Friday, December 31, 2010

The Lithium Revolution

Another very interesting and important section of the Deutsche Bank report we discussed yesterday is the section on lithium battery prices.  Deutsche Bank analysts are projecting a 7.5%/year rate drop in prices per kWhr (other analysts have similar expectations).  However, as the graph above shows, in the last 13 months they've been obliged to drop their price estimates by 30%.  Also, the historical price curve for laptop batteries has averaged 14%/year.  So there's some reason to think the 7.5%/year cost curve might be on the conservative side.  Prices might fall faster.

In any case, given Deutsche Bank's estimates, here's how the payback time of a pure EV evolves compared to an equivalent conventional car, assuming $3.25 gasoline, 10c/kWhr electricity and 15k miles/year:

In other words, by 2020 EVs will be economically competitive with conventional cars, even unsubsidized, rather than requiring paying a substantial premium (or assuming very high future oil prices to justify the cost).  Given their superior low-end acceleration and quieter operation, you can imagine a critical point being passed at which noisy, dirty, planet-trashing, slow, oil-powered cars just start looking like something only your grandmother would drive.  It seems like the import of Deutsche Bank's analysis is that this kind of tipping point might be only a decade away.

This would make the climate change political problem look a lot more tractable. I think we'd discover that a lot of people would be perfectly willing to believe in anthropogenic climate change if doing so didn't require them to make major lifestyle sacrifices.

This doesn't just apply to cars.  To continue the riding mower discussion of the other day, here's the comparison for Ariens, a common maker of this kind of thing.  Here's their electric offering:

And here's the lower end gasoline offering:

The electric one costs $2k, and the gas one can be had for $1200.  So besides the electric costing a lot more, and looking like a prop from White and Nerdy, it has 8" less cutting width and only a little more than one third the horsepower (7.4 versus 20).

But this isn't an incurable situation.  There's nothing that prevents putting a 20hp electric motor and enough battery to mow an acre or two into a mower except economics.  As the electric car market develops, it will drive down the cost of motors and batteries for a wide variety of other spaces too.   So hopefully in a decade the electric riding mower will be reasonably competitive.

Besides existing applications like lawn mowers and power tools, this trend probably enables new applications in mobile robotics, and other markets we haven't even thought of yet.

I guess I'm wondering about when we get the electric sheep...


Unknown said...

Electric / hybrid revolution is already commercial, it just isn't happening with cars yet.

In China the number of electric two wheeled vehicles produced, mostly eletctric bicycles, already equals the number of two wheel petrol powered vehicles, mostly motorbikes. The bicycles are getting bigger and slowly eating in to the motorbike market. With performance motorbikes, electric is already becoming fashionable because of the acceleration.

Hybrids are happening at the other end of the scale. Buses, garbage trucks, delivery vans and anything else that starts and stops a lot are already going hybrid, partly because of the fuel savings, but mostly because of the much reduced maintenance costs.

These two movements are doing a pincer on cars, which will happen in much less than a decade. Personally I see performance cars going hybrid very quickly, because of the better performance. Taxis also likely to hybrid or electric very quickly in big cities.

Capitalism is already making profits out of electrics and hybrids, the rest is history.

Fixed Carbon said...

Stuart and Geoff are both right on.
My son was home for Christmas and went skiing with his old roomy, Joe from Ann Arbor, who left Ford for an engineering job with Tesla. Joe told me that he did a Tesla test round trip from the plant in the Bay area to Tahoe last month, with but a single recharge--in Davis. In October I was astounded by the lack of gasoline motor bikes, and the abundance of electrical ones, in both Beijing and Shanghai. My host was surprised when I told him about the paucity of electric bikes in the US

WwoofBum said...


In trying to get a handle on how massive conversion to EVs would affect climate concerns, I came across an article in the Encyclopedia of Energy Engineering and Technology, which suggests (among other things) that supplying electricity for plug-in hybrids, using anything other than renewables or nuclear, would have little effect on total ghg emmissions (slightly lower for natural gas, slightly higher for oil and coal). Considering, also, the necessary increase in infrastructure (100% of current electric generating capacity, by one estimate) to fuel all those EVs, it strikes me that one doesn't gain much at all.

Stuart Staniford said...


I agree that EVs by themselves are of limited value. But as the EVs are increasingly put in place, it then becomes relatively transparent to the consumer whether their transport power is fossil or not. So it reduces the problem to one of making the utilities switch over to renewables, which seems much more politically tractable to me (albeit that it's bound to take several decades).

Unknown said...

Why would you need to force utilities to switch over to renewables? And why would it take decades?

Solar has already reached grid parity in Italy, and is very close in Spain, Australia and California.

The price of coal continues slowly upwards, while the price of PV continues to drop at a fair clip.

Just as with EV's the profit motive means that the PV revolution is going to be rapid.

Installed PV will be rapider than energy need growth within a decade, so displacement of fossil energy will start within a decade.

The market will provide.

chris said...

Gotcher electric sheep right here! Many breeds to choose from.

Given the current price of EVs and the supply of lithium I think this is the more likely future of transportation.

Mike Aucott said...

I've got to agree with Wwoofbum. EVs and to a lesser degree HEVs only cut carbon emissions if the electricity is produced with less carbon emissions than currently. Rushing into EVs before the grid's carbon emissions are lowered could have the opposite effect from what is hoped for; too many EVs too soon could ensure that many dirty old coal plants keep operating. Realistically, there's no way PV or wind can supply baseload electricity. It's either coal or nuclear. It's both if we keep using as much electricity as we do now or expand our use, which could happen if the vehicle fleet goes electric in a big way.

Alexander Ac said...


relevant to this blog is bearish view of Curt Cobb named "Electric car fetish":

Not too long ago a dinner guest at a party I attended told me that my concern about the peaking of global oil production was misplaced. Didn't I know that the electric car was already on its way? That a lot of smart people were involved in making it a reality before too long? That the main problem of charging on long trips had already been solved with battery switching stations that could now be deployed?

Electric car fetish

Andyj said...

CO2 and EV's be blowed! EV's offer a far higher quality drive than the clunky old phut phut.

If in regular use an EV will literally pay for itself within 50-75k miles. Excluding any Gov't subsidy's because electric is basically dirt cheap compared to fuel.

Those with cheap night rate electric can use their packs as load balancers; re-feeding back into the house/grid during the day when electric is expensive. The car will pay you money just sat there!

LiFePo4 batteries that are not stressed will outlive the owner. Literally! Now, new, better ones are just around the corner.

The new Tesla 6 has a pack with a range of well over 380 miles.

Could say so much more but... Check out