China, Japan, the Netherlands, and Norway. Seven countries have market shares of over 1 percent, with the outlier, Norway, having reached 23 percent. In the U.S., plug-in cars are at 0.9 percent, and now match the market share for low-emission diesel passenger diesels and light trucks.
A new lithium-oxygen battery is being touted as potentially able to provide much longer ranges between charges for EVs.
Also known as lithium-air, the tech has been in the news before with promise for five to 15-times more efficiency than standard lithium-ion batteries. However, it has been held back by a few issues such as loss of about a third of its energy as heat, not lasting long enough, but research continues, including a new study which has shown encouraging results.
The study is led by Ju Li, professor of nuclear science and engineering at the Battelle Energy Alliance and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, along with fellow MIT researcher Zhi Zhu and five other researchers. All of the researchers work for either MIT, Argonne National Laboratory, or Peking University, and their labor shows a new version of the technology could overcome obstacles.
The team is looking to have a prototype produced within a year and available to manufacturers within the next 18 months. The researchers have renewed the practical patent application and are now seeking investors. The tech, they said, can work with smartphones, too – and the idea of not having to charge a smartphone every day could be just as appealing to investors as the idea of not having to charge an EV as often.
Other promises made about battery tech have fizzled, but the details here suggest that maybe the challenges of lithium-air batteries have been surmounted.
The new tech, which was detailed in Nature, uses what’s called a nanolithia cathode battery. This type of battery offers more versatility and avoids some of the issues that held back previous lithium-oxygen batteries – issues like needing to be kept away from carbon dioxide and water.
Existing lithium-oxygen batteries work by drawing air in, which causes a chemical reaction – air is then later released to reverse the reaction, which then recharges the battery.
Of course, having an airflow that works both ways allows carbon dioxide and water to enter. So the researchers figured out a way to recharge without letting oxygen become a gas.
“Instead, the oxygen stays inside the solid and transforms directly between its three redox states, while bound in the form of three different solid chemical compounds, Li2O, Li2O2, and LiO2, which are mixed together in the form of a glass,” the researchers wrote. “This reduces the voltage loss by a factor of five, from 1.2 volts to 0.24 volts, so only eight per cent of the electrical energy is turned to heat.”
This leads to lower waste via heat, which leads to better efficiency and faster recharging. Not only that, but the batteries could have longer lives than current lithium-ion batteries, since this particular reaction doesn’t lead to overcharging.
“We have overcharged the battery for 15 days, to a hundred times its capacity, but there was no damage at all,” Li said.