Future of Battery-Powered Vehicles

Future of Battery-Powered Vehicles

Battery-powered vehicles (BEVs) are likely to replace internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles in the U.S. during this century.

A few calculations concerning energy use leads to this conclusion.

Energy efficiencies

Light vehicles, i.e., cars, SUVs and pickup trucks, consumed 131.6 billion gallons of gasoline in 2017, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA).

This is equivalent to 4,395 Terawatt hours (TWh) per year using a conversion of 33.4 kWh per gallon of gasoline. 

Using data provided by the Department of Energy (DOE), battery-powered vehicles (BEVs) use 33 kWh/100 miles. Multiplying this usage times the total miles driven by light vehicles in 2016 results in a potential usage of 1,063 TWh per year for (BEVs).

The disparity between 4,395 TWh and 1,036 TWh reflects relative efficiencies of energy use.

Converting natural gas, for example, to electricity has an efficiency of around 63% in the most efficient natural gas combined cycle (NGCC) power plant, while the newer, best internal combustion engine (ICE) has an efficiency of over 30%. The BEV has an efficiency of around 90%.

Altogether, BEVs will provide an energy efficiency that is approximately 60% better than ICE vehicles. 

This basic improvement in energy efficiency favors the BEV over the ICE vehicle over the long haul.

However, there are roadblocks standing in the way of this future.

  • First, the kWh usage could be higher than the 33 kWh/100 miles used in this calculation. The kWh usage cited by DOE for various BEV models goes as high as 47 kWh/100 miles. It’s too early to settle on kWh usage for BEVs at this stage of their development.
  • Second, the cost of batteries must come down for BEVs to be competitively priced with ICE vehicles. The current cost of the battery for the Chevy Bolt is $205 per kWh and the replacement batterypack is quoted at over $15,000. The cost of the battery for BEVs should be below $100 per kWh for BEVs to be competitive with ICE vehicles. This could happen over the next 12 to 20 years.
  • A nationwide network of charging stations must be developed. Not everyone will have access to an inexpensive ($1,000) home charging station. People living in apartment buildings who park on the street or in public parking, and people living in older homes having service entrances of only 100 amps will require access to public charging.
  • Charging times for a full charge will have to come down to around 10 minutes, rather than the 20 to 60 minutes with most currently available public charging stations.

All the media hype about BEVs causing peak oil demand by 2025, or that BEVs will replace all ICE vehicles by 2050 is unrealistic poppycock. See, Peak Oil Politically Motivated Conjecture

However, the better energy efficiency of an electrified economy favors BEVs over ICEs, over the long haul.

And this should be the issue for policymakers.

Chevy Bolt. Photo by D. Dears

Allowing free markets to determine how quickly the transition takes place will be more efficient than throwing money at promoting BEVs and all the infrastructure required to support them.

It will also avoid the pitfalls of adopting many short-term and questionable policies that might otherwise be adopted.

The transition could result in an economic boom

Electricity has the potential for propelling an economic advance across the world.

Not only will BEVs require substantial increases in power generation and transmission, but the billions of people around the world who must climb out of poverty will also create additional demand. Combined, these two forces have the potential to create an economic boom for the rest of this century.

The next article examines issues surrounding the transition to BEVs.

. . .


Notes relating to efficiency calculations:

  • Conversion factors for converting gasoline to TWh vary from around 32.9 to 33.7, depending on energy content of the fuel, e.g., e10.
  • The 35% efficiency used for ICEs when estimating the better efficiencies of BEVs, reflects the work being done to improve the efficiency of new iCE vehicles. Existing ICEs have much lower efficiencies which help’s to explain why gasoline usage of 131.6 billion gallons, i.e., 4,395 TWh, was so high in 2016.
  • It’s assumed that newer, more efficient NGCC plants will be built to provide the electricity for BEVs if the transition to BEVs is allowed to proceed based on market forces.

. . .

17 Replies to “Future of Battery-Powered Vehicles”

    • The relative energy efficiencies are proxies for the cost of generating electricity or refining oil. It’s fairly certain that the cost of natural gas will remain around $3 per million BTU’s for some time. The cost of oil could vary from $40 to $100 per barrel. Obviously, governments can interfere with these costs, but if market forces are allowed to shepherd the transition to an electrified economy the lowest cost, most efficient road will be taken.
      When making an estimate of the relative efficiencies I used a 6% line loss for transmission losses. Think of it this way. If BEVs give the consumer a better economic value they will buy BEVs. If they buy BEVs companies will invest in the power generation required to supply the electricity. If BEVs don’t provide a better economic value they will never be more than a niche product. My guess is that BEVs provide a better economic value to the consumer.

  1. Transforming the transportation sector to BEVs makes the case for initiating a new generation of Nuclear for base energy production all that more compelling. Smaller plants of standard design will make the economics viable, and of course, vast reduction in atmospheric CO2 concentrations.

    • I agree. The only problem in the US is that nuclear is dying and probably won’t survive. That’s a sad commentary on the situation, but the anti-nuclear crowd, including the Union of Concerned Scientists, have so poisoned the public with fear of radiation that nuclear plants will close and new ones won’t be built. SMRs are great, but people won’t have them in their backyards.

