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What people just don’t get about electric vehicles

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Energy Transition

German parliamentary elections are coming up this fall, and the German Green Party has adopted a plan for 100 per cent electric vehicles by 2030 for new car sales. But one leader of the party remains skeptical. His criticism showed that we have to get our heads around how fundamentally different electric cars will be.

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Winfried Kretschmann is the Minister-President of the German state of Baden-Württemberg, home to Mercedes and Porsche. As such, Kretschmann is one of the most powerful politicians in the Green Party. But his stance on the automotive sector is not in line with the party’s, as recent comments he made privately to a party colleague (video in German, apparently covertly recorded) at the party’s convention reveal:

Imagine what’s going to happen if we have 5 million electric vehicles on the road. Where are they going to fill up?… Think about the normal filling stations we have today. At the big ones, there might be space for 10 cars to fill up simultaneously. Except that electric cars are going to need 20 minutes. How is that supposed to work? You don’t know what you’re talking about! But you tell people that you can do this by 2030. That’s ridiculous!… You can say these things if you want, I don’t care, but then you have to be satisfied with six or eight percent (of the vote).

The Greens are currently struggling to stay above 5% of the vote in order to be eligible for seats in Parliament; parties that get fewer votes are not eligible for party representation. So Kretschmann is warning his party colleagues not to take such a “radical” (his word) position, lest voters be scared off.

But there’s a problem with his analysis: electric vehicles will not need filling stations, at least not the ones we have today. Fast charging is possible within 20 minutes, but it shortens the battery’s lifetime. So you will want to charge where your car stands for hours. People will want to charge quickly when they need to drive farther than the car’s range (so on highways), but the rest of time you will want to charge your car wherever you park it. Filling stations will die.

People will charge their cars at home, where possible, overnight. Otherwise, they will want to charge wherever they park: on the streets in front of their city apartments, in the parking lot at work, and in parking lots wherever they go shopping. It’s convenient to charge your car for 30 or 60 minutes while you buy groceries; your car is going to be there anyway.

Kretschmann reveals how poorly he understands electric vehicles when he talks about “filling up” (tanken in the German), but it’s a common misunderstanding. We currently think of charging electric cars as an inconvenience, but in the future we will park somewhere and plug-in in mere seconds. People will look back on making an extra trip to a filling station as a major inconvenience.

A few weeks ago, Kretschmann made another statement that rankled his colleagues. He had recently purchased a large diesel car and justified the purchase by saying he needed a “real car” (in German) because he recently had to tow a ton of sand for his grandchild’s sandbox. A delivery service, which certainly existed, would doubtlessly have been far cheaper than purchasing a car large enough for even the rarest need. Money permitting, we have always purchased cars not to suit our everyday needs, but to make sure the vehicle is the right one for every occasion. Car-sharing (and eventually self-driving cars) will allow us to choose the vehicle we actually need at the time.

In short, Kretschmann’s thinking about cars is old-school. What’s more, he probably isn’t even right in saying that the Greens will scare away voters if they call for all cars sold by 2030 to be electric. On the contrary, Germans are losing their love for diesel; they support bans for diesels in cities.

On the other hand, Kretschmann is right that sales of electric vehicles in Germany are slow right now because of a lack of infrastructure. Last year, only 34,000 EVs were sold, up 33.4% (report in German). As the comment section on that website shows, people willing to buy EVs lack charging options at home, especially in apartment complexes. But at home in Baden-Württemberg, Kretschmann has made his state a leader in expanding charging infrastructure with a budget worth 43.5 million euros (in German). So Kretschmann knows what he’s talking about when he discusses charging stations.

Still, Mercedes and Porsche must be justifiably concerned about the threat of electric cars. But Kretschmann won’t be able to save them, especially if he is wrong and I am right about Germans slowly abandoning diesel for electric. The Greens’ call for all-electric by 2030 might cost them a few votes, but they probably stand to gain many more.

Craig Morris (@PPchef) is the lead author of Global Energy Transition, where this article was originally published. He is co-author of Energy Democracy, the first history of Germany’s Energiewende, and is currently Senior Fellow at the IASS. This article was republished with permission.
  

