Are electric vehicles finally taking off? Here's what you need to know.

Jason Mathers

Electric vehicles are poised to take off. After a year of record demand and investment, it's no longer a question of whether electric vehicles will arrive, but how: Just how big of a role will EVs play, how soon and how clean will they be?

Popularizing EVs will depend on tackling key challenges. Today, we’re seeing progress on several fronts:

1. Battery costs dropped 73% since 2010

Battery packs account for a third of the upfront cost of full EVs. Driving these costs down expands the number of EV models that are price-competitive with conventional vehicles.

The price of lithium ion batteries dropped 73 percent between 2010 and 2016, according to research firm Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Numerous analyses point to battery costs of $100 per kilowatt-hour as the mark where full EVs become as affordable as traditional cars. General Motors’ battery costs are $145 per kWh, and the company expects that number to drop under $100 per kWh by 2021.

2. Automakers are betting $90 billion on EVs

Automakers are bringing electric cars and trucks to market with ever-better batteries and driving range. Ford Motor Co.’s plan to double its investments in EVs to $11 billion is just the latest example.

Globally, automakers have announced investments of more than $90 billion in EVs. Automakers still need to reveal more about their plans, detailing specific models, timing of release and availability in various markets.

3. Charging stations are coming online – but we need many more

People are more likely to invest in plug-in cars once they feel confident they’ll always find a place to recharge their batteries away from home, and fast. In fact, the availability of public charging infrastructure is a leading factor in EV adoption.

While the vast majority of charging occurs at home, public charging stations enable EV drivers to take extended trips. They also facilitate EV ownership by households reliant on on-street parking.

A recent assessment found the need for 600,000 public “level 2” (240 volt) plugs and 27,500 fast-charging plugs nationwide by 2030. By mid-2017, there were 36,000 public level 2 plugs and 3,300 fast-charging plugs in the U.S. So, there is a long way to go on this front.

Growth will continue over the next year as states deploy funds from the Volkswagen diesel emissions settlement to support EV charging infrastructure. Beyond the settlement, California recently approved a utility effort to expand access to charging in the light, medium and heavy-duty sectors, with more long-term, broader projects pending. More states should follow California’s lead.

The time it takes to recharge will need to be improved, too. Helpfully, efforts are underway to deploy a next generation of fast-charging stations capable of adding 250 miles in a 15-minute fuel stop.

4. We know how to shift EVs to clean energy

To get the most out of EVs, we need more renewable energy on the electric grid and drivers who charge vehicles when the grid is its cleanest. States play a vital role.

For example, New York’s Reforming the Energy Vision aims to decentralize the electric grid, while aligning utility earnings with public policy needs and marketplace innovations. The program focuses on making it easier – and financially attractive – for customers to help improve the electric system by opting for EVs, rooftop solar and other energy investments.

By encouraging customers to charge EVs at times when renewable energy is readily available and affordable, New York is ensuring that EVs will benefit the grid and the environment.

5. Proven emission standards poised to scale EV market

Well-designed emission standards are critical to scaling clean vehicle solutions, such as EVs. With the certainty of long-term standards in place, manufacturers invest. This dynamic can be seen across the globe, as policy measures from China to California are driving EV investments.

Unfortunately, we are at risk of impairing this critical tool in the U.S. At a time when we should be challenging ourselves to set a new round of protective standards, the Trump administration is reconsidering standards that were set long ago.

The automotive industry has been complicit in this effort, despite its previous embrace of the same standards. To avoid undercutting their own investments in the long-term success of EVs, it is critical that automakers work proactively to strengthen and extend vehicle emission standards.

EV promise puts us at a crossroads

Over the next decade EVs can become a major part of our fleet with benefits for our health, economy and environment. We can create a future that drives down global oil demand and cuts nearly 2 billion tons of climate pollution a year.

Technical innovation has opened up this path. We now must muster the conviction to take it.

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Distance before charging and national charging stations. I want to be able to go 6-8 hours without charging.

January 26, 2018 at 5:28 pm

Hi Sydney and thank you for your interest. A recent report from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory found that electric vehicle charging needs in the United States could be met on the interstate highway system if 400 fast-charging stations were spaced 70 miles apart. The need in urban in rural communities would be much larger, of course: About 8,000 stations could serve such areas with 15 million plug-in vehicles on the road. You can learn more here!


Karin Rives
February 6, 2018 at 9:59 am

In reply to by Sydney

A gas or carbon tax could certainly spark some sales. Push your legislator to get over the tax aversion and reap the benefits of better infrastructure, cleaner, air and less dependence on foreign oil.

David Williams
February 15, 2018 at 11:33 pm

In reply to by Sydney

If you check the cost of gas, in your state, you will find the majority of the cost is due to taxes.

February 19, 2018 at 11:17 am

In reply to by David Williams

The taxes are substantial, but not a majority of the cost of gasoline.

Mark Watson
March 31, 2018 at 10:06 am

In reply to by Cath

March 31, 2018 at 12:49 pm

In reply to by Cath

2.0¢ Underground storage tank fee 9.0¢ Sales tax 47.3¢ Excise taxes 76.7¢ Federal 18.4¢ per gallon California 58.3¢ per gallon Gasoline taxes Gasoline taxes and fees in California. Electricity in not free they are already talking about taxing EVs additionally, perhaps [with] an annual fee at the DMV since they don’t pay for the roads at the pump. Also, Gov. Brown just shifted another $18B…CA will be looking for more money as always to his train that now has a mile and a half of track.

August 15, 2018 at 4:50 pm

In reply to by ROBERT D EVANS

Sydney, you should be arrested if you propose to drive for 6-8 hours non-stop. You could easily supercharge your EV during a 30-40 minute rest stop every two hours or so.