  2. Conversion to electric transportation saves little on CO2 emissions so long as that electrical power is largely produced by gas and coal (as now). And until/unless huge improvements are made in large-scale power storage, renewables cannot substantially replace fossil fuels. Nuclear would be another solution.

    • I agree. Renewables won’t be able to provide the power and nuclear, though it would be great, is dying in the US.
      Thanks for your comment.

  3. I’m all in favor of knowledgeable consumers exercising viable choices. I’m against social engineering via crony environmentalist agendas picking winners and losers.

    To me, BEV’s look more like the latter than the former.

    There are also serious technical and environmental issues associated with EV batteries. But it might be viewed as hijacking this article by providing such details.

    • Thanks for your comment. Please expand on whatever you believe is a problem with BEVs. My article this Friday will touch on some of the problems.
      I agree with you that government shouldn’t be playing a role in promoting and supporting BEVs.
      My article merely pointed out why BEVs could be a winner over the long haul. I don’t buy the media hype. I’m interested in what you have to say and would like to be able to look into anything I may have overlooked.

      • Sorry for the delay in responding. Below is a list of articles citing problems. Clearly, not all of these are absolutely specific to batteries but all are relevant of how environmental problems are being shifted. Since the embedded hyperlinks are not coming through, I am also sending the list to you via email.

        Illegal mining in Congo wiping out gorilla populations
        Presentation of Dr. Ken Morgan
        Are We Headed for a Solar Waste Crisis?
        The rise of electric cars could leave us with a big battery waste problem
        The Dark Side of Solar Panels
        How Green Are Those Solar Panels, Really?
        A Clean Energy’s Dirty Little Secret
        Are electric cars worse for the environment?
        Offshore Wind Power Cost Update
        Retiring worn-out wind turbines could cost billions that nobody has
        Wind Decommissioning Costs — Lessons Learned
        Decommissioning Canada’s oldest wind farm
        How much to take down a wind turbine?
        Long-term leaching of photovoltaic modules
        If Solar Panels Are So Clean, Why Do They Produce So Much Toxic Waste?
        Study warns of environmental risks from solar modules
        EPRI: PV Life Cycle Analysis
        Economic Feasibility for Recycling of Waste Crystalline Silicon Photovoltaic Modules
        Act Now To Handle The Coming Wave of Toxic PV Waste
        If Solar Panels Are So Clean, Why Do They Produce So Much Toxic Waste?
        Wind energy’s big disposal problem
        Wide-scale US wind power could cause significant warming
        The dark side of e-mobility

        • Thanks. A quick look at the list shows nearly all are targeting wind and solar. As I think you know, I do not support wind and solar and have mentioned in my article that they can’t replace existing power generation let alone the power needed for BEVs. If BEVs become the norm, we will need to build NGCC power plants, not wind or solar.
          I also mentioned that we will need ways to handle battery waste. As for the environmental damage done by mining rare earth’s, I think we will solve that problem. If BEVs become mainstream, we will either find new sources or find ways to modify battery design to mitigate the resource problem.
          I also mentioned we shouldn’t subsidize BEVs and allow market forces to determine how quickly BEVs become the norm. This will allow time to resolve some of the problems, i.e., use of rare earth’s, waste disposal etc.
          It might also allow for the hysteria about global warming to abate which would stop the use of wind and solar.
          Wind also requires rare earth’s, which is another problem with wind.

          • Batteries for wind/solar and BEV batteries have many common problems.

            While human ingenuity will likely overcome at least some of these problems , it is the “all renewable all the time” paradigm I’m questioning and have difficulty separating from the BEV issue.

            To environmentalists, NGCC’s (and natural gas in general) are “a path to nowhere.”

            And they say: “The best way to remove CO2 from the air is “to not release it into the air in the first place.”


    • Thanks.
      I have read the GM press release and am preparing an article for publication this Friday. My view on the future of BEVs is spelled out in my articles.
      This latest move by the proponents of AGW will do more to harm the prospects of BEVs than it will do to help.
      The motivation behind the GM proposal and BEVs is to cut CO2 emissions, and today’s article shows that to be a fool’s errand.

  4. “The kWh usage cited by DOE for various BEV models goes as high as 47 kWh/100 miles. ”

    “Charging times for a full charge will have to come down to around 10 minutes, rather than the 20 to 60 minutes with most currently available public charging stations”

    This would imply that a full charge for say 200 miles you’d need W=E/t=(200miles/100miles)x47kWh/(10mins/60mins)=564kW supply…. some challenge for the transmission lines. A 1GW plant would charge only 1GW/564= 1770 vehicles in those 10 minutes.

    • Thanks.
      Interesting point, highlighting it’s not just the overall picture that’s important, but also what happens at the transmission and distribution level. It needs to be examined right down to the distribution transformer feeding residences: Will they need to be changed out to larger units? Are the feeder substations large enough?
      There’s going to be an upper capacity level at all points in the system. Ultimately it may not be possible, with a reasonable investment in infrastructure, to get down to a 10-minute charge. We have a lot to learn about BEVs and the infrastructure needed to support them.

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