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Dropping the clutch on an EV power network

Businesses engaging solar power could be driving the future of the car industry

With Volvo this past week announcing plans to shift gears entirely from internal combustion engines to electrically-powered cars, focus has again returned to the car industry. The stakes are being raised for auto manufacturers to jump-start their electric vehicle development and create a broader range of usable and affordable electrically-powered family and commercial vehicles.

Unfortunately, one unresolved issue threatens to jam up the works like the proverbial spanner. How can drivers charge their electric vehicles (EVs) in a manner that is cheap, fast and accessible, and while not wasting the environmental gains made by consuming electricity generated by fossil fuels, such as carbon or gas?

Regions around the world are beginning to establish networks of charging stations to accommodate the growing number of EVs. Even WA has a network of stations throughout the South West, known as the “Electric Highway”, which has been supplied by the RAC in partnership with regional councils. Given that few EVs are easily able to travel long distances, the demand for networks such as this is becoming greater globally, particularly in WA. Yet there are still too few opportunities for EV drivers to comfortably drive too far away from the office or depot for risk of running out of battery.

The perception of EVs as beneficial to the environment is perhaps their most popular and pervasive selling point. Electricity that is generated by “unclean” sources, such as coal or, to a lesser extent, gas, threatens to negate the purpose of purchasing an EV in the first place.*

Perhaps then, the potential market for EV charging stations will be most widely open to producers (and storers) of renewable energy, such as solar and wind. Battery producers and owners also stand to gain from the charging market, offering solutions to boost charging times and capitalise on the capture of renewable energy.

Businesses that own solar generators would be in a prime position to gain from their investment. As electricity consumed by EVs increases, the demand for renewable energy would follow. Costs associated with producing solar electricity would be offset by selling it through EV charging stations. Solar generator owners would receive direct benefit as a result, through lowered rates and cashback schemes. Businesses not already hosting solar generators would be incentivised to install or miss out.

In the short term, this discussion will continue while car manufacturers jockey to remain as competitive as possible. Long term however, solar-powered cars may not just be the realm of scientists and dreamers, but may very well be the norm. Those that achieve the best position early in the race may well drive themselves to the podium.

*It’s worth noting that grid energy (backed by coal), while considered “unclean” energy, is still cleaner than petrol. In terms of CO2 produced, petrol powered cars emit on average 216 grams of CO2 per km, while EVs charged from the grid in WA indirectly emit approximately 150 gms/km. Solar and wind sources produce no emissions of any sort.

References:

  • RAC Electric Highway – http://electrichighway.rac.com.au/
  • http://www.thisisinsider.com/automakers-charging-problem-electric-cars-2017-7
  • http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/nation/that-state-where-electric-cars-run-dirtier-than-petrol/news-story/6acc46858d7d3c63e8b110545b25c630
  • Photo by Maximilian Wachter on Unsplash