Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Tesla Trumps Toyota 3:  Why Electric Vehicles Are Beating Hydrogen Cars Today - by Joe Romm

Prices of Lithium Ion Batteries (Credit: thinkprogress.org) Click to enlarge.
While electric vehicles (EVs) have experienced a marketplace renaissance in the last decade, hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles (FCVs) have not. Multiple models of EVs (like the Tesla and Nissan Leaf) and plug-in EVs (like the Chevy Volt) are selling in this country and around the world, but there are no commercial consumer FCVs yet.

Moreover, at least two major manufacturers – Tesla and GM — are in pursuit of the “Holy Grail” of EVs, an affordable (around $30,000) 200-mile range electric vehicle.  One of the big reasons is steadily declining battery prices (see chart).

But the reason that EVs have been kicking FCV butt is more complicated, since fuel cells have also seen declining costs.  To fully explain why EVs are winning now and why they are likely to keep winning for the foreseeable future — and why climate hawks should view that as good news — we need to understand why, until very recently, alternative fuel vehicles (AFVs) haven’t had much success.

A significant literature has emerged to explain that lack of success by AFVs — as I discussed in my 2004 book, “The Hype About Hydrogen:  Fact and Fiction in the Race to Save the Climate” and 2005 journal article, “The car and fuel of the future”

There have historically been seven major (interrelated) barriers to AFV success in the U.S. market:
  1. High first cost for vehicle
  2. On-board fuel storage issues (i.e. limited range)
  3. Safety and liability concerns
  4. High fueling cost (compared to gasoline)
  5. Limited fuel stations: chicken and egg problem
  6. Improvements in the competition (better, cleaner gasoline vehicles).
  7. Problems delivering cost-effective emissions reductions
Every AFV ever introduced in the past three decades has suffered from at least three of those problems.  Besides the tough competition (like the Prius), EVs have suffered most from #1 (high first cost) and #2 (limited range and slow speed of recharging).  But major progress Is being made in both areas.

FCVs suffer from all of them — and still do!  It is very safe to say that FCVs are the most difficult and expensive kind of AFV imaginable.

A big advantage EVs have, especially over FCVs, is their edge in #4.  Not only have EVs long had a per-mile fueling cost below that of gasoline.  Now that key renewable sources of electricity have seen amazing price drops — a 99 percent plunge for solar photovoltaics in the past quarter-century! — EVs are the only AFV to have a lower per-mile fueling cost for zero-carbon power than traditional cars running on gasoline!  FCVs, as we have seen, are a very inefficient and wasteful user of carbon-free power.

Tesla Trumps Toyota 3:  Why Electric Vehicles Are Beating Hydrogen Cars Today - by Joe Romm

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