The Significance of Electric Vehicles in the 21st Century

Throughout the history of humanity, travel has been essential. From walking to riding horses to carriages pulled by horses to the first automobile, we humans have consistently tried to improve the process of travel. Getting from point A to point B more efficient, comfortable, and safe has been a staple in our history on this planet. As of the most recent decade or two, electrically-powered cars have become more prevalent in our society. They mainly run on lithium-ion batteries, which are getting more affordable and efficient each day. The use of electric vehicles, here on referred to as EVs, is what our future is heading towards. There are many benefits in utilizing them, however there are also a few negative outcomes. EVs are the prospective way of travel for the world, at least once they are perfected.

Now, EVs have several positive impacts on our lives, environment, and wallet. First off, EVs have an overwhelming amount of benefits on our daily lives and travel. With “less interior noise, and vibration from the powertrain,” we can enjoy a more quiet and comfortable ride (Board on Energy and Environmental Systems, 2015). Electric cars such as Tesla’s Model S, X, and 3 cars utilize an electric powertrain. This feature allows for a multitude of benefits. For instance, braking is greatly improved. Instead of EVs having traditional brake pads that need to be replaced every so often, they use their battery to instead reverse the energy going through the wheels, slowing down the car with ease. This process, called regenerative braking, at the same time feeds energy back into the battery from the inertia of the wheels coming to a stop. Furthermore, the electric powertrain also offers smoother, and quicker, acceleration. With this technology, it is a simple “on and off” switch with the engine while accelerating. Once the foot touches the gas pedal, the car makes use of the entirety of the battery power, rather than slowly revving up the cylinders as in a conventional gasoline-powered car. So, even with just these two features, users of EVs are already enjoying significant benefits of driving an electric-powered car. Finally, a more obvious, yet important, benefit of the electric powertrain is the dampened interior noise. Electric cars have no real engine, but rather a series of lithium-ion batteries that send energy to multiple different places within the car. Due to that, there is no loud exhaust or engine noises, thus significantly reducing noise inside the cabin.

The new Tesla Roadster: Capable of 0–60 mph in 1.9 seconds and a battery range of ~600 miles

Before discussing the positive impact of EVs on the environment, the negative traits must be stated. EVs are not very affordable commodities, or at least not at the moment. With lithium-ion batteries not quite there yet in their costliness, buying an EV can still be quite expensive. This rings true especially if you prefer a more luxurious vehicle. Tesla Motors, more commonly referred to as Tesla, offers two high-end fully electric cars, the Model S and Model X. The Model S, their four-door family sedan comes in a variety of trims from the early 60 to the latest and greatest P100D. “P” meaning their performance model and “D” meaning the car has dual electric motors, one in the front and one in the back, Tesla offers a wide range of cars to their customers. However, these come at a price. For the entry model Model S 75D of their 2018 lineup, a customer will have to pay around $75,000. That is the base price, without any added options such as a sunroof, carbon fiber parts, or even an enhanced sound system. A car at that price is not typically affordable for the average family, and it becomes even less affordable when the top trim, P100D, comes into consideration. This vehicle starts at a base price of $135,000. As one can see, a luxurious take on EVs is not feasible for everyone. This is one of the major drawbacks, as unless an individual desires a far less elegant Nissan Leaf that runs around $30,000 and has fewer capabilities than Tesla’s lineup, then it is hard to get into the EV market.

With the discussion of affordability out of the way, next comes the battery range. Not all electric cars have a very significant range that they can travel before requiring a recharge. For instance, the aforementioned Nissan Leaf can only take its passengers a measly 181 miles before needing to be plugged in. This number is not totally accurate either. The estimated ranges on electric cars are only true with completely ideal driving conditions. This means that unless you drive perfectly, with minimal stops and starts, being conservative with the gas pedal, the car will not go the full range that it is said to go. Tesla is leading the way with range, however, as their EVs go just as far, if not farther, than most conventional cars out there. There are multiple car companies working on this very important aspect of EVs, however it has not yet been perfected. Let alone the fact that battery range is not yet optimal, buyers of EVs are basically required to install a charging infrastructure inside their garage if they wish to power their vehicles while at home so that a full charge is always there when they need it.

Tesla’s charging infrastructure, the “Powerwall”

EVs are far from perfect, yet the impact they have on the environment is a strong step towards it, especially considering the impact that gasoline-powered vehicles have on our ecosystem. In 2010, according to Helms, Kamper, and Lambrecht (2015), the transport sector was responsible for over 30% of the final energy consumption in Europe. Of that 32% of final energy consumption, more than 70% is “consumed by road traffic” (Helms, Kamper, and Lambrecht, 2015). This is extremely significant in showing just how toxic CO2 emissions from conventional vehicles is to our environment. Steps have been taken to reduce these emissions from gasoline cars, however the rate to which this is happening is too slow to actually help the atmosphere recover from these fossil fuels.

EVs produce zero emissions. Since they produce zero emissions, they are helping the environment by not reducing air quality through releasing toxic chemicals into the atmosphere. China has been dealing with this problem for some time now, as they are among worst in the world in the area of air quality. The smog surrounding large cities in China is horrendous. It prevents pilots from landing at airports because they “can’t see the runways” and citizens walk the streets wearing “masks and breathing apparatus” (Bonopartis, 2017). This is a major problem. However, China is making a turnaround and is now the “world leader in renewable energy properties” (Bonopartis, 2017). The country of over a billion people invested twice as much as the United States has in domestic renewable energy research and infrastructure.

Renewable energy is vastly important to our world as it is a resource that fuels our EVs. Solar power is a main source of renewable energy, and many external battery chargers are fueled by this super supplier. In fact, multiple cities within the United States are committing to 100% renewable energy. A recent report by Ray Brown (2017), reveals that cities such as “Madison, Wisconsin and Abita Springs, Louisiana” are fully committing to renewable energy in their communities. This is a big step towards the forthcoming superiority of EVs. With this advancement, many more communities may be stepping towards renewable energy in the near future.

The overall effect of EVs is to provide people with an alternative. Gasoline-powered cars will most likely never go ‘out of style’ due to their heritage and history. The point to having electric vehicles is simply to help people save money, save the environment, and save fossil fuels from running out prematurely. There is little possibility that EVs will ever completely overshadow conventional vehicles. However, they are here to stay. Whether companies such as Tesla or Porsche that are making the more luxurious models are the only ones that stay, or Toyota Prius’ and Nissan Leafs inhabit the market just as long, EVs are only getting better and more efficient as time goes by. Means of travel are essential for humans, and EVs just make it a little more, well, futuristic.