The appeal of electric vehicles is gaining momentum. The push for miles per gallon that began in the second half of the last century has been joined by the push for greater mileage per charge. But before getting too far into this transportation evolution, a quick history lesson about electric vehicles (EVs) is in order.
Early electric cars were powered by galvanic cells rather than rechargeable batteries. The lead-acid battery was invented in France in 1859 with further development leading to manufacturing of these batteries on an industrial scale in the early 1880s. This allowed a rechargeable battery to be installed on a vehicle.
Soon manufacturers were selling a wide array of EVs ranging from trams to trolleys, to cars, and even locomotives. Interest in electric cars blossomed in the late 1890s and early 1900s. As roads improved and became more extensive, demand for greater range emerged. A variety of solutions were put forth including the first battery exchanges by an electric utility in Connecticut in 1910 and the first hybrid automobile in 1911. It would not be long until America led the world in number of EVs on the roads.
But the rapid expansion of the country and the limitation of electricity to major cities and towns spelled the end of the electric car. The world wanted to be mobile and EVs simply did not have the range required. Enter Henry Ford and the mass-produced, affordable internal combustion engine, and the EV's fate was sealed.
Fast forward to modem times and EVs are dominating the automotive news. Thanks to the electric cooperative movement, electricity is available everywhere in the U.S., the majority of roads are paved and environmental concerns are increasing awareness.
While many drawbacks of EVs are gone, there is still a major concern limiting EV growth dubbed "range anxiety." This stems from the persistent limited range of all EVs. While the Tesla offering provides 270 miles for their all-wheel drive model and 355 miles on their standard models, that pales in comparison to most internal combustion vehicles. And, the lack of a rapid charging infrastructure is an ongoing impediment. Just like their 20th century predecessors, pure EVs are great "city cars."
Fortunately, advances in battery technology are hammering away at the range issue. Range is steadily expanding and battery management systems are squeezing out more miles. At the same time, more companies and utilities are installing efficient charging stations at their places of business and in popular public locations.
Range anxiety notwithstanding, EVs have a bright future. Prices are dropping and range is expanding so owners can confidently drive nearly everywhere with a little bit of planning. On top of this, the cars are just plain cool. The Tesla Model 3 promises a minimalist interior with all the necessary controls and information presented on a large touchscreen in the center of the console as opposed to using the traditional instrument cluster.
Further, if you've never driven an electric vehicle, you are in for a treat. While an internal combustion engine must rev up to speed, an EV has full power at its disposal instantly. Of course, there are limits on this 0-60 mph capability to prevent inexperienced and over-eager drivers from launching themselves into accidents and speeding tickets. They are quiet, well-appointed inside and allow you to forever by-pass the lines at the gas station-unless you are in need of some snacks and a slushy.
One final word, if you do purchase an EV, be sure to let your electric COOP or company know. The service to your home is sized to meet the demands of your house as they existed when service was connected. Adding the EV charger creates a risk of overloading the wires and transformers powering your home. Overloaded services can fail and leave you in the dark with an uncharged EV. Someday, we'll all be gliding silently-and cleanly-on our travels.
More information on the History of the Electric Car can be found on the U.S. Department of Energy website.