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  • George Darroch

    Not only that, but electric vehicles have full torque from zero so make excellent towing vehicles. They’ll dominate short-medium range trucking soon.

  • Goldie444

    Winfried Kretschmann says “Imagine what’s going to happen if we have 5 million electric vehicles on the road. Where are they going to fill up?…”
    Yes these 5 million cars will all go to the same filling station, at the same time, but with only 10 spaces available the rest will have to just wait.
    And this guy was a senior political leader in a state that made two of the world’s best ICE cars. And I thought our Australian lot were bad!

  • runforthehills

    “We have to get our heads around how fundamentally different electric cars will be.”
    …and yet, how strangely similar.

    Although replacing petrol cars with EVs is a step in the right direction, it is insane to think that private cars of any kind are the key to the future. As urban populations increase, reliance on private vehicles will take us nowhere except gridlock.

    Now, electric trains, buses and trams…. THERE’S an idea!

    • Brunel

      So put a massive import tax on oil and petrol cars.

    • Rod

      You missed bicycles 🙁
      Especially electrically assisted.

      • Baker

        If you need to go faster/farther, electric motorcycles are compact and ridiculously efficient, about 400 mpge.

        • Rod

          Can’t trust myself on anything more powerful than 1kW and at least on on treadlie I can (usually) avoid idiot drivers pulling out in front of me.

    • Ren Stimpy

      The number of vehicles on the roads at any given time will be determined by necessity. Whether those vehicles are private (utilised 4% of the time) or shared (utilised 40% of the time) we still have to consider the possibility of gridlock due to the necessity of people getting from A to B.

  • Peter Campbell

    Yep. I get annoyed on the few occasions per year when I have to go to a special filling station because I am using a petrol car. Most of the time my driving is local and I charge slowly at home.

  • George Michaelson

    One logistical problem I see here, is that people who decide to eg drive north from Sydney to Brisbane on the Coast highway, will tend to have cars from the same range sources: they cluster. So we have a predictable need for power at specific places, obviously not the 100% flat, but somewhere around 75% to 80% its forseeable everyone in that class of car needs a boost.

    This is utterly unlike petrol where a full tank is 600k+ depending. So the spread of usage of the refill slots is not driven entirely by distance, its a function of a more broad spread: we can have more powerup points, in more places and we do ok.

    Its possible that e-vehicles demand more concentrated recharge opportunities at more specific places.

    (my key point is that nobody is going to set out to drive north on an empty e-tank, which means the end-points of their battery are going to cluster more strongly)

    • trackdaze

      Perhaps, if only that they will all start with a full tank. Same problem existed with the Model T but we seemed to work through it.

      Noting The Range in a phev (50% of electric vehicles) presently greater than a petrol vehicle.

      So the one or two trips a year are covered with the majority weekly travel on electric.

    • WR

      Different EV models will have different ranges, depending on their battery capacity and weight, the same as existing cars.

      Also, in the future, internet connection will enable drivers to identify the wait-time at recharging stations along a given route at any given time.

  • Brunel

    99.9% will do.

  • trackdaze

    Recall a survey in the states that had 80 – 90% of charging done at home or work. Similarly a chevy volt hybrid travelled only 6% less than a nissan leaf on electricity.

    So most mornings if you so chose to plug it in it will be full. In a internal combustion vehicle thats only once a week.

  • Simon

    Electric + full autonomy = massive drop in private vehicle ownership in built up areas.

  • Ian

    Nothing wrecks a nice al fresco meal or coffee quicker than a diesel bus roaring past.
    The sooner we move to electric the better.

    • Kyle

      Or you could eat indoors. They have these amazing things called “windows.”

      • Ian

        Much of the western world enjoy eating outdoors, bbqs or otherwise, me included, & most people would enjoy less noise. Do you eat outside?. Or just prefer noisy buses?

