Thoughts on the future of EVs

Discussion in 'General Science & Technology' started by billvon, Oct 30, 2023.

  1. billvon Valued Senior Member

    A few thoughts on the future of EVs.

    We are going to see two big changes happen fairly soon:
    1) A steady reduction in price that will result in EVs being cheaper than gas cars. As companies like Tesla switch to LFP batteries (not requiring cobalt or nickel) batteries will become cheaper and easier to make. In addition, as local sources of lithium come on line (like the Salton Sea mine) the cost of lithium will drop. These two factors will cause a significant decline in battery cost, currently the #1 cost of EVs.
    In addition, a growing used EV market, along with service centers becoming more familiar with EVs, will make used EVs both cheaper and easier to fix.
    2) A buildout of solar will make solar power systems more ubiquitous. In California, lower income families will get solar not by having it installed, but by buying older homes that already have solar. This will make electricity for those families cheaper, and thus significantly lower the cost of ownership of EVs.
    The combination of these two factors will cause an acceleration in EV sales starting in 2-3 years, and it will continue for another 2-5 years.
    The next big effect will kick in when EVs approach 25% of the vehicles on US roads. At that point, the cost of gas will plummet; demand will drop rapidly and supply will remain approximately the same. This will tend to slow down further sales increases of EVs.
    The next big issue will be charging. As EVs become more common, on-road charging will become more in demand. Tesla stock will skyrocket again as investors realize that 1) Tesla owns the largest charging network in the US, 2) all EVs are converting to the Tesla charging standard (NACS) and 3) Tesla can basically charge whatever they want for charging other manufacturer's cars. Tesla will turn this money-printing machine into more chargers. The load placed on the grid will be ameliorated by new laws that require solar/storage at charging stations.
    In about 3 years the load on the grid will become significant, and this will drive changes to how people charge. Right now 99% of EV owners charge at midnight because that's when the grid is least loaded (and power is cheapest for people on TOU metering.) Once tens of millions of EVs do this, then nighttime will no longer be the easy answer to when to charge. Instead, charging from 9am to noon (greatest solar generation, lowest load) will become more common. Businesses will put in outlets as employee perks, because EVs can plug in for almost no cost to them, and employees will see that as valuable.
    As EVs become more connected, power companies will use the variable load they represent to control the load on the grid. Chargers will have discount prices for people willing to go on DR (demand response) where charging rates are reduced - or even reversed - during times of high grid load. This will tend to level out the load seen by the generators on the grid and reduce the peaks that currently threaten to overwhelm grids across the US.
    As more and more car companies make EVs, cheap, crappy EVs will start to appear. They will get the same complaints as cheap cars have gotten since the 1940's.
    Conservatives will see this as a threat, as they see any progressive change. As EVs grow more and more rapidly we will see increasing vandalism towards EVs and chargers. This will range from ICEing chargers, to the usual keying and spraypainting, to destroying chargers and threatening drivers on the road. We'll see "EVs NOT WELCOME" in parking lots in deep red counties. They will point to job losses at refineries, gas stations and drilling rigs to "prove" that EVs are destroying America.
    But as today's conservative have kids, and those kids grow up with EVs, they will no longer seem new and progressive to them. And within 30-40 years EVs will simply be what people drive, no different than fuel injected cars today.
    At that point we will still be selling gas cars, but in similar quantities that we sell diesels in the US today. They will become niche cars. Gas prices will continue to decline while refinery capacity far exceeds demand, but this will level out and reverse as oil becomes more scarce and as refinery capacity adjusts to the new demand. Oil demand will still be significant, with fuels for aviation and marine, long distance trucking and spaceflight remaining, and of course there will still be a huge demand for lubricants, plastics, paint and fabrics.
    Ken Fabian likes this.
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  3. DaveC426913 Valued Senior Member

    An awesome summary.

