Why electric vehicles will drive the future of energy

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Dr Philip LewisGuest contributor: Dr Philip Lewis, Founder and CEO at VaasaETT Global Energy Think Tank, Board Member at Smart Energy Demand Coalition

When I was a child, in the ’70s and ’80s in Great Britain, people knew electric vehicles in only one form: the milk float. As trendy as Rodney’s Reliant Regal in the famous comedy series Only Fools and Horses. By the ‘90s the milk float had mostly vanished, and with it the awareness and fortunately also the stigma of the electric vehicle. But over two decades later consumers were introduced to the mass market hybrid, and with it came a new image of electric vehicles – albeit partially – delivering practical responsibility and a hint of an improved consumer experience.

But they remained little more than a lifestyle and environmental choice for the less selfish (or more pragmatic … taxi drivers) among us, and as we all know, to succeed in this world, we need to appeal to selfishness above all, because after all “I’m worth it”. Cars are after all far more than a practicality, they are for many if not most people, one of the most self-satisfying consumables in their lives – and apart from their homes, the most expensive too. To win their pockets, you must first win their hearts, and to win their hearts you must give them satisfaction, and that includes no small measure of ego. Yet even 5 years ago, at a conference I held with some of the leading thinkers in the energy industry, electric vehicles were seen still as merely an environmental objective, a necessity that would struggle to appeal to the mass market. Then came Tesla.

The electric vehicle was cool at last, but still an expensive – and slightly impractical (due to battery/charging limitations) matter of taste despite being quicker, quieter and more stylish than most of the alternatives. But with the Model 3 on the horizon, the future was already becoming clearer. Electric vehicles were probably the future, but perhaps not, in some people’s minds, if the fuel cell brigade would get there first.

But the latest reincarnations of the old milk float – albeit in concept form for now – have revealed why the future of the vehicle will be electric: because when we forget the growl of the engine – and remember, for the next generation fast cars will not be associated with loud growls as they are for us – there is nothing that will be able to match the experience and potential that electric cars will bring. The new Faraday Future concept for instance is nothing short of the stuff that dreams (well automotive ones) are made of. Electric cars will simply be better than conventional ones in every single way – unless you are from the generation where spitting engines and leaking oil turn you on. Even the silent whistle will, for the emerging generation be seen more as a sign of speed more than the loud noise of the formula one car.

But it’s not just because of the speed or acceleration that electric vehicles will win the game so soon, but because they will be smart in ways that traditional cars could only dream of. The entire driving experience will be more responsive, dynamic and, what’s more compatible with all the other electric aspects of our lives, not only home and IOT related, but also wearables. Imagine climbing into a new car that already knows everything about your driving / comfort preferences, your driving strengths and weaknesses and even whether you have your children in the car. A car that can control everything as we want it, instantly and without us even having to think about it (and that’s even before the self-driving car).

Ultimately, electric vehicles will be so desirable that obtaining the power and storage to support them will not be a facilitating determinant of the uptake of such vehicles, but rather a consequence of them. When we want something this bad, we will make sure we can use it. I don’t take the idea that the car will become the storage for the home, this simply makes no sense – on the contrary, everything around us will be working for the car, not the other way around.

As we live our lives around our phones today, we will live our lives – and our homes too – around the electric car in the future. The electric industry just needs to be ready in time, or someone else will.

Some things in life are just inevitable. None more than that the greatest catalyst of change in the energy industry will be the car.

January 2016 – reproduced with permission by Dr Philip Lewis

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