Are Electric Vehicles for Real?

There’s a buzz about EVs, but are they ready—and are we ready for them?


A BMW ActiveE electric vehicle gets a topped off at a charging station.

Does the prospect of $4-a-gallon gas get you down? Think your next vehicle might come with a big old plug for an electric charger?

We’re going to hear more and more about electric vehicles (EVs) in the coming months, especially if gas prices soar as expected. But … er … ah … are we ready for them?

We’ll likely see a bunch of EVs hit the market, from a plug-in Toyota Prius to electric models from Ford, BMW, Audi and others. Home EV chargers from Leviton, Schenider Electric, GE and others are available at big box hardware stores. Electric vehicle charging stations are being installed in parts of the United States as well, and the U.S. Department of Energy has been doling out grants to companies like Eaton Corp. and others to improve on EV charging stations and lower their costs.

In Mountain View, Calif., BMW is building a smart energy home, of sorts, to test charging and other functions of its ActiveE electric vehicle.

The smart home will run on smart grid software company Tendril’s Connect platform and feature a solar panel installation, home appliances, residential lighting and other smart devices. BMW and Tendril will integrate a battery charging station—and the Tendril system will help manage the intermittent energy produced by the solar panel and to mitigate the home’s impact during periods of peak electricity demand. The info will be accessible via Tendril’s Energize application suite.

According to Dennis Kyle, vice president of strategic and new market development at Tendril, the info gathered from the home will also help electric utility Pacific Gas & Electric to optimize rates for electric vehicle charging.

Tendril, BMW and PG&E could use the smart home to study a variety of EV/smart home related issues, such an optimizing charging times, using solar in EV charging and other home power uses, and even using the car’s batteries to power devices in the home or send that power back to the grid (called V2G, for vehicle to grid).

Electric vehicles could come a long, long, way in a very short time. They could, conceivably, become parts of our households.

Hold Your Horsepower

Though according to most research, this won’t happen overnight. Global penetration of electric cars will grow from a meager 3 percent in 2011 to 15 percent to 30 percent by 2021, at best, says Dr. Peter Harrop, chairman or IDTechEx in a recent webinar titled, Electric Vehicles Forecasts, Trends and Opportunities. “The real age of the electric car, a pure electric car, will not be this decade but the next one,” Harrop says.

U.S.-government funded installation of EV chargers is behind schedule, and even that tireless EV champion President Barack Obama’s stated goal of 1 million EVs on the road by 2015 seems hopelessly unrealistic to many. And seven automotive companies – General Motors, Ford, BMW, Audi, Daimler, Porsche, and Volkswagen – in the fall announced they would adopt a single standard, established by the Society of Automotive Engineers, for fast-charging electric vehicles. Cars from Japanese makers and Tesla will require adapters for these chargers. Hmmm … whenever different standards are involved, you can pretty much bet that consumer confusion will ensue.

So we might want to temper those electric car dreams. Though I imagine that $4-a gallon gas may produce more than its share of electrically charged inspirations—both from EV technology developers and car buyers ready for change. The EV revolution could be here faster than anyone thought.


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