Electricity Policy


Last updateThu, 16 Mar 2017 7pm

ISSN 2331-1223  Twitter

Good news comes slowly. The long, inevitable rise of the electric vehicle


Are electric vehicle sales in the US likely to poke along, growing slowly but lacking the acceleration in sales that the cars possess on the road? Or are they headed for a bust-out year, as buyers discover their quickness and easy, clean operation.

EV sales could be explained by the typical S-curve of adoption: a slow start, with only early adopters and niche markets buying. Then, more rapid growth, as they gain acceptance and a dominant position in the market. Then a solid market share, but little growth.

Which is the future for electric vehicles? Its future could be explained too by the adage, “Good news happens slowly. Bad news happens fast.” That was the message in a Twitter string Thursday, linked to Nick Kristof’s New York Times column on the state of global poverty.

Nine out of ten Americans, Kristof wrote, believe that global poverty has worsened or stayed the same over the last 20 years. But as world leaders gathered for the United Nations General Assembly last week, he said, “The number of people living in extreme poverty [actually] tumbled by half in two decades, and the number of small children dying has dropped by a similar proportion. Historians may conclude the most important thing going on in the world in the early 21st century was a stunning decline in human suffering.”

“Good new happens slowly. Bad news happens fast.” Want more proof? Last week’s shootings in Charlotte and Tulsa.  A relief convoy bombed in Syria. Last weekend’s bombs in New York and New Jersey.  The nightclub massacre in Orlando. The San Bernardino killings.  Policemen assassinated in Dallas and Baton Rouge. They all get instant, blanket, continuing coverage.

Does a 50% drop in world poverty rate attention? Not much.

How about positive developments in electric transportation? Meh.

But it’s important to consider changes that aren’t grabbing headlines, like an uptick in electric vehicle news and the prospect of a bust-out soon, with environmental and national security implications.

Associate Editor Leah Parks, like many automotive pundits, was stunned by the 400,000 people who put $1,000 deposits on the Tesla Model 3—the “affordable Tesla”—with a 200+ mile range. This, even though the Model 3 may not hit the showrooms for another 18 months or so. It was an incredible signal of latest interest and buying power in the market.

Parks, whose article, “Surfing the EV Wave: Will We Smooth the Way?,” was just published on our website, loves her plug-in hybrid Chevy Volt and the fact that she almost never needs to add gas. She’s keenly interested in clean energy, and in the entire EV sector and its development.

Focused largely on the US market, Parks notes EV developments and challenges that planners, policy makers, and electric utilities face if America is to clean up its transportation sector—and if US electric utilities and automakers are to benefit from the coming boom in the sector, globally and at home.

Consulting firm PwC estimates that sales of electric vehicles in China will climb to 1.4 million units by 2020, and about 3.75 million units by 2025. India plans to transform its entire vehicle fleet to EVs by 2030—no more gas or diesel-fueled burners. Europe will surely continue its march to electrics.

Back in America, it’s been shown that nearly 90% of our driving could be handled nicely by, say, the Nissan Leaf and its 100-mile range. Goodbye range anxiety.

And if you consider rooftop solar a phenomenal contagion, imagine the growth spurt we’re could see when your neighbors start showing off their new Bolt or Model 3—or something glitzier—and inviting you to drive it. We are, after all, a nation of car lovers.

In the first half of 2016 alone, through June 30, over 28 different clean, quiet, plug-in electric models were sold in the US, totaling 64,296 EV sales—by Toyota, BMW, Porsche, Audi, Mercedes, Volvo, Tesla, Ford, Chevrolet, Cadillac, Hyundai and more. And that’s at a time of low gas prices.

As EV sales grow they will spawn still more sales, as we start to ascend the familiar S-curve of adoption. That’s why Parks’ article augurs a sea change in personal and family vehicle transportation. And don’t forget the light duty trucks and delivery vans. Is our infrastructure ready for them? Assuredly not.

That’s why Parks is urging city and county planners, utilities, and entrepreneurs to consider the need for both EVs and supportive infrastructure. When the wave hits—as it did during a 13-year period in New York City in the early 1900s, when a Fifth Avenue once filled with horse-drawn carriages was suddenly jammed with motor cars—we will need to be ready for it.

But, you know, there will be few headlines to announce it. Good news happens slowly.

—Robert Marritz 


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