We have all at some time seen (and probably travelled in) trains, trams, buses and boats that are powered by electricity. What is perhaps less well known is that the first battery powered vehicles were on the market in the early 1900’s. These electrified carriages had a top speed of around 14 miles per hour and a range of about 18 miles. These automobiles remained popular until the development of the internal combustion engine, which made possible vehicles of greater power, speed and range.
The issue of global warming due to pollution has become a hot issue. Oil prices have been escalating like never before. These factors, together with the realization that the earth’s reserves of oil will run out within the next few decades, have led to renewed interest and research into electric vehicles. These vehicles have several major advantages over gasoline powered vehicles.
The motors that power these vehicles emit no noxious exhaust gases. This is good news for the environment which currently absorbs millions of tons of exhaust fumes daily. These carbon dioxide emissions are seen as contributing significantly to global warming, while other exhaust gases increasingly pollute our air.
Electricity is cheaper than gasoline, so battery powered cars are cheaper to run. They will become more economically viable as the price of crude oil continues to escalate. It has been estimated that the energy required to run an electric car is approximately one fifth that required to run a gasoline powered car. This gap will widen as the oil price continues to rise.
Battery powered cars require less maintenance. They do not need regular oil changes and are not subject to the same wear and tear as internal combustion engines. In addition they have far fewer moving parts that need to be maintained.
The major disadvantage at this stage is the limited range made possible by current battery technology. Battery powered cars typically have a range of around one or two hundred miles before needing to be recharged, and a typical charge takes several hours. As with any rechargeable battery, the car’s batteries have a finite number of charge/discharge cycles and in time will need replacement.
Electric cars are still very expensive, due mainly to the high cost of batteries. Surveys have revealed that US and English consumers are not willing to pay more for an electric car with limited range, and this inhibits the mass transition from gasoline to battery powered cars. However, as battery technology improves we can expect to see more battery powered vehicles on the road. Mass production will result in lower prices.
Both gasoline and electric cars have advantages and disadvantages. It is, however, becoming very clear that our current rate of oil consumption is not sustainable (in terms of cost, availability and pollution) and that sooner rather than later we will have to find a viable alternative. Right now, electrically powered vehicles offer the only alternative.