According to a new research study from the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), a combination of greatly improved battery life and projected cost reductions for batteries and other components can make electric drive vehicles (engine-hybrid EVs, plug-in hybrid EVs, and some pure EVs) cost competitive with gasoline vehicles.
These lower costs and a doubling of battery life times – up to 150,000 miles – result in significantly reduced fuel and maintenance costs for electric drive vehicles, and over their lifetime will offset their higher initial price by the end of this decade.
The EPRI study chronicles important and steady improvements in battery technology, even over the past few years. Researchers specifically found that advanced batteries used in electric drive vehicles are exceeding previous projections for cycle life and durability, a key consideration in cost. Longer life essentially means reduced cost to operate. These developments, along with recent announcements that vehicle manufacturers will substantially increase production of hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs), will bring down costs of the special electric drive components, making electric-drive vehicles more cost effective.
After considerable testing on the road and in the laboratory, the researchers concluded that nickel metal hydride (NiMH) batteries could be designed, using current technologies, to meet the vehicle lifetime requirements of some full-size battery EVs, subcompact ‘city’ battery EVs and plug-in hybrid EVs.
It also appears that only one battery pack per vehicle may be required instead of two as previously projected. With this new information, the EPRI study suggests that savings in fuel and maintenance can pay for the higher upfront cost of battery EVs and hybrid EVs with and without plugs.
‘The cost of advanced batteries for non-plug hybrid EVs, plug-in hybrid EVs, and battery EVs is highly dependent on the establishment of a growth market situation, a predictable regulatory environment, and consistent production volumes that encourage capital investment in production capacity and line automation by battery and automotive manufacturers,’ said Bob Graham, EPRI’s area manager for transportation.
‘Produced in volume, hybrid EVs such as the Toyota Prius and Honda Civic will help drive down the cost of motors and controllers that could be used in all types of electric-drive cars,’ Graham added. ‘But the commercialisation of the plug-in hybrid EV, because of its large market appeal, holds the key to the one remaining barrier to zero-emission vehicles – the cost of the ‘energy’ battery.’
The non-plug hybrids, plug-in hybrid EVs with a 20-mile all-electric range, and subcompact ‘city’ battery EVs with a 40-mile all-electric range that were analysed in the study can cost-effectively reduce smog-forming gases, greenhouse gases and petroleum consumption. The higher initial cost of electric-drive vehicles is due to the battery, but in the long-term, fuel and maintenance savings cover this. According to the EPRI research, plug-in hybrids could reach life cycle cost parity with conventional internal combustion vehicles, after relatively small production runs of 50,000 vehicles per year.
The EPRI study built upon earlier research that showed that the plug-in hybrid EV with a 60-mile all electric range has the potential to be the first advanced vehicle to attain the equivalent of 80 miles per gallon (the US Department of Energy goal for midsize sedans) without lightweight materials or extreme aerodynamics.
The plug-in hybrid EV works a pure EV for a portion of its daily travel when it has been plugged into a 120V outlet. When its electric range is used up, the vehicle switches automatically into hybrid mode, operating much like a ‘regular’ HEV (e.g., a Toyota Prius) until the battery is recharged. Depending on the size of the battery, it can provide 20 to 60 miles of daily range in zero polluting EV mode. A plug-in hybrid EV drive system is compatible with all vehicle models and does not sacrifice vehicle performance and driver amenities for the sake of clean air and reduced consumption of petroleum.
‘These EPRI-led studies show in our opinion that plug-in hybrids are a mass market technology. We consider them an important ‘bridge’ technology,’ said Ed Kjaer, director of Electric Transportation for Southern California Edison. ‘They will help make a viable business case for other technologies that deliver zero emission miles from an ‘energy’ battery – such as pure EVs and fuel cell EVs.’