News / Science & Technology

Infrastructure is Challenge for Electric Vehicle Owners

Charging a  Chevy Volt
Charging a Chevy Volt

Multimedia

Audio
Mike O'Sullivan

Auto experts say electric vehicles are a practical alternative to gasoline-powered cars, at least for some drivers.  The biggest challenge for the auto industry is expanding the infrastructure for recharging the vehicles.

With last year's release of the Chevy Volt and the Nissan Leaf, some say the day of the electric vehicle has arrived.   The Volt uses a rechargeable battery, and for additional range, can switch to a small gasoline engine to recharge the battery.  The Leaf is an all-electric vehicle that is designed for short commutes.

But electric cars have been around a long time.  They have been available to compete with gasoline-powered vehicles for decades, and were once a significant part of the market.

One that looks like a horse-drawn buggy is on display at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles.  It was built in Los Angeles by a high school student, Earle Anthony, in 1897.  Many other electric cars were on American roads in the early 20th century.   But gasoline-powered autos had a greater range and came to dominate.

In 1996, General Motors released the limited-production electric EV-1 to wide acclaim, and curator Leslie Kendall of the Petersen Museum says drivers liked it.

"And it looked cool, no doubt about it," said Kendall.  "And in the major American markets that it was tested, people got to see it and really responded favorably.  And it performed beautifully."

But the EV-1 was expensive to produce and had a limited range. The last model was produced in 1999.

Today's electric vehicles have solved some of the earlier problems, but Edward Kjaer of Southern California Edison, an electric utility company, says charging stations are hard to find outside of major cities like Los Angeles.

"There is no question that we need to focus on the distribution level, so that's really the last 50 feet of the energy delivery system, because we're going to see geographic concentrations of these vehicles," said Kjaer.

New charging stations are being installed in some businesses and at the homes of many electric vehicle owners.   The company AeroVironment has partnered with Nissan to install chargers for its all-electric Leaf, using a system compatible with other electric vehicles under a new North America standard.  AeroVironment's Kristen Helsel says the technology is spreading.

"Everywhere from Australia to Europe, Canada, Brazil, across the Pacific Rim, there's almost nowhere we're not going - India, places like that," said Helsel.  "You know, those are all places that have a really strong interest in vehicle electrification."

Electric-gasoline hybrid cars, including Toyota's Prius, are popular with drivers who are concerned with environmental pollution and rising gasoline costs.  But hybrids are a small part of the market, says analyst Karl Bauer of the automotive research firm Edmunds.com.

"The traditional gasoline engines, of course, are still what power most vehicles, so of course they make up most of the research that people do," said Bauer.  "The hybrid market has remained somewhere between two and three percent, really, for the last five-plus years, so it's still a very small amount.  And of course the pure electric market is much smaller than that."

The biggest problem is limited range.  Nissan says its all-electric Leaf can travel 160 kilometers on a single charge in city driving.  The Chevy Volt, which can switch to gasoline, can go much farther.  Bauer says batteries are improving and other ideas have been suggested to extend the range of the vehicles.

"There are a couple of different approaches, whether it's utilizing batteries that swap out quickly and you go to a corner charging station and instead of waiting an hour or five hours to charge the car, you spend five minutes, 10 minutes, having the batteries swapped out," Bauer explained.  "That's one thing they've talked about as a future solution."

Other technologies, including non-polluting hydrogen fuel cells, are also being tested by the major automakers to power the electric drive trains of new vehicles.

Electric cars may one day meet the needs of consumers faced with rising fuel costs, says the Petersen Museum's Leslie Kendall.

"They seem to want a vehicle that's powered by a renewable resource, a vehicle that does not pollute the air, a vehicle with fewer moving parts that's simpler to operate and run, a vehicle that's quieter and smoother and all those good things," noted Kendall.

With expanding infrastructure, he says electric vehicles may look more and more attractive.

You May Like

Obama: I Will Do 'Everything I Can' to Close Guantanamo

US president says prison continues 'to inspire jihadists and extremists around the world' More

Sierra Leone Educates on Safe Ebola Burials

Also, country is improving at rapid response to isolated outbreaks, but health workers need to be even faster, officials say More

Religion Aside, Christmas Gains Popularity in Communist Vietnam

Increasingly wealthy Vietnamese embrace holiday due to its non-religious glamor, commercial appeal More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubansi
X
Sharon Behn
December 19, 2014 9:34 PM
For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubans

For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video Three Cities Bid for Future Obama Presidential Library

President Barack Obama still has two years left in his term in office, but the effort to establish his post-presidential library is already underway. The bid for the Obama Presidential Library is down to four locations in three states -- New York, Hawaii, and Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, each of them played an important part in the president’s life before he reached the White House.
Video

Video Cuba Deal is Major Victory for Pope’s Diplomatic Initiatives

Pope Francis played a key role in brokering the US-Cuba deal that was made public earlier this week. It is the most stunning success so far in a series of peacemaking efforts by the pontiff. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video Fears of More Political Gridlock in 2015

2014 proved to be a difficult year politically for President Barack Obama and a very good year for the U.S. Republican Party. Republican gains in the November midterm elections gave them control of the Senate and House of Representatives for the next two years -- setting the stage for more confrontation and gridlock in the final two years of the Obama presidency. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone has a preview from Washington.
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.

All About America

AppleAndroid