Everyday I read something new and interesting about some form of electric vehicle. Hybrid electric, Plug in hybrid electric, Plug In electric, etc. While they're all using different technologies, the one thing they all seem to have in common is that they are still pretty much in the prototype stage. Sure, the Prius and other hybrids seems to have gone commercial and owners seem reasonably satisfied. But, my neighbor just got one to do his bit for the environment and he's seriously underwhelmed with the vehicle's performance. None are 50 mpg vehicles. Only Prius and Honda exceed 40 mpg and most of the other models are testing in the 30 mpg range. In other words, there's still a ways to go for hybrids to deliver the promised energy savings.
And then there's the plug in vehicles. Really in the prototype and testing stages. What kind of battery will give us a 40 mile range? Which chemistry is most cost effective? What happens to the battery in hot weather? Cold weather? Can a battery survive a high impact crash? What happens when a large number of PHEV's are charging from the electricity grid at the same time? Fast charge? Slow charge? What's the plug configuration? What's the impact on the electrical system? How to ensure consumer safety? And on and on and on.
We need to standardize on battery chemistries that are best from a performance, reliability, safety and cost standpoint. We need to agree on the best ways of configuring the batteries? We need to decide as a country on the fastest, safest, cheapest and best ways to recharge the batteries. We need to settle on the most efficient ways to track the vehicle so that the system can identify and bill me for the energy I use to recharge my vehicle regardless of where I recharge it. The utilties need incentives to create systems that are similar enough to permit uniformity and safety in how vehicles are charged and how they're billed. And there needs to be charging opportunities in buildings, on street corners, in parking garages, and at home, if our country is going to achieve President Obama's goal of 1 million PEV's by 2015.
What we need is a well financed ,government coordinated effort to bring the R&D together to test and optimize the batteries, the vehicles and the interface of the vehicle with the electricity grid. Don't get me wrong. I firmly believe in the abilities and the power of the private sector. And I know the government has pockets of money invested in vehicle programs in many places. But a rapid transition to electric vehicles on a scale that makes it economically viable requires a grand scheme–a well coordinated, really well financed public/private sector effort to accelerate technology development and minimize variability that if not controlled could scuttle the transformation before it gets started. Standards are needed as soon as possible to create the kind of system uniformity and predictability that will encourage widespread market adoption of PHEV's The government needs to jump in with both feet to make this happen.