5 reasons you need to think about electric cars

Electric vehicles are hitting the world's roads and with government support behind them these things are the future of environmentally friendly road transport.

Combustion engine vehicles generate huge quantities of pollution, and developed economies create more than their fair share. The US transportation sector accounts for around 30 percent of US global warming emissions “an order of magnitude more than most countries”, says UCSUSA.

Electric greens

Europe’s new Clean Power for Transport directive means member states must create an infrastructure to support electric vehicles. In the EU, cars emitted an average of 135.7 grams of CO2 per kilometer in 2011, which the EU hopes aims to reduce to 95 grams/km per by 2020.

To illustrate government commitment, the UK is working deploy around 155,000 recharging points to support the 1.55 million electric vehicles expected to be on UK roads by 2020. “The development of an infrastructure capable of supporting increasing vehicle numbers is essential,” say the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT). Similar schemes are rolling out worldwide.

  • This means electric vehicles will be enabled on our roads, prompting analysts to predict some big numbers. For example, Navigant expects sales of PEVs and all-electric cars to reach 1.75 million with hybrid vehicles achieving 2 million per year by 2020.

While electric vehicles won't be ubiquitous for a few years yet, rapid infrastructure deployment means most enterprises should begin to think about how -- and why -- they make sense to their business.

1/ Green(er) transportation

A February PwC survey showed 46 percent of 1,344 chief executives in 68 countries see climate change as one of their top three concerns. “More and more businesses are seeing climate change for what it is - a risk issue, a resilience issue and a business opportunity,” PwC partner, Jon Williams told the Reuters Global Climate Change Summit. Enterprises are already adopting electric cars -- Orange recently reached a deal with Renault to extend its fleet of electric vehicles.

Governments across the planet want to get more electric vehicles on our roads as they can reduce vehicle emissions by up to 68 percent. There are some who argue that making these cars imposes their own environmental costs, but the overall impact remains a reduction in emissions.

2/Batteries are improving

The cost of manufacturing and recycling of the expensive lithium ion batteries (big versions of the batteries used in phones) used in current electric vehicles is high. These batteries easily disposed and take huge amounts of energy to recycle. That's bad news for the environment but there's plenty of research taking place that should improve this, car range should climb while the batteries themselves grow greener. Projects include:

  • Researchers at Uppsala University have created batteries using alfalfa and pine resin instead of cobalt or nickel – and their solution claims to enable recovery of 99 percent of the Lithium.
  • Researchers at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) School of Materials Science and Engineering have developed a rapid charging battery that can charge up to 70% capacity in two minutes and full capacity in five minutes. This should be available within two years.
  •  Stanford University researchers, including former Energy Secretary Steven Chu, developed a battery that could give an electric car 300 miles between each charge.

3/ They're getting cheaper

You can find vehicles from a range of brands, including BMW, GM, Nissan, Tesla, Toyota and many more, but these things have a cost that prohibits wide adoption.

This is changing, fast. China has woken up to the impact of climate change -- Chinese car manufacturers produced 11 times as many new energy vehicles in August 2014 as they did in August 2013 because of new government incentives. Foxconn (which makes iPhones for Apple) is now working with China's BAIC Motor Corp. to manufacture a sub-$15,000 pure electric car. In the US, GM is developing its own affordable electric vehicle.

Two-wheel transportation is another alternative. Navigant Research claims worldwide sales of e-motorcycles will grow from 1.2 million vehicles annually in 2014 to 1.4 million in 2023, while sales of e-scooters will grow from 4.1 million to 4.6 million. Yamaha will introduce its own electronic two-wheeler next year, while Toyota's iRoad has already won critical acclaim. The bottom line? As electric vehicles are more widely deployed their cost will fall.

4/ Running costs

There are significant cost savings to be made in electric vehicle deployment, particularly if used in combination with other solutions, such as car sharing schemes. In one example, an electric car sharing scheme at Duke University generated those taking part around $370 per month savings in car payments, gas, parking charges and insurance. This suggests significant potential savings for enterprises running larger fleets.

Electric vehicles aren't confined to personal use, of course, electronic bus manufacturer, Transtech, claims one of its vehicles can save a school district around 16 gallons of fuel a day for over $10,000 in savings per year. Toyota in Japan already runs its own innovative consumer-focused car sharing scheme.

Exploring the disruptive potential, a University of Delaware scheme sees the institution's fleet of vehicles doubling up as emergency fuel storage cells for the local utility firm when not in use. Each vehicle earns around $110 per month under the scheme. Nissan is using electric vehicles as part of disaster and emergency response with its experimental emergency response system. These latter notions suggest that electric cars could earn at least some of their keep.

5/ Intelligent solutions

As connected vehicles hit the road, electronic vehicles will benefit from smartphone like telematics and connected intelligence to augment driving experiences. We've talked about some of the opportunities of connected cars before -- everything from personalized entertainment to reduced running costs and better road safety, but as vehicles morph into becoming integrated electronic devices, there is a growing opportunity for them to become as integral and personal to you as your smartphone -- your vehicle becomes your intelligent assistant.

That's before you even mention the chance for fleet monitoring, group insurance reduction and asset management, of course.

Jon Evans

Jon Evans is a highly experienced technology journalist and editor. He has been writing for a living since 1994. These days you might read his daily regular Computerworld AppleHolic and opinion columns. Jon is also technology editor for men's interest magazine, Calibre Quarterly, and news editor for MacFormat magazine, which is the biggest UK Mac title. He's really interested in the impact of technology on the creative spark at the heart of the human experience. In 2010 he won an American Society of Business Publication Editors (Azbee) Award for his work at Computerworld.