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Electric Cars: Advantages and Concerns Essay

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Updated: Jul 2nd, 2020

An electric car is a general term that is used to refer to all varieties of highway-capable automobiles, which are propelled by electricity. The source of electricity can either be on-board rechargeable batteries or other electric energy generating and storage device. An electric car that is powered by on-board solar panels is specifically referred to as a solar car. While the one that derives its electricity from a gasoline generator is called a hybrid car. Similarly, cars that derive power from the on-board battery pack are more specifically referred to as battery electric cars/vehicles (BEC/V). In the recent past, the term electric vehicle has been used specifically to refer to lithium-ion battery-powered plugin electric cars.

Most commercial electric cars are fitted with one or more low power electric motors capable of providing instant torque for better performance. These cars also have a much better acceleration as compared to the conventional gasoline engine cars. Electric cars are also significantly quieter and are environmentally friendly since they don’t emit any tailpipe pollutants, as is the case for gasoline cars. These cars are thus considered the future solution to the problems of air pollution and greenhouse gases. Electric-powered vehicles also provide independence from the volatility of oil prices and the occasional gasoline price fluctuations, which occurs as a result of a disruption in the supply of oil from producing countries (Gabe 71).

In terms of energy efficiency, electric vehicles are more efficient than gasoline-powered cars in converting the stored energy to propel the car. Gasoline-powered cars are relatively inefficient at converting on-board-energy and only utilize about 15% of fuel energy to move the car. In addition to their strength in energy efficiency, electric-powered vehicles do not consume energy when not in motion. Most electric cars are also fitted with a regenerative braking system that recaptures for reuse as much as one-fifth of the energy that is used during braking (Kane 52).

However, electric cars have many hurdles to overcome if they are to compete effectively with the internal combustion engine cars. In terms of price, electric cars are astronomically expensive compared to internal combustion engine cars. Batteries alone cost a fortune, and yet their range is limited. Energy experts agree that for electric cars to be economically viable, battery manufacturers must find a way of building units that can last 15 years, improve their storage capacity, and cut the costs by about a factor of four.

No such game-changing breakthroughs have been achieved so far by any of the electric vehicle manufacturers despite huge financial support from the government (Chao 56). The units being sold by Nissan, General Motors, Tesla, and Fisker remain disproportionately expensive. General Motors’ hybrid electric Chevy Volt, for example, is sold for a staggering $40,000. Nissan Leaf retails at $30,000, yet it is less capable than most car models that are powered by gasoline.

The continuous decline of global oil prices and the subsidization of fossil fuels through tax breaks is another stumbling block that is hindering the widespread adoption of electric cars. Huge government financial assistance and tax waivers are provided to oil exploration and refining companies. This makes gasoline to be relatively economical to use for car owners. And as long as tailpipe emissions have no priced harm, few buyers will be willing to spend a dime on transitioning to electric cars. A survey conducted in 2010 shows that although more than three-quarters of Americans were willing to buy electric cars for the sake of the environment, none was ready to pay more to own the cars (Michael 64).

The cost of maintenance of electric cars is another factor hindering mass transition from internal combustion engine cars. True, electric vehicles have fewer mechanical moving parts to break and therefore require less servicing. However, these cars are incredibly complex machines that require regular maintenance and expensive replacements. Battery charging infrastructure and charging time is another major shortcoming for electric cars. The batteries must be recharged periodically, with each recharging taking several hours. Although fast charging is available as an option, it usually takes at least 30 minutes, which is still a lot of time compared to the time it takes to refill a fuel tank.

There are also serious concerns over safety issues and the risk of fire associated with the use of lithium-ion batteries. Lithium-ion batteries are highly vulnerable and are easily prone to thermal runaway if they are overcharged (Jim 40). The batteries can also rapture and in extreme cases, even explode when overheated. In fact, several fire incidents involving electric cars have been reported since the start of commercial production of plugin electric cars in 2008. Incidentally, most of these high-level fire accidents are almost entirely related to thermal runaway of lithium-ion battery packs.

Clearly, the future of electric cars doesn’t look promising, considering that the government’s financial support and funding are unlikely to increase. Things are also likely to get tougher for traditional electric car companies following the introduction of Google’s hugely successful self-driving cars (Smith 79). Google’s vehicles are expected to be more affordable and will liberate the cars from its driver. But as the experts have observed, the improvement of the battery performance range, charging time, and storage capacity will be the key to unlocking the full benefits and economic viability of electric cars.

Works Cited

Chao, Philippe. Electric Car Industry in the Slow Lane. New York: McGraw-Hill Press Publishers, 2010. Print.

Gabe, Muler. Energy Efficiency of Electric Cars. London: Foundation Press Publishers, 2011. Print.

Jim, Witkin. Building Better Batteries for Electric Cars. New York: Witkin Press Publishers, 2013. Print.

Kane, Laurent. Understanding the Electric Vehicle Landscape. Washington: McMillan press Publishers, 2013. Print.

Michael, Westbrook. The Electric and Hybrid Electric car. London: Mechanical Engineers Press Publishers, 2013. Print.

Smith, David. Electric Cars: The Sound of Silence. San Francisco: Auto-Mobile Discovery Publishers, 2012. Print.

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