    Now how can I take advantage of it to make lots o cash? (respond by PM only)
    Bells likes this.
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  5. exchemist Valued Senior Member

    What are LFP batteries? Are these the fabled solid state batteries that Toyota claim they will soon bring to market?
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  7. TheVat Registered Member

    I mostly see it this way, too, though as one who lives in a place with very harsh winters, I wonder if hybrids will remain a pretty strong seller due to the battery efficiency drop in cold conditions. Even if charging stations are ubiquitous and the grid is properly retooled, having your driving range drop from 300 miles to 200 miles will remain a problem (especially in vast hinterlands where destinations are quite distant) for many until battery technology can produce something less temp sensitive. A chargeable hybrid that is electric around town, but gives you a fuel reserve on a road trip, might be around for a while. The fuel, of course, could be part of a carbon neutral loop, where a bio source like algae is used.
  8. billvon Valued Senior Member

    LFP are lithium iron phosphate batteries. Most EV batteries are NMC (nickel manganese cobalt.) LFP is:
    -far safer (almost no fire risk)
    -cheaper (fewer exotic metals)
    -longer lasting (they easily reach 5000 cycles)
    -lower cell voltage (3.2 vs 3.6 volts per cell)
    -not as energy dense (so range is lower for the same weight battery)

    The lack of energy density has been the biggest issue preventing their wider adoption but as 1) chargers become more common, 2) LFP densities improve and 3) designers figure out how to pack more batteries in a car, this limitation will be less of an issue.

    It should be noted that more than half of Tesla's cars are now being sold with LFP batteries.
    exchemist likes this.
  9. billvon Valued Senior Member

    Perhaps. PHEVs may be the solution there; they are vehicles that can be plugged in to charge, but can also use the engine to extend the range when needed. Since ICE engines are so horrendously inefficient they generate a lot of waste heat which is useful in winter.
    Well, except gas cars see the same issue; they see a range drop of, say, 300 to 250 miles in extreme cold. As battery densities improve, dropping from 400 miles to 300 miles in the cold won't be as big a deal.
  10. exchemist Valued Senior Member

    Thanks, I did not realise this. Getting away from cobalt and manganese seems to be a very good idea.

    What are your views on how the current difficulty in insuring EVs is likely to be resolved? It seems to be becoming a significant barrier to acceptance. Many UK insurers are simply refusing cover, citing the expense of repairing EVs damaged in collisions.
  11. billvon Valued Senior Member

    I don't think there's any long term problem there. As soon as repair places figure it out, insurance costs will decline. We already have body shops figuring out much easier ways to repair body damage, and specialty garages figuring out battery repair. This will continue.
    exchemist likes this.
  12. Bells Staff Member

    Easier to dispose of? Because the current EV batteries are quite toxic, are they not? And if those suckers catch fire, it can get pretty nasty.
  13. billvon Valued Senior Member

    LFP don't catch on fire nearly as easily; when their electrolyte decomposes it does not release oxygen, which is the problem with NMC type batteries. And if they do catch fire they can be put out with water.

    They are about as easy to recycle as NMC's. If you put them in a landfill they are less toxic due to the lack of cobalt, manganese and nickel.
  14. Seattle Valued Senior Member

    Nice summary. I haven't learned enough about EVs yet although I am interested in the subject.

    I wonder if there will be accelerated growth in places like California and maybe slower grow in places like the PNW due to cheaper solar energy in sunnier places and where that isn't such a solution in cloudier places? Although at the moment, Tesla's are very common here.

    Battery life seems like it's still an issue since (for example) a modern (ICE) Corolla can last 20 years easily and EV batteries seem to be rated more along a 10 year time frame. Battery replacement is a major expensive, right?

    Hybrid's don't seem like a good value to me (or am I wrong)? You have cars that are twice as complex and twice as expensive for little gain. I think I saw a hybrid Rav4 review where the battery can only drive 30 to 40 miles between charges if you were just on battery power.

    I think I'd either want a full EV or a standard ICE car.

    In theory, aren't EV's less complex and shouldn't they be easier to repair and/or needing less repairs in general? Certainly if local solar power brings down the cost of electricity and if competition/volume brings EV pricing below ICE pricing, that's got to lead to more EV adoption.

    I can see slower adoption in less crowded parts of the West. In time I guess everything works out but some areas are probably going to hold out longer given local conditions. Driving though Montana or Wyoming looking for an available charging station can't be fun.

