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

Jason Mathers

Electric vehicles are poised to take off. We’ve just closed a year of record demand and investment. It’s no longer a question of whether electric vehicles – or EVs – will arrive, it’s how: How big of a role will EVs play, how soon and how clean will they be?

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

1. Bringing down the cost of batteries

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. There is tremendous progress here.

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 (kWh) 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. Ramping up automaker investment for new, improved models

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. Making charging stations more widely available

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. Shifting to clean energy for charging

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. Strengthening and extending emission standards

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.

We’re 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

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

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

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

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 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

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

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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