Electric cars are not some new idea spawned from our desire to eliminate our dependence on foreign oil. The invention of the electric car can be traced back to the mid-1800's. The invention and evolution of the electric vehicle can be attributed to many inventors. As more and more improvements were made to batteries in the mid-1800's, it wasn't until 1881 when the first electric car began to florish in Europe. This technology did not make its way to the U.S. until 1891 when William Morrison of Des Moines, Iowa developed a six passenger electric vehicle capable of a speed of 14 miles per hour.
The problem was, many U.S. homes were not wired for electricity back in the early 1900's, so the electric car never really took off in popularity. By the 1920's, improved road infrastructure led to a driver needing a vehicle with more traveling range which curtailed the sales of electric cars. Also, in the 1920's, oil was discovered in Texas, Oklahoma, and California which made gas powered vehicles cheaper to drive and cheaper to produce. Thus killed the electric car.
Then came the energy crisis of the 1970's and 80's, which rejuvenated the interest in electric and hybrid vehicles. This technology has flurished into the 21st century with our need to lessen our dependence on foreign oil and to clean up the environment.
What is An Electric Car?
An electric car is a vehicle which uses one or more electric motors for propulsion. This is in contrast to a hybrid vehicle which uses a combination of electric (in the form of rechargable batteries) and gas to power the drivetrain. An electric car is the ultimate in producing zero emissions and emitting absolutely no green house gasses or pollution. As with any type of technology, there are advantages and disadvantages of an all electric car.
Advantages of Electric Cars
- Mechanical - Electric motors are mechanically very simple.
- Environmental - Electric vehicles release almost no air pollutants and they typically have less noise pollution than an internal combustion engine vehicle.
- Energy Resilience - Electricity is an energy that remains within the continent where it was produced and can be multi-sourced.
- Energy Efficiency - Electric vehicle efficiency is about 3 times higher than an internal combustion engine vehicle.
- Cost of Recharge - The GM Volt will cost "less than purchasing a cup of coffee" to recharge. The Volt should cost less than 2 cents per mile compared to 12 cents per mile using gasoline.
Disadvantages of Electric Cars
- Range - Many electric designs have limited range, due to the low energy density of batteries compared to the fuel of internal combustion engined vehicles. Electric vehicles also often have long recharge times compared to the relatively fast process of refueling a tank. This is further complicated by the current scarcity (but increasing number) of public charging stations, although these are far less necessary for electric vehicles in everyday use. "Range anxiety" is coming into use as a label for part of this situation.
- Heating of Electric Cars - In cold climates considerable energy is needed to heat the interior of the vehicle, and to defrost the windows. With internal combustion engines, this heat already exists from the waste heat from the engine cooling circuit. If this is done with battery electric cars, this will require extra energy from the battery or an additional battery and circuit for accessories. Although some heat could be harvested from the motor(s) and battery, however, due to their greater efficiency, there is not as much waste heat available as from a combustion engine.
So, before you rush out to buy your next electric car, make sure you do your homework. There are a lot of electric vehicles coming down the pike and each one offers a different twist on the same technology. Make sure you evaluate what type of driving you intend to do and what needs and benefits you would like to achieve. The technology is evolving daily so keep up on the latest news and break throughs so you are sure to get the perfect electric vehicle for you. You will feel good about helping improve the environment and helping to decrease our dependence on foreign oil.