Where is the power going to come from?

Automotive News reports on the future of electric cars.

Photo by Automotive News

The auto industry is increasingly buzzing with electric excitement.

Battery-driven minicars that are cheap to "fuel" already are on the streets of some European cities.

This month, Daimler AG announced a deal with German energy giant RWE to provide charging stations for electric cars in Berlin. Renault and Nissan have announced plans for electric car partnerships in Israel, Denmark and Portugal.

Norwegian electric carmaker Th!nk already has delivered more than 100 of its City minicars to customers in Norway.

Automakers are moving toward hybrids and electric cars because rising prices of gasoline and diesel fuel have boosted consumer interest in alternative power trains.

A survey of 8,000 motorists in eight countries conducted by German supplier Continental found that nearly half of the respondents (45.8 percent) said they would be interested in buying a full-electric car.

In the long term

But are hybrid and electric cars the long-term answer?

Already there are signs that hydrogen is being considered the solution of the future. On Sept. 4, the European Parliament voted in favor of new rules that aim to have standards ready for the technology before it is rolled out.

But many experts say that hydrogen is years away from being a viable solution, so the attention returns to alternatives such as hybrids and electric cars.

Which alternative will win? Not knowing the answer is costing companies billions of dollars as they try to prepare for multiple scenarios.

Electric and hybrid cars are a hot topic now, but another key question is: Where will the power for all those battery recharges come from in the future?

Coal? Oil? Nuclear?

One estimate says that a fifth of the new cars sold in 2020 will have an electric power train. International Energy Agency statistics show that 56 percent of Europe's watts come from power stations that run on fossil fuels. Wind and sun can make only small contributions, so we are back to the familiar debate over coal, oil, natural gas or nuclear power.

Nuclear power has its supporters, but it takes up to 15 years for a new power plant to reach start-up. Without a clean source of energy, the electric cars could lead to a worsening of the carbon dioxide produced to keep all those wheels rolling.

About a century ago, electric cars sold just as well as their combustion-engine counterparts. Ultimately, however, they succumbed to a better technology, which at the time was gasoline power trains. And history has a habit of repeating itself.

(Source: Automotive News)

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