Electric Vehicles have been an important consideration to implement clean energy technologies for transport to support global efforts towards transition to sustainable energy use. Pakistan has recently announced National Electric Vehicle policy to incentivize electric vehicle use in Pakistan. As such the public needs to be aware about how electric vehicles compare with alternatives – pros and cons of electric vehicles.
Few Words about Electric Locomotive Engines
In developed world rail transport comprises more than one third of rail traffic driven by electric locomotives with the exception of US, where majority of rail traffic is run by private companies. In US less than one percent rail traffic runs on electricity mainly because of lack of supporting electricity transmission network. It is a well-known fact that electric locomotive engine costs are about 20% less when compared to their equivalent diesel locomotive engines with significantly lesser lifetime maintenance expenditure. Pakistan railway has envisaged an impressive ML-1 project planned to be executed in next 5 years or so to improve its existing rail network. It is suggested that this augmentation of railway network is complemented with associated electricity transmission network to support use of electric locomotives in Pakistan. This initiative will serve more to improve environment than the electric vehicle policy because of two reasons:
- Improved national electricity transmission network will reduce line losses
- Deployment of Electric locomotives will not only reduce project CAPEX but also reduce OPEX due to lower maintenance costs
- Will serve to utilize existing power generation capacity in Pakistan thus reducing Circular Debt burden
- Will Augment energy efficiency in Pakistan thereby improving energy security and energy mix
Various Types of Electric Vehicles
Having described the superiority of electric locomotive engines over diesel engines the question arises how electric vehicles compare with alternative road transport vehicles? Situation is different for road driven electric vehicles. Electric vehicles are expensive because of batteries required to store energy. Battery ranges are 5-10 kWh for Hybrid Electric Vehicles, 10-20 kWh for Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEV) as well as Extended Range Electric Vehicles (EREV) and 100 kWh for Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs). As such, BEVs have to compete with alternatives not limited to conventional gasoline vehicles. Various alternatives are explained below:
- BEVs – Battery Electric Vehicles have no other source of energy (no tail-pipe emission) and are totally dependent on chemical energy stored in battery packs. Tesla Model S claims to go 391 miles (629 km) on a single charge.
- FCVs or FCEVs – Fuel Cell Vehicles or Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles have fuel cells (like Hydrogen) instead of battery pack as a source of energy to drive.
A kilogram of hydrogen has about the same energy content as a gallon of gasoline. FCEVs are about twice as efficient as gasoline-powered vehicles: an FCEV travels about twice as far as a conventional vehicle given the same amount of fuel energy.
- EREV – Extended Range Electric Vehicles. Have small gasoline engine to drive electric generator as auxiliary power unit (range extender) which increases the EREV’sdriving range. Emissions occur only when range extender is operational, significantly decreasing vehicle per km emissions.
- PHEV – Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles PHEV is a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle. Have electric motor with gasoline combustion engine. Have battery charging options through grid plug socket and combustion engine power available when needed.
- HEV – Hybrid Electric Vehicle. Have electric motor with gasoline combustion engine. Electric powertrain provides better fuel economy than a gasoline vehicle and lesser emissions per km. Batteries are charged by gasoline engine as well as through regenerative electricity producing during braking
Good Things about Electric Vehicles
Various types of electric vehicles are getting popular in US and Europe based on zero or minimum levels of tail pipe emissions. The driving experience of electric vehicles is also fun because electric motors react quickly to paddle pressure, making them responsive due to availability of good torque.
Most EU countries offer ownership incentives (ranging from € 1,500 to € 6,000) as well as tax incentives for various types of electric vehicles, Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles (FCEV) and Hybrid cars having zero or low tail pipe emissions (vehicles emitting < 50 g CO2 per km). However, US Department of Energy is very aggressive in advising how Electric Vehicles compare with alternative on the basis of:
- Energy Efficiency
Energy efficiency provides a measure of useful vehicle movement against amount of energy supplied from the fuel source. Electric vehicles are described as converting 50-60% of available chemical energy into vehicle movement as compared to gasoline powered vehicles which convert around 20 % of chemical energy supplied by hydrocarbon fuel.
- Emission Reduction
A definite advantage associated with electric vehicles is lesser or zero emissions which help in improving urban environment. In case rechargeable batteries are charged through renewable electricity generation this benefit gets additionally amplified.
- Improved Battery Technology
Improvements in battery technology have enabled production of electric vehicles having driving range of over 500 km in a single charge. Full charging time is, however, an issue related to inconvenience of operating BEVs. Various types of chargers and their capacities to charge BEV are listed below:
- Level-1 Charger – 120 VAC x 20-40 A rating charger can charge a BEV battery bank in 18 – 20 hrs
- Level-2 Charger – 240 VAC x 40-100 A rating charger can charge a BEV battery bank in 8 – 10 hours
- Level-3 Charger (Super Charger) – 480 Vdc rating direct charger can charge a BEV battery bank in 1-2 hours
eGallon vs Gasoline Gallon
US DOE has also published the concept of E-gallon on its website which shows value comparisons to motivate public towards buying electric vehicle. Following figure is reproduced from US DOE website:
Source: US Department of Energy website
US average values above give an impression that BEVs are half as expensive to drive as compared to their gasoline counterparts. When we look into state-wise figures following anomalies appear:
It is evident that operating a gasoline vehicle is cheaper than operating a BEV in Hawaii and only 15% as expensive in Massachusetts and Rhode Islands. Worldwide, these anomalies are more diverse and smooth operations of BEVs are critically dependent on efficient electricity supply system through the grid as well as a functional charging station network.
To sum up, though electric vehicles can have a significant contribution to reduce urban pollution, we cannot convincingly say that operating an electric vehicle is cheaper than gasoline vehicle. Consumers should be educated about hidden costs of owning and operating an all-electric vehicle. Costs that should be included in the concept of E-gallon pricing are factors like:
- Transmission and Distribution losses on electricity grid
- An efficient charging station network (practically Level-3 chargers provide best convenience)
- High up-front price of owning a BEV
- Higher insurance costs due to Li-ion-batteries which are very expensive to replace if damaged
- Environmental pollution costs due to electricity generation for BEV charging
- A lot Li-ion batteries will reach End-of-life in near future. Costs related to their appropriate disposal or re-use need to be evaluated
 Ammonia Energy Association – https://www.ammoniaenergy.org/articles/the-cost-of-hydrogen-platts-launches-hydrogen-price-assessment/
 Environment and Energy Study Institute (EESI) – https://www.eesi.org/articles/view/electrification-of-u.s.-railways-pie-in-the-sky-or-realistic-goal