    I also wonder if electricity is just going to go up so that it's just as expensive (as a auto fuel) as gas?
  15. billvon Valued Senior Member

    The PNW has fairly cheap power due to their reliance on hydro. But there will definitely be areas (like Canada) where power is expensive and the additional requirements for heating in the winter will make EV adoption more difficult. One of the biggest drawbacks of gas engines (their abysmal efficiency) is something of a benefit in cold climates, since all that wasted energy is converted to heat.
    That was the concern. But Tesla batteries have been lasting forever, far longer than predicted. Most batteries make it to 200,000 miles, and there have been batteries that have made it to 300,000 miles.
    Well, there are HEV's (hybrids) that use an electric motor to make the gas engine more efficient, and there are PHEV's (pluggable hybrids) that you can plug in and charge. They're a good intermediate step between gas engines and full BEV's, but as you mentioned they have some baggage in the form of greater complexity. Cost isn't that much of an issue since the biggest cost in an EV is the battery - and PHEV's have batteries that are 4x to 12x smaller than their BEV counterparts.
    So far, yes. A downside of that is that they are (so far) harder to repair.

    Probably, for those without solar/far from generation. As demand goes up, prices tend to rise until supply catches up.
  16. Seattle Valued Senior Member

    Just to clarify my point, sure the battery in a hybrid is cheaper than in a standard EV but that's in addition to still having to pay for a gas engine. There is also the cost of the electric motor. I just don't see the cost/benefit analysis on hybrids.

    If the main use of a particular car is short in-city driving then a regular EV seems called for. If that's not the case, how does a hybrid help considering the redundant systems, complexity and cost?

    Would you buy a hybrid? It seems that the extra cost outweighs any gas savings and how substantial is the reduction in pollution? I get the use case for standard EVs.
  17. billvon Valued Senior Member

    It allows you to buy a small battery vehicle (i.e. less cost, less materials usage) and then only use gas for long distances.
    We have one long range EV (a Tesla) that we use for family vacations and the like, and I have a Prius PHEV for my daily commuter. I fill it about twice a year, since I occasionally take it on long trips (like Vegas.) Of the 15,000 or so miles I put on it a year, 14,000 of them are EV-only.
    Seattle likes this.
  18. Seattle Valued Senior Member

    Do you mainly charge the PHEV at home?
  19. billvon Valued Senior Member

    Yeah, 90% of the charging happens there. The rest is just opportinistic - if I drive someplace that's 25 miles away and there's a charger there then I will charge. If not I'll drive home without it and the gas engine will kick in at some point.
  20. wegs Matter and Pixie Dust Valued Senior Member

    Do you see any environmental risks in the long-term if we’re all eventually driving EV’s, billvon?
  21. Ken Fabian Registered Member

    billvon - a good summary. Am a new contributor to this forum and this discussion but the implications of EV's are pretty significant.

    I have to say I think we would have to try really hard to make renewables and EV's worse than sticking with fossil fuels. Besides the obvious that global warming really is that serious some perspective shows the gross amounts of problem wastes go down enormously just by stopping coal use with it's billion tons per year of heavy metals contaminated fly ash and the much greater amounts CO2. And the sulphates are highly significant too. It seems essential that we deal with all our waste streams effectively because we will be doing more things at bigger scales than ever before - as the default expectation. Nice to imagine people gone all voluntarily frugal but my view is we need to aim for an abundance of zero emissions primary energy so that even wasteful extravagance by people who don't care will be low emissions.

    I don't think the waste problem will present as accumulations of dead cars because it looks like makers will use batteries that will outlast them and will therefore have significant monetary value to vehicle dismantler-recyclers. Around here they go out of their way to collect dead cars, just for the steel content. They wouldn't be foolish enough to put an EV in a regular crusher without getting the batteries out. Not twice anyway.

    Best re-use would be to retain them as oddly shaped large batteries but the disposal problem may grow to look more like the small battery mixed in municipal waste problem grown much larger if they get broken down to re-purpose, especially if unregulated. That small battery problem - causing fires in waste streams as the most immediate one, but adding toxic waste as well - is one that does require solutions. The extent to which that kind of re-use reduces demand on new batteries and resources will figure into whether it is overall good or bad.

    I do think we will see better batteries and being recyclable/safe to dispose will be a regulatory requirement. For all the unpopularity of regulation it appears necessary and overall beneficial, from vehicle standards to recycling. We are aware of potential for environmental harms and we are going to demand it.

    If nothing else the pro fossil fuels Doubt, Deny, Delay crowd will continue to promote alarmist fears of environmental harms from every technology that presents a credible alternative, as part of the "fossil fuels good, global warming harmless, renewables/EV's/environmentalists bad" messaging. At this point EV makers seem a lot less resistant to being responsible and accountable than the fossil fuel industries ever have.

