The good news is that electric vehicle sales are up. According to the Edison Electric Institute, 2018 American sales are up 81% compared to 2017, and there are over 1.18 million EVs on the road. The bad news is that the infrastructure supporting all these new electric vehicles is still lacking - big time. Lines like those in the videos recall moments where fuel had to be rationed, the opposite of the impression electric vehicles should convey.
If we want electric vehicle ownership to be comparable and preferable to fossil fueled car ownership, then the support infrastructure must be just as robust.
While comparing the straight number of charging stations compared to gas stations wouldn't tell us much because of the difference in market-share between electric and fossil fueled vehicles, those long lines are a sign that a greater number of EVs on the road will require a similar growth in charging stations.
But simply adding more stations doesn't solve the biggest hurdle charging currently faces, which is how long it takes to top an EV off. Where a fuel pump can typically fill a car in around 5 minutes, it takes about 30 at a Tesla Supercharger just to get enough energy to take you to the next one – and over an hour if you want to charge your battery to 100%. And it's that wait time, more than a lack of available charging stations, that causes huge lines. To their credit, Tesla does make a Supercharger capable of giving a 75-mile charge in just 5 minutes, but those stations aren't yet widespread.
Additionally, as relatively fast as a Tesla Supercharger could be, they aren't compatible with other brands of electric cars. If you have to charge up a non-Tesla electric vehicle, you could be looking at up to 10 hours to reach 100%, which presents a huge inconvenience to anyone who doesn't want to add an extra night to their long-distance road trips.
Stop n' swap
While the growing number of EV owners wait for a massive surge in charging infrastructure installation, there is another way to get a full charge without waiting in lines: battery swapping. Instead of plugging your car in and waiting for a charge, you could drive into a swap-station and have a robot replace your drained battery with an already charged one in less than a minute. Then as you drive away, your old battery gets charged to eventually be swapped with an empty from another car that comes along.
Swapping solves a number of problems that current charging presents, with speed only being the most obvious. One part of that speed problem is that the laws of physics put a hard limit on how much energy its possible to pump into a battery at once. Teslas already need special cooling systems to prevent overheating at Superchargers. Other problems swapping subverts are costly and put a strain on the power grid. Spare batteries can be charged when energy demand is low, preventing overloading the grid, and keeping costs down for swappers and customers.
Speaking of the grid, perhaps the biggest issue with electric vehicle adoption is that – just because your car doesn't pollute, doesn't mean that the electricity used to power it is clean. For EVs to truly alleviate the threat that fossil fueled vehicles present, their power must come from clean renewable sources.
As with the superfast Superchargers, clean energy technology is already here – Tesla even sells a solar panel and home battery kit of their own for home and commercial use – but there needs to be more effort in building a robust and reliable clean energy grid. Eventually we should reach the point where, whether an EV is charged at home or on the go, all the electricity used to do so is clean and renewable.
Unfortunately, with the technology available at the moment, electric cars will need to plug into something to charge. While some automakers have experimented with installing solar panels directly on cars, that a moving car won't reliably be in direct sunlight – nor have anywhere safe to store excess energy unless plugged into the grid – means that it's not a viable solution.
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