Just as the future of energy is solar power (and, to a lesser extent, other small-scale renewables like wind and geothermal), if the first week of 2015 is any indication, electric is shaping up to be the future of transportation.
The wave actually kicked off at the tail end of 2014, when Navigant Research published a new report highlighting the eye-opening stat that, by 2017, conventional internal combustion engines will be in less than half of all vehicles sold worldwide. Between hybrids and fully electric vehicles and cars with stop-start systems, the old internal combustion engine is going the way of the dinosaur.
Then came January, and the obligatory tech bonanza of the CES trade show in Las Vegas. Filed under the “pipe dream” category comes Mercedes-Benz’s F015 “Luxury in Motion” autonomous electric vehicle. Among the many features of this vehicle — which Mercedes estimates may hit the road in 15 years — are autonomous driving, touch-screen doors and windows and may eventually be gesture-controlled. NBC has a fluffy video spot on the F015.
Meanwhile, in the reality-based world, several items of note have already come out of CES. Toyota made a splash when it made its fuel-cell patents freely available. While perhaps a charitable move on the surface, Toyota here is following in Tesla’s footsteps, with the same destination in mind. By giving other automakers the tools to build on what is essentially their platform, Toyota (and Tesla) hope to grow the market for their products. In Toyota’s case, there’s a profound need for infrastructure to make fuel cell vehicles possible. As of early last year, there were just 58 hydrogen fueling stations in the United States, which puts range anxiety in a whole different light.
EV charging technologies are also a big hit at CES so far. Volkswagen has unveiled a slew of new technologies for its e-Golf electric vehicle, including autonomous parking and gesture-based interior controls as well as a new inductive charging technology that automatically brings the charger