  • MaxG

    Didn’t think we would tend on this forum to start talking black and white or polarisation… 🙂

    Change needs change management! When you run a project, the reasons for doing it are defined, clear and sanctioned by the leadership. This is completely different in a forum like a democracy, where every man and his dog has an opinion, but where also agendas are being pushed for a certain outcome. The Greens (there and here) are often referred to as radicals, drug users, and hippies, whatever name you give them, they are more radical when it comes to deadlines; I mean most of us would agree that given the knowledge we have today, that we should have gone EV 30 years ago, meaning asking for a ban of ICE technology by 2030! (hello 13 years from now) or three to one car generations later (depending on your demographics) — it seems this is enough time to change course; at least so I would think.

    However, electricity companies are all for it; of course, money in theory pockets is better than in Saudi Arabia. The theme here is: those who loose will oppose the change, while those who win will be all for it. Winfried Kretschmann simply indicated that the “radical push” for a total ban, and listen, not a ban on selling ICE, but on being able to register any ICE vehicle hasn’t been thought through by its party. Also bare in mind that it was Kretschmann who last year spend 40+m Euro on building charging stations. However (again) buying most recently a diesel car wasn’t the smartest thing a “greeny” could do.

    My point after all this: long live critical thinking and the colourful debate, where we are able to criticise ideas without becoming an outcast for simply raising a question.

    • Richard

      All the debate and political posturing is all for show. It is only money and investment that matters. When you are investing money you actually think about what is going to happen to it, it is not a hypothetical or interesting discussion, it becomes reality.
      It is clear what is happening in the energy transition by following the trend in investment. The change will be quick and disruptive for legacy technologies
      and that can be witnessed by their zeal to influence political decisions any way they can, which is really the last lever they have to pull in milking the last drops from the fossil cow.
      But there are new interests that stand to gain enormously from an energy transition at the expense of the old.
      Just watch how quick this all going to change. Politicians posturing about what might or might not happen in 2030 is really hilarious. They haven’t got a clue.

      • solarguy

        The fossil fools don’t have to lose out in the transition if their smart, e.g. coal companies can start using their mega profits to invest in renewables, not just to supply stationary energy but also the coming EV revolution. Obviously there will be a need for a hell of a lot of clean energy and storage.

        Service stations can re invent themselves to cater for EV fast charging, although some will die for various reasons.

        • Richard

          Yes, and some of them are already doing that.

  • MaxG

    Also, the embedded video (in the article) makes a very good point of: “nachhaltiges Mobilitätskonzept” -> a sustainable mobility concept, including all form of traffic needs to be considered when promoting the adoption of EVs. Something we are clearly lacking in Australia… but then we are the worst when it comes to vehicle emission standards, which is no surprise given the principle stance on emissions overall.

  • JohnM

    Amazingly enough, the WA electric vehicles association have teamed up with Western Power and Synergy to install 1,500 chargers WA wide. This makes a lot of sense.
    When the power utilities figure they can wedge in on the FF gravy train, they’ll all be jumping for it. They can sell excess daytime (solar) power at a premium.
    Still much cheaper than petrol or diesel.
    I’m sure other states will follow suit as soon as the penny drops.
    Electrek.com has a lot of recent articles about Tesla’s charging infrastructure.
    It’s big.
    Thanks for a great forum Giles, -but it must keep you VERY busy?

  • Ken Fabian

    Charge where it’s parked is the way to go – us PV owners just need to have mobile electricity accounts as part of the network service we are paying that hefty Service Availability Charge for, so it gets deducted from the excess our PV is feeding to the grid, as part of one electricity bill.

  • itdoesntaddup
    • MaxG

      I have looked into the Greens problem… they have all the right policies and the social aspect that glues society together… but then, the population is not ready to give up on the meagre life they have today — because they do not (want to) realise how meagre it is, has become, and is getting…

      • Kyle

        Can you post that in English?

        • MaxG

          Sorry Kyle… I sometimes miss to add the pretext of my thinking. The Greens problem is: nobody (other than the hard core 6%) votes for them… and I do not understand fully why that is. I consider the majority of people as being wilfully ignorant in general; e.g. no interest in their freedoms, democracy, solidarity, environment, and the list does on. Because the Green agenda addresses all these issues, and nobody cares, the result: no votes for them. -> The seem to prefer their meagre (consumerist) lives.