Design, Greenspace, film June 20, 2011 By Jordan Sayle

     If it takes a while for customers to arrive at the showrooms, checkbooks in hand, at least the technology is already in place. Today’s fully electric vehicles have enough range before needing to be recharged to make them fully capable of handling the average round-trip commute. (The Leaf, for example, has a range of approximately 73 miles). And for longer drives, there are plug-in hybrids that are able to rely on gas motors once they have exceeded the maximum distance supported by their batteries. (That’s 35 miles in the case of the Volt).
     As he proposed in the first film, Paine suggested in our interview that plug-in hybrids might be the more popular electric vehicles in the near term. He calls them “a fantastic next step,” that will represent the future for most people who choose to plug in.
     The evidence shows that widespread adoption of electric cars would represent a major break in the world’s oil addiction and would have a significant impact in reducing greenhouse gas emissions overall, though the results would obviously be a lot greener if a greater portion of the electric grid could be supported by renewable sources. Paine argues that the grid as it is currently built would be able to handle the increased demand accompanied by a sizable shift to electric.
     “Electric utilities say they can charge 180 million cars at night using the grid with no new power plants,” he says, citing statistics consistent with the U.S. Department of Energy’s 2006 study on the subject of off-peak transmission demands by plug-in cars. He weighs these figures to conclude, “That’s a lot of years before we run into a problem, since globally there were fewer than 30,000 electric cars in 2010.” He also highlights the electricity demands of gasoline refineries as one of the greatest burdens on the electrical supply, one that would be scaled back with each gas-powered car taken off the road.
     Perhaps the greatest challenge facing the new electric economy has less to do with consumer acceptance or the capacity to meet electrical demand and more to do with ensuring steady streams of lithium supply. In his newly released book Bottled Lightning, science and technology writer Seth Fletcher explains that when it comes to this issue in the years ahead, “Everything depends on how quickly lithium-ion-powered electrified cars catch on.” It’s possible that by 2020, existing production capabilities won’t be sufficient to meet the growing demand, though Fletcher suggests that many of the doomsday scenarios are greatly exaggerated.
     The greatest reason for optimism going forward centers on the new opportunities afforded by electrics. As Fletcher notes, there are tremendous growth opportunities for South American nations with rich lithium reserves. And as presented in “Revenge of the Electric Car,” everyone from the major automakers in Detroit and Japan, to the big thinkers in the tech industry, to the inventive garage mechanic, has the chance to gain a piece of the action.

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