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Not That Far Off
Dr. Steven Chu, the U.S. Secretary of Energy, has shared his informed (hard to find someone more informed than him) opinion about the future of battery electric cars at the Cancun U.N. climate talks. According to him, cars that run on electricity stored in batteries will be competitive with cars that run on fossil fuels in "about 5 years".
"It's not like it's 10 years off," Chu said at a press conference on U.S. clean energy efforts on the sidelines of the climate talks. "It's about five years and it could be sooner. Meanwhile the batteries we do have today are soon going to get better by a factor of two." [...]
Chu said car battery companies have to develop units that last 15 years, improve energy storage capacity by a factor of five to seven, and cut costs by about a factor of three in order to be make electric cars comparable to cars that run on gasoline and diesel. (source)
Too Optimistic? Or Does He Know Something We Don't?
Dr. Chu's forecast might seem optimistic, but it's probably hard to find someone who knows more about what's in the pipeline than him, so if he says it's likely, I have to take that opinion seriously.But it's also not entirely clear what he meant by "competitive". Maybe he simply meant "good enough for most people", which could be an EV with a range of about 200-300 miles at a price in the 20-30k range. After all, because EVs are charged on most nights and cost less in fuel and maintenance, the total range and initial cost doesn't have to be exactly the same as that of a gasoline car to make them more or less equivalent.
I think the thing to remember is that the past rate of improvement for electric vehicles can't necessarily be extrapolated in a straight line. It could be slower, but I think it's going to be faster. There are so many more companies and universities working on this, so much more resources, much better tools (computers, nanotech, etc), bigger financial incentives for success as well as more expensive oil.
Things could indeed move rather fast in the next 5 years.
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