To move away from fossil fuels, battery-powered vehicles need to go a long way

It is well-documented that several substitutes exist for fossil fuels in the electricity generation; however, when it comes to car and truck manufacturer’s designs, much hope is pinned on electric battery-powered vehicles

Many changes and improvements need to occur. In order to generate a large-scale movement away from fossil fuels with battery-powered vehicles, several technology breakthroughs must materialize.

Breakthroughs needed

The three most significant technology changes are:

  1. A substantial decrease in the price of batteries.
  2. The time required to charge batteries must be shortened.
  3. The electricity fueling these cars needs to have lower carbon content than petroleum. Carbon emissions from electric vehicles that are powered by the existing U.S. power plant fleet are generally higher than emissions from high-efficiency gasoline-powered vehicles.

(Only 12 percent of fossil-fueled power plants have lower enough carbon emissions that electric vehicles subsequently powered by them would have lower emissions than a Toyota Prius) [1]

In order for the electric battery-powered vehicles to surpass petroleum-based internal combustion engine vehicles, all of these three changes must occur. To date, this has not happened.

Many studies have compared electric battery-powered vehicles to internal combustion vehicles, and the outcome has generally settled on battery costs that are still too high. Current battery costs for an electric vehicle are roughly $325 per kWh (kilowatt hour)[2]. At this cost, the price of oil would need to exceed $350 a barrel before the electrical vehicle was cheaper to operate.

Two decades will tell

Over the next 20 years, electric battery-powered vehicles face strong headwinds. Future electric vehicles, even with lower battery costs, will be challenged by and compared against future combustion engine vehicles that will promise to also emit less carbon, have lower costs from fuel and have more technological advances and innovations.

Other barriers to exponential growth of electric battery-powered vehicles may be the current battery range of 250 miles. For most drivers, that is not a far enough driving range. Recharging times would have to be shortened significantly.

We assume there is not a disutility associated with longer recharging times of electric vehicles in relation to fueling times for internal combustion engines.

Also, if substantial expansion of battery vehicles starts to occur, a drop in demand for fossil fuels and petroleum would make oil cheaper and make the economics of battery vehicles more difficult and the gasoline vehicles more attractive to consumers.

While we need to develop economical practical alternatives to fossil fuel transportation, we are still many years away from the widespread usage of electric battery-powered cars. Many significant and relevant improvements need to be made in order to compete with the equally increasing improvements on traditional cars.

When battery costs are lowered, driving distance increased and manufacturing carbon emissions are lower, electric cars will be more competitive with petroleum-based cars.

However, as both types of vehicles improve and cost of oil becomes cheaper, the potential for both vehicles remains competitive.

[1] Will we ever stop using Fossil Fuels: Covert

[2] Will we ever stop using Fossil Fuels: Covert

Matthew P. Figgie is chairman
Clark-Reliance and he is also chairman of Figgie Capital and the Figgie Foundation.

Rick Solon is president and CEO, Clark-Reliance.