By Pam Frank and Liz Burdock
If using the wind to run your car makes you picture installing a big sail on the roof, think again.
While it’s true that the way we power vehicles is undergoing massive changes, turning cars into the clipper ships of old isn’t in the offing. But wind – and solar, too — will play a big role in helping us get where we want to go, on land.
The growth of vehicles powered by electricity is stunning. There are more than a million EVs on the road in the U.S. today and that’s expected to go up to around 20 million in 2030. As battery costs drop, sales rise: about 350,000 EVs were bought in the U.S. in 2018. New Jersey enacted a nation-leading EV law this year that included an EV rebate over the next decade and goals including 330,000 EVs registered by 2025 and comprising 85% of all vehicles registered by 2045.
So, if you don’t know anyone who drives an EV, odds are you will soon. If your next car isn’t electric, the next one you buy after that might well be. And it’s very likely the first car your children buy will be electric.
Gasoline is on the way out — and that’s a good thing because gas is a dirty fossil fuel. Burning it in a car’s engine gives off harmful emissions that endanger our health and worsen the impact of climate change. So, it’s no wonder that the transportation sector is the biggest contributor to air pollution. Electric cars, on the other hand, present no health or climate problems, and they’re more efficient.
As one expert put it, “As well as being better for the environment, EVs are also just better cars than their fossil-fueled equivalents.” He notes that EVs accelerate more quickly and have nearly no internal moving parts, which limits both noise and wear and tear, reducing maintenance costs.
But, from a clean environment standpoint, one might ask where the electricity that powers an EV comes from.
Fortunately, in New Jersey our electric grid is relatively clean, so a mile driven in an EV is 70% – 80% cleaner than a mile driven in a gasoline-powered car. But, even that won’t be good enough to reach our goals. We need to simultaneously clean up the grid and to increase the number of EVs on the road. Further, we’ll need more electricity – about 30% more when all light-duty cars on the road are EVs.
This is where wind and solar enter into the equation.
If the electricity you use to charge your car comes from renewable energy sources instead of fossil fuel, it’s the ultimate win-win situation. In the process, demand for renewable energy like wind and solar would increase, which would further lower their prices. Offshore wind energy alone has the ability to power the world 18 times over – let that sink in.
The magnitude of change could be historic, according to one analysis: “Electrification of transportation in the next two decades may have [sic] the driving force for wind power and other renewable energies similar to the one internal combustion engines had in the early twentieth century for the oil industry.”
Knowing that potential, it’s not surprising that entrepreneurial people and businesses are thinking up all kinds of ways to make sure EVs are charged with clean electricity. Some of the ideas have to do with when drivers would charge their EVs. Charging during the day uses electricity when solar power availability peaks (because the sun is out), and night time charging occurs when the wind usually blows harder.
EV charging also can take place where on-site renewable energy generation is available. That usually means charging stations hooked up to solar energy systems. San Diego Gas & Electric teamed up with the City of San Diego to install 10 solar photovoltaic canopies at the San Diego Zoo, where EV owners can charge up. When no one is charging, the solar power made on the site is stored in batteries for later use. And people like parking under photovoltaic canopies because they keep the cars much cooler and provide protection from the rain.
There’s even a system that uses both solar and wind to supply a charging station whose maker boasts that it’s “ready to charge anything from your EV to your home with wind and solar energy.” The 33-foot high wooden structure houses solar modules and a wind turbine.
In 10 years, what you just read about here might be obsolete — replaced by other means of getting renewable energy into your car that no one has thought up yet. One thing is for certain, as technology brings new ways, “Fill ‘er up” will join “you sound like a broken record” in the litany of bygone phrases.
Pam Frank is CEO of ChargEVC, a not-for-profit coalition that includes retail automotive dealers, utilities, consumer and equity advocates, environmental and labor organizations and technology companies.
Liz Burdock is CEO and president of the Business Network for Offshore Wind, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to building the US offshore wind supply chain.
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