    Doing lots of R&D tends to produce results - doing science has been one of the overall best investments ever - and better batteries are highly sought, with high levels of corporate funding above and beyond what governments support. I think science has never been better equipped for it, major industries - cordless tool makers, tech devices, renewable energy equipment as well as vehicle manufacturers - never having such strong incentives (whoever achieves the next gen best possible batteries getting rich beyond all imagination).

    The options we have available now - EV's far ahead of Hydrogen or biofuels - are still works in progress, not the last word.
    Last edited: Nov 5, 2023
  22. billvon Valued Senior Member

    Definitely; as with any new technology there are lots of risks.

    One is that people won't reuse/recycle batteries. After decades of work we now recycle 99% of (lead-acid) car batteries, but getting there took a long time. Fortunately EV batteries are a lot more valuable both to repurposers and recyclers so this will likely happen more quickly. In addition EV batteries (with the exception of some very early models) are lasting far longer than expected, so this won't be a problem for a while.

    Another is that metals for EVs (specifically cobalt) are mined in places with poor human rights and environmental records. Factors working to ameliorate this are 1) expansion of US mining of battery materials (Salton Sea etc) 2) a switch to batteries that don't use cobalt. More than half of Teslas no longer use cobalt for their batteries. And even the batteries that still use cobalt are now using less than 20% of what they did initially.

    A third potential problem is power. If all the additional generation for EVs came from coal that would . . . actually improve the pollution problem overall, since you get far more energy out of fossil fuels when you burn them in a power plant vs. burning them in a car engine. However, local populations that live close to coal fired power plants would see worse outcomes. Fortunately for them, coal power is still on the decline, and more than half of our new power sources are renewable. The balance are mostly natural gas, which is our cleanest form of fossil fuel power, and much more efficient than coal.

    All the above will take work to solve, of course, but there are already solutions to all of them.
  23. Ken Fabian Registered Member

    Billvon - I see renewables and EV's as something of a package deal; the same people who are advocating for EV's have mostly been advocating strongly for a transition to clean energy all along. They are strongly linked. EV's powered by coal electricity should be seen for what it is - a transitional state that won't last.

    Aside from the decarbonising of transport directly I think, like you, that a whole lot of plugged in EV's are going to have large scale impacts on the reliability and functioning of high renewables electricity grids. Fast charging stations along well used routes will be important services to vehicle operators but I think charger fitted parking spaces so that as many EV's as possible are plugged in when not being driven are going to be much more significant to electricity grid operators. To a large extent that will provide load leveling services - adjusting charge rates to balance supply and demand; plug in and charge to set minimum level as a priority, further charging to desired level before a set time (end of work shift) at the discretion of grid operators, or more likely discretion of software.

    Ideally some kind of hands free connection, disconnection for car park chargers - maybe induction chargers built into pavements that makes it all no fuss - would be very good.

    The next step, to vehicle to home and to grid - V2H, V2G - presents some challenges, including how to manage battery life and warranty issues. I'm not especially alarmed by that - battery usage logs are already a thing; if you think you can work your cordless tool batteries hard and claim they only got light use, think again - a chip in the batteries keep a record. Likewise for drawing power from an EV the battery usage will get logged. A distance traveled or years since manufacture type warranties won't do it but I think we can manage more appropriate warranty conditions. Also I think V2H looks likely to be relatively low intensity use of EV batteries in most circumstances. V2G could be a lot more intensive, potentially, but I don't think it will happen that much and may be more about managing supply interruptions than everyday. Incentives to opt in would have to be compelling, whilst the option to opt out would have to be there.

    I agree that overnight charging should be seen as transitional too, especially where solar rather than wind is expected to grow to dominate local supply.

    Road freight transport presents additional issues. I think electrification for trucks can be done and done well, but not without a lot more planning, forethought, agreed standards and pre-investment than we are seeing so far. Mostly I think it will need some kind of (probably overhead) road electrification or other ways that enable truck charging whilst on the move rather than sitting plugged in - not everywhere but strategically, eg on approaches and exits from cities and towns and on heavily trafficked sections, especially long inclines.

    As long as "Decarbonising our industry is hard and we are essential" provides a perpetual "don't have to" option, this is an bunch of industries that will continue to choose "don't have to". Any companies holding out for other options eg hydrogen look more like they are doing "Oh too bad, we just have to keep using fossil fuels until then", when any of them serious about decarbonising any time soon will be committing to battery electric.

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