Why gas based electrics are the cars for this decade! by Ritesh Pothan

English: 2011 Chevrolet Volt exhibited at the ...

English: 2011 Chevrolet Volt exhibited at the 2010 Washington Auto Show. The Chevy Volt is a plug-in hybrid (PHEV). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This article was published in the April edition of Energy Next Magazine

Vehicles are now the most polluting segment of any urban society and a lot of thought needs to go behind their detrimental effect to Indian society as a whole especially with the current trend of diesel taking precedence.

Electric cars are the next step in the evolution for safe and sustainable transport, however since the majority of power in India comes from conventional sources, the result is not as it should be. Solutions that cover the entire gamut of RE from generation to use are the need of the hour.

Localized distribution, especially for the semi urban and rural areas are the direction that MNRE has to push the country towards. Inefficient uses of power especially heat generation should be localized by mandating standards that pull the load of the grid.

Lot has been said about the future of only electric cars with worshippers waxing eloquent on its myriad advantages. But current limitations ensure that these brand of cars only address a very small part of commuting needs and aren’t really viable for road trips or lengthy commutes. Hybrids like the Toyota Prius, Honda Civic aren’t solving the problem in a true sense and only increase mileage at a very high cost. Stick shifts provide much better mileage in India which is a cost sensitive market.

The current breed of electric hybrids are out of the reach of the common man which defeats the entire purpose. A commuter’s biggest nightmare is being stranded, electric only cars have the ability to do that to you, on more than one occasions if you don’t pay attention. Electric driven cars suffer from crucial issues of short ranges on a single charge, replacement cost of batteries, lack of infrastructure and long recharge periods especially in a country like India.

Mahindra, looking to address this market by buying over REVA, should focus on solutions similar to the Chevy Volt. Only battery based electric cars are similar to solar without storage, you only have limited range which in essence is only a patch fix solution. The recently launched E20 has only a slightly improved range on the old version and you can barely eke out a couple of days without charging and not suited for long commutes.

Gas and electric can definitely coexist and a transistion to an electric only drive train is way in the future but only post 2020 (In India) if I have the timing right. Caveat being sufficient infrastructure and clean energy to ensure it happens or we are only replacing one polluting form of energy for another.

India’s Ministry of New and Renewable Energy is planning an electric mission which is expected out sometime in mid 2013. The aim of this mission would be to create the infrastructure required to charge electric vehicle across the country using renewable energy sources. The results would take at least half to a decade to be felt across the country and till then we need a more immediate solution. There is also a subsidy in the works for two and four wheeler vehicles as well but it’s just not enough to enable mainstream adoption.

I watched a Top Gear episode sometime back that exploited the weaknesses of pure electric cars, where the reviewers had a tough time finding a place to plug in anywhere in rural England and in typical TopGear style made a big hullabaloo of it. Sadly enough, I agree with them and electric only vehicles aren’t the immediate future of automobiles, especially not if they can’t cover 600KMs or more on a single charge.

The green brigade might resist this but the truth is quite apparent. Top Gear got sued for distorting facts, by Tesla (which was thrown out) as well, who are now going after the NYTimes that says essentially the same thing. Anyway, if you can find a place to charge your car in India today other than your designated home parking spot, hats off to you.

Pure electric vehicles have the issue of range until your next plug aka the Tesla and the Nissan Leaf, which may offers various battery packs and need you to superamp your home plugs to get a full charge overnight and no, I don’t consider the REVA a viable alternate yet, too puny and just an enthusiasts car. Costs will vary based on the battery pack which not only increases the weight of the vehicle but also destroy its economic viability.

No matter what said, in India, that’s a tremendous limitation where cost per km travelled is given precedence with additional lack of charging infrastructure especially when travelling out of the city.

Tesla2 Tesla1

Charging time is a great hassle if charging spots are few and far between as demonstrated above.

You can do the same here, its quite interactive and compares useful facts, though for now its dedicated to the US only.

What India needs is automobiles like the Chevy Volt, which have brought to the fore new paradigms of no direct gas transmission engines. An inbuilt power generator running on fuel, recharges on board batteries as you travel over its initial capacity, bringing in the amazing low end torque power of all wheel electric while disengaging the wheels from the gas power train.

Compared to standard electric vehicles, the Volt is only propelled by an electric motor with a peak output of 111 kW (149 hp) delivering 273 ps (370 Nm) of torque. The engine doesn’t directly engage with the drive train and only acts as an on board electric power generator which is the crux of the vehicle.

Volt users have experienced fuel efficiencies far superior to those cards running of petrol. At times, drivers have claimed to travelled more than 1500Kms on a tank of 45 litres going for a month without fuel tank refills. Given today’s stop and start driving in city traffic, makes this technology quite desirable.  The same technology moving  ahead will power the Cadillac of 2014 due to poor sales in part contributed by the high sticker shock while the Prius surged ahead with a price half that.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officially rated the 2011 model year Volt’s combined city / highway fuel economy in all-electric mode at 93 miles per gallon gasoline equivalent (MPG-e) (2.5 L gasoline equivalent/100 km; 112 mpg-imp gasoline equivalent) and 94 MPG-e for the 2012 model year. The overall combined city / highway gasoline-electricity fuel economy rating is 60 mpg-US (3.9 L/100 km; 72 mpg-imp) equivalent (MPG-e), making the Volt the most fuel-efficient compact car with a gasoline engine sold in the United States since its introduction in December 2010.

A feature I find lacking, is a complete high efficiency solar panel roof absorbing sunlight to charge its batteries while parked or even when driving. That would solve some concerns with the inability to find a plug point, albeit slow but at least an option. The Nissan leaf has this in a small tail section which powers minimal electronics only.

No looking for plugs everywhere and the benefit of electric drive, that’s utopia. Now all we need is to levitate and get rid of wheel friction aka The Fifth Element, Star Trek, Star Wars,the list never ends.

As they say ‘science fiction today is possibly science fact tomorrow’.

About Ritesh Pothan

Ritesh Pothan, is an accomplished speaker and visionary in the Solar Energy space in India. Ritesh is from an Engineering Background with a Master’s Degree in Technology and had spent more than a decade as the Infrastructure Head for a public limited company with the last 9 years dedicated to Solar and Renewable Energy. He also runs the 2 largest India focused renewable energy groups on LinkedIn - Solar - India and Renewables - India
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