March 30, 2018 at 5:43 pm

In reply to by Sydney

So with EV, you want to turn an 8 hr drive into a 10 hr drive. I will wait for longer range batteries before I make my purchase.

Joe Troupe
April 2, 2018 at 4:19 pm

In reply to by WanderingDutchman

Why should someone be arrested for driving? There is no way that I would stop for 30 minutes every 2 hours. I drive about 3,000 miles a month for work and do not have time for that. My gas tank range is about 600 miles and if my bladder lasts that long then so do I.

August 29, 2018 at 12:50 am

In reply to by WanderingDutchman

Is there any interest in creating battery exchange stations and the standardized battery pack that can be connected and disconnected from the undercarriage? People have become used to convenience; they don’t want to search for a plug-in.

Bruce Malcolm
August 17, 2018 at 2:51 am

In reply to by Sydney

Why is it that renewables such as wind and solar are the only acceptable large scale CO2-free energy sources available to support a nationwide fleet of EV’s? Why can’t advanced gen IV and gen V thorium fueled molten salt reactors play a significant role in driving this CO2-free effort to power the transportation market and industry. Nuclear power is 1,000,000 times more energy dense than any fossil fuel!

August 30, 2018 at 8:24 am

In reply to by Sydney

Great piece on electric vehicle adoption! We still have a long way to go, especially in the U.S., but we're making significant progress daily!

Cory Groshek
January 27, 2018 at 2:33 pm

In my humble opinion, electric cars are our future. It’s just that the oil companies are still too strong and they dictate the rules of the market. But imagine if all conventional cars are replaced by electric ones. Can you imagine how much this would affect the ecology of our country?

February 1, 2018 at 6:36 am

If the oil companies are in the way, the EV industry will just have to build recharging stations with full services to feed and refresh travelers while their EVs recharge. Having roof-mounted solar cells will help expedite charging time as well.

Joe Troupe
February 14, 2018 at 9:34 pm

In reply to by Banjamin

No vehicle has enough surface area for solar cells to be of any consequence. A 48-volt, 200-watt panel only produces about 4 amps. With a surface area of approximately 2x4 ft. Not even close to any real benefit.

August 30, 2018 at 11:02 pm

In reply to by Joe Troupe

Most of the people I know who are pro EV find every reason not to buy one.

geo brecke
August 30, 2018 at 12:05 pm

In reply to by Banjamin

What does a home charging station cost?

February 1, 2018 at 9:51 pm

Hi Carol and thanks for your interest! This story may answer your question.

Karin Rives
February 2, 2018 at 4:16 pm

In reply to by Carol

Home charging is inexpensive. I plug into a standard outlet. It is slow, but it easily charges over night. When I am ready, I will upgrade to a 220v outlet, and then by a faster charger for something more than $500.

Stu Henry
February 17, 2018 at 11:03 am

In reply to by Carol

Interested in all electric cars that will drive 1,500 miles between charging, carry four 250-pound men, four sets of golf clubs and four suitcases. Is such a vehicle probable?

Joe Troupe
February 2, 2018 at 12:35 pm

If you are proposing to drive 1,500 miles without an adequate rest / recharge stop (even by switching drivers) you and your friends are a danger to other road users. Your EV station wagon / SUV / People Carrier will be along soon.

March 30, 2018 at 6:00 pm

In reply to by Joe Troupe

Please explain what is meant by a “clean grid?”

Joe Troupe
February 2, 2018 at 1:19 pm

Hi Joe and thanks for your good question!

With a clean grid we rely more on clean energy (both large-scale and small-scale) and less on dirty fossil fuels to power homes and businesses, while at the same time cleaning up transportation by increasing electric vehicle adoption.

It uses cutting-edge technology such as sensors and monitoring equipment paired with analytics to boost the efficiency of the entire electric system. This, in turn, leads to less energy waste. Finally, it harnesses the power of energy data to increase options for clean energy for individuals and communities.

You can learn more about the clean grid here.

Karin Rives
February 2, 2018 at 3:29 pm

In reply to by Joe Troupe

I think you are referring to smart grids that are programmed for environmental dispatch. Some PUCs still use an economic dispatch policy. Smart grid technology can be used in a variety of public policy dispatch modes.

Daryl mills
March 30, 2018 at 10:58 pm

In reply to by krives

I am surprised there is no mention of Tesla. We Tesla company is involved in the first four of your challenges more than any other company you mentioned.

conrad schmidt
February 4, 2018 at 7:36 am

I am also surprised that the Tesla methods are not used!! Also, why could vehicles not run on solar power, such as being on the roof, trunk lid, and hood??

Eddeana Moore
August 16, 2018 at 2:36 pm

In reply to by conrad schmidt

Why not make batteries easy and fast to switch out? You pull into a “service station,” get your wind shield cleaned and fresh batteries? Boom, boom, bing, bing, bing on your way.

Bruce Snyder
February 6, 2018 at 8:50 am

Exactly. Our family minivan has about a 350-mile range on a tank of gas; to renew that range takes, at most, 20 minutes (assuming fluid and air pressure checks). If I can’t get the same kind of range renewal in approximately the same time, the EV is a non-starter for our family vehicle. This attitude of “supercharge for 40 minutes every two hours” is completely unrealistic; most people are driving because they actually need to be somewhere and don’t want to waste time on the road any more than is necessary.

Mark Hartman
August 30, 2018 at 10:52 am

In reply to by Bruce Snyder

How about breaking down battery costs. and how often they need replacing, comparing the two types of batteries available.

Joe Troupe
February 14, 2018 at 9:40 pm

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