E&E News: Are the 2020s the EV decade? 4 key questions will decide

David Ferris,
E&E News
January 14, 2020

Talk to an energy or climate wonk, and it’s almost an article of faith that the electric car is the next big thing. It needs to happen to solve climate change; the prices for batteries are dropping; it’s only a matter of time.

But will that transition become apparent in 2022 … or in 2030?

1. When will an EV cost the same as a standard car?

One report by Columbia University last month examined multiple studies to gauge what percentage of the global vehicle fleet will be electric by 2040.

It found that in the last year, the most optimistic forecasts had moved the $100 target date. In 2018, number crunchers estimated the crossover would occur somewhere between 2020 and 2022. Last year, those forecasts stated a more sober date of 2023. The median of other studies put it at 2025.

Another massive report by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Energy Initiative in 2019 came to similar, and bracing, conclusions.

A standard electric sedan with a large battery “will likely remain upwards of $5,000 more expensive to manufacture than a similar internal combustion vehicle through 2030,” it said.

2. Is this the decade when drivers get excited about EVs?

The 2010s were the decade that launched the production electric sedan, like the Nissan Leaf and the Chevy Bolt, and, on the sexier side, high-performance cars like Teslas.

As the 2020s dawn, a much larger compliment of cars and even trucks have arrived in showrooms, or soon will. With nearly every global automaker spending billions of dollars on converting factories to produce EVs, a giant question is still unanswered: Will drivers want them?

The challenge is that most Americans simply haven’t been thinking about EVs at all. A 2018 study found that even in California, where most of the country’s EVs are sold, “households by the millions are simply not engaged in any transition” to EVs, with next to no knowledge of what vehicles are available or that a charging network exists.

That attitude is widespread. The global director of electrification at Ford Motor Co., Ted Cannis, wrote last September that one of the main misperceptions it hears is that people think an EV needs gas to operate.

3. Where will drivers charge?

A number of unknowns make it difficult to foresee how robust the charging-station presence need be. One is that the rate at which drivers will adopt EVs is unclear. Another is that building and operating charging stations isn’t necessarily profitable, which is slowing their spread.

A third factor, many in the industry will admit, is that chargers being built today may be necessary now but not a few years from now. That’s because new EVs are being built with hundreds of miles of range, eliminating the need for daily charging except on the exceptional long trip. Utilities and states are investing millions of dollars in chargers to create a feeling of security for those who are mulling an electric car purchase. But as more drivers come to understand that fueling an EV actually happens at home, it’s possible that expensive public chargers will be little used.

4. Will state policies make a difference?

A mid-2019 report by the N.C. Clean Energy Technology Center found that 43 states were taking some form of action to spur the adoption of electric cars or to build out charging networks.

Some of the more prominent ones are proposed public investments in charging stations in New Jersey, Massachusetts, New York and Maryland — which is a partial list of the states that are also part of [the Transportation and Climate Initiative].

Read more here.