A good find by our friends at EV Obsession, apparently a trade magazine from the oil industry, Alberta Oil, has put a Tesla Model S electric car on its cover ("Hell on wheels") and published an article with this title and sub-title: "Is Tesla’s Model-S the Beginning of the End for Oil? Why battery technology could drive the electric vehicle to new heights – and disrupt the fossil fuel industry in the process".
You get the feeling that the thinking of many inside the oil industry is starting to change; for the longest time, most of the comments and official forecasts from the industry basically said that, yes, electric vehicles are coming, but they won't be a big deal for many decades, and that maybe in 30-40 years they'll represent a few percents of the vehicles out there.
This reassuring (for them) prognostication about the status quo was repeated like a mantra until even most people who heard it over and over in the media accepted it as truth. But that's not how things work. We can't know that far in advance how things will be, and if you had asked someone in 2006 whether billions of people were going to own super-powerful internet-connected smartphones within less than a decade, they'd have thought you were crazy. What looks obvious in hindsight isn't obvious at all looking forward. Why? Because change is non-linear. Things move slowly for a long time, and then you reach a special tipping point where change accelerates. For example, solar power adoption was relatively slow until the price per watt of solar started getting close to other sources (first with incentives, and now without). That changed the game and things shifted in a higher gear. And as we get close to solar being cheaper than all other sources of energy, things will shifter in even higher gear...
The same thing has been happening with EVs, step by step. Nothing happened for the longest time because there were simply no EVs on the market. Then the GM EV1 proved that there was demand and even love for EVs in a niche part of the market, but the EV1 itself was never going to be mass-market. EVs needed to pass other milestones first, like show that they can be attractive, performant, safe, convenient, affordable, etc. We've passed most of those now, and what's left is more or less just affordability. Once we have a few good-looking, fun-to-drive, long-range, affordable EVs on the market, demand will explode much faster than anyone expects. Personally I think this will happen when we have EVs that are around $25,000-35,000 with 200-mile of range, and it'll keep accelerating as batteries should keep getting cheaper for a while, unlike gasoline engines.
Anyway, back to Alberta Oil. The magazine calls the Tesla Model S "one of the most beautiful and interesting automobiles to ever get made. It might also be one of the most dangerous. That’s because it’s managed to do something that no other electric vehicle has ever achieved: become an object of desire." The magazine then publishes an excerpt from the book Powerhouse by Steve LeVine, which is about the quest for a better battery to change the world (both with EVs and storage for renewables). There's an interview with Mr. Levine that is interesting. Here's a choice cut:
Alberta Oil: What’s the response been like to your book from people in the fossil fuel industry?
Steve LeVine: I was just at a dinner at the overseas press club in New York, and two Chevron guys both said they were reading the book – and enjoying it. I guess, for them, this is the one outlier that they worry about. They’re not worried about biofuels, and they’re not really worried about any of the renewables posing any kind of existential threat. But if there is a big breakthrough in batteries, that’s something that would be a huge risk for them.
There's even interesting speculation about Exxon or some other oil giant potentially coming in and trying to buy its way into the battery industry when it feels too threatened:
AO: As you point out in your book, Exxon was the one that built the first rechargeable lithium ion battery. Could ExxonMobil or any of the other supermajors in the fossil fuel industry get into the battery business or did they miss the boat?
SL: They’re monitoring this very, very closely. Generally, the big incumbent companies tend to hold back and assume that when a new technology reaches the critical stage, it can swoop in and buy up anyone. I think that’s where they are. And it’s not just ExxonMobil that feels that way. Now, I don’t think you can say they’ve missed the boat. They think they can get on the boat. And they could – but it would be very expensive.
You can read the whole thing here.