Why The Electric Vehicle Transition Is So Interesting To Me

I’ll admit it — I’m an electric vehicle nut. Generally speaking, I’m well aware that cars ruin cities, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed being car-free for over 11 years (the quality of life is certainly higher than with a car commute), but if we’re going to drive, it’s got to be electric (or else we may make this planet completely unlivable for human beings). After years of writing about electric cars, when I finally drove several in 2013, I was shocked (not literally, of course) by their drive quality. No doubt about it, electric cars are better consumer products than gasoline-powered cars — even if you remove all of the health, climate, and environmental benefits.

LIFE-1914-electric car adNonetheless, technological transitions or revolutions don’t happen overnight. In fact, it can take a long time for the masses to even hear about a new technology, let alone use it and buy it. And let’s be honest: we aren’t all Albert Einsteins. Far from it. Basic reasoning may not be a forte of the human species. The obvious will come to light, but it will take some time.

That gets into a matter that I recently realized is one reason I find the EV revolution so interesting. It’s not a simple technological fix. Sure, this has all been made possible from 100+ years of electric car history, and if battery prices drop low enough, electric cars will be so much cheaper and better than gasmobiles that the only people left out of the transition will be those folks “rolling coal.” At the moment, though, the cost is comparable enough that we have to consider the advantages and disadvantages of electric cars vs gasmobiles in order to make a purchasing decision. This is where things get interesting, imho.

Nissan-Leafs-Barcelona

First, let me make the case that I think is quite obvious once you drive a fully electric car:

1) Electric cars accelerate much more quickly.

2) Electric cars accelerate and drive much more smoothly and quietly.

3) Electric cars are much more convenient (since ~95% of the time, you simply plug in at home, which just takes a few seconds; and since there’s much less maintenance, including no need for oil, no muffler, no transmission, very few moving parts, less wear and tear on brakes, etc).

Aside from these very direct benefits, other strong benefits include:

4) Zero local emissions, which is better for your health.

5) Zero greenhouse gas emissions if you charge on electricity from clean, renewable sources. And much-reduced emissions even if you charge from the grid.

6) Energy independence or self-reliance, on the national/regional level at least, but potentially on the individual level.

7) You greatly reduced your contribution to the volatile oil-based economy and oil wars.

The downsides?

1) When you do (infrequently) need to charge away from home, charging stations are still less ubiquitous than gas stations, and charging takes longer.

2) A higher upfront cost for a comparably equipped (in the interior) gasoline car (which may or may not be offset over the life of your ownership, depending on various personal variables).

While I think the choice is obvious, many people initially presented with the option to switch to an electric car don’t do so. So the question is, why not? Two obvious reasons are simply lack of awareness and lack of experience. But I think the issue goes far beyond those, unfortunately.

Renault Zoe 5

The thing is, much of how we operate in the world is due to habits we’ve developed, and these outer habits are often influenced by even deeper inner habits of thought, and assumptions that may or may not be true. Our personal history often locks us into a viewpoint that is too narrow.

I think this sort of thing is definitely preventing a lot of people from understanding the full story of EVs vs gas-guzzlers. For one, people’s initial reaction regarding charging is about where public chargers are and how long it takes to charge, completely not “getting” that 95% of charging is likely to be a work or at home. From Brian Kent:

Nissan-Leaf-Time-Charging

It’s going to take some time for people to understand that even if it takes longer to charge an electric car, it’s much more convenient on the whole. As some EV owners like to put it, you wake up to a “full tank” every day, or it’s like “having a gas pump in your garage” (or at your on-street parking spot). You can forget all about the hassle of going to a gas station!

Tesla Model S Brown Amsterdam

Another barrier is a simple apprehensiveness about new technology. A lot of people are scared of change, and that translates into a fear of new things. As I noted above, electric cars aren’t actually new, but they clearly aren’t the incumbent technology, and most people have no real experience with them. This barrier sits in the way of most technological revolutions, but the good thing is that human willingness to try new things sits on a kind of spectrum. Some are super eager to dive into new tech, then others are simply eager to, then others get intrigued and will do so once a few others have tested the waters, then others come on board when they have a few friends or family members jump in, and so on. So, with time, I think it is a given that this barrier will come down.

What can we do to advance the EV revolution at a quicker pace? Basically, we can get our cities to do what these cities are doing, and we can share our own enthusiasm and experience regarding the electric future we are creating.

Images: LIFE magazine ad photographed by Bob Post; Nissan LEAF & Renault ZOE photos by Zachary Shahan | EV Obsession | CleanTechnica; LEAF charging meme by Brian Kent; and Tesla Model S (+ me) photo by Marika Shahan.

  • Christin Zenchenko

    Zachary…Your environmental articles are superior, stellar, and I want to share your previous and present work. Facebook: I Am A Planet Kid

    • http://zacharyshahan.com/ Zachary Shahan

      Thank You!! 😀

      • Christin Zenchenko

        Zachary, Do you know the Earth Guardians and their powerful work? They were in Erie…I handled their social media and began their facebook: Earth Guardians Erie Pennsylvania. They were one of the lead groups at the NYC climate change march and are Native American Indians who have a powerful movement against fossil fuels and climate change. I feel you are a powerful writer, and I would like to have you take a look at their mission if you have time. They are about action for green energy, as is my program Facebook: I Am A Planet Kid

      • apply a little reason

        Hi Zachary – This is somewhat off topic but I hope you don’t mind. (I’m not sure what the official channel is to contact authors) I’m organising a Tesla based event to promote sustainable transport and give a reality check on range anxiety concerns. I was hoping you could possibly help to publicise the event, either with an article or by way of a tweet of sorts.

        We’re trying to do something in the UK which has never been done before by running quite a famous challenge (in the uk) called the three peaks.
        In short, you have to climb three mountains, one in Scottland, one in England and one in Wales within 24 hours. Our teams will be using a Tesla Model S to go from mountain to mountain and charge time will need to be included within the 24 hours. We want to prove that an EV is up to the task.

        http://www.threepeakszero.com

        As well as promoting sustainable transport we will be raising money for some very good causes. So any help you can give would be extremely appreciated. Even if it’s just in the form of some feedback as to how to promote the event!

        Thanks!

  • althom

    Have a engine/powertrain technology coming to market soon that is greener and more GGE fuel efficient than the EV and does not need batteries and a comprehensive and expensive recharging network.

  • SWEEP

    Zachary, I’m the communications director at the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project where our transportation team is working hard on analysis and reports that promote electric vehicles. We do vehicle emissions comparisons, rate state policies for EVs, look at utility programs for EVs and just yesterday the City of Denver approved our suggested amendment to the 2015 IECC (bldg energy code) to include conduit for EVs in all new residential construction. How do I send press releases and reports to you? Are you following us at @SouthwestEE? I’m at spletcher at swenergy.org. http://www.swenergy.org/transportation

  • George Parry

    Hi Zach
    I’ve read your work for a few years and followed Tesla since Ian Wright developed the first contemporary electric car based on the Ariel Atom in New Zealand which later morphed into the roadster. Retired company director I’m bemused by the lagging mismatch between exponential technology and public perception. It catches most of us unawares. I refer my readers to Tony Seba’s Oslo presentation in March and the gob-smacking Dubai tender 2 months later that blew all projections out of the water.
    Few get it. It happens so fast they blink and miss it, roll over, go back to sleep and the next morning everything ‘s changed. This, to paraphrase Naomi Klein, changes everything.
    Good luck with it all. We have islands of excellence here in Australia (UNSW 4 layer solar cell 34.5% efficiency) surrounded by an ocean of coal is good for humanity mediocrity and wilful ignorance. You’re doing a fine job. If I can help let me know. I wrote an article for renew economy published March 15
    Cheers George

  • Damien

    Hi Zak,

    I found your web site while searching information on EV in Poland. And I saw then you are quoted as reference in the IEA EV
    reportn for battery cell costs. Great job!

    I just would like to precise some information: 1.3
    million electric
    cars
    around
    the world in 2015, but they
    produced more greenhouse gases (GHG) than if they were powered by gas
    or diesel! I analyzed carbon footprint and EV industry figures. Over
    half of electric cars in
    the world are
    in the US and in China. Two countries where electricity is mainly
    generated from coal (respectively
    40%
    and 80%).
    So electric cars produce there more carbon than
    their thermic equivalents. In 2015, electric cars produced there 250 000
    tons of CO2e more
    than
    if they had
    been
    powered by
    gas or diesel.

    You can find all the details on my blog : http://damienlinhart.wixsite.com/climatize

    Have a nice day

    Damien

  • Mark Roest

    Hello Zach,
    I would like to talk with you about a battery technology ripe for early investment. 6,000 cells produced so far, by hand, with extraordinary results recently. About 6 months more development work, then a pilot plant. Right now we are ready to bring cells out for testing, and then negotiate a larger investment, after being picked up by a WSGR partner, who is an environmentalist. We already have the design for manufacturing, and it is low cost, non-lithium, no fires or explosions, and no scarce materials.
    Regards,
    MarkLRoest (at) gmail