I root for sports teams, not companies. But there’s a company that makes me spontaneously erupt with the same incoherent bleats of encouragement that I do when I’m in the presence of the New York Mets: Tesla.
Part of it is my preference for underdogs (exhibit A: the Mets). Then there’s Elon Musk (great name for a myth-busting entrepreneur, just like Tom Seaver is a great name for a baseball player) and his crazy idea called the Hyperloop about shooting people through a tube between San Francisco and Los Angeles. And finally there’s the Tesla Model S, a car that will go down in history as the most beautiful American sedan since the original Ford Mustang.
But mostly my fanboyness is stirred by what Tesla represents more broadly: a pure faith in the future of the all-electric vehicle. Believe me, these things are worth rooting for, not just because they are environmentally friendly but because of the changes they could bring in the ways we live and the ways we consume and deliver power around the world. Here are a few examples of what I mean:
- People are moving to cities and cities stink. Whenever I get a whiff of the nasty blue cloud coming from the tailpipe of a diesel truck I think, “Ah, Paris.” I lived in Paris briefly once and gas has always been expensive over there so everybody drives diesels that stink. Or they drive motos, scooters, or motorcycles that stink even worse. By 2050, 7 out of 10 people will live in urban areas. Urban transportation already accounts for 40% of CO2 emissions and 70% of emissions of other road-transportation pollutants. Nothing comes out of an electric vehicle tailpipe; indeed, tailpipes are purely ornamental. Regardless of whether you care about saving the rest of the earth or not, at some point people are going to want to remember Paris for the Louvre rather than for the stinky air.
- Electric vehicles are more fun. After driving electric vehicles for a few months, participants in a recent SAP research pilot praised the electric vehicles’ engines for their lack of noise and instant acceleration power. Almost half of the pilot participants expressed interest in purchasing an electric car in the next five years if electric vehicle prices dropped, and approximately one fourth of the pilot drivers would consider buying an electric vehicle in the next two years even with prices at their current levels.
- Electric vehicles could let us stick it to the man. Ever want to thumb your nose at the power company? Or, if you’re more mature than me, maybe you’d settle for simply saving money on your bill? Researchers are experimenting with two-way batteries that would let electric vehicle owners release stored energy back to the grid when power companies most need it (and are most willing to pay for it). As electric vehicles become more popular, they could also become useful tools for utilities trying to manage demand from the grid. Most things that demand energy – everything from office buildings to refrigerators – are either on or off; they demand a full dose of energy or none at all. Electric vehicle batteries are much less demanding: they can charge quickly or slowly.
If my dream is fulfilled and Tesla takes over the car industry, utilities will have some work to do to respond. On a fast, 220v charger an electric car uses the same amount of energy as an entire house and enough of them plugged in at once on your street could take out the local transformer. I know all this because I interviewed some SAP and utilities industry experts about the impact that electric vehicles could have on the grid. If you’d like to learn more, please read Electric Vehicles: The Tipping Point for the Smart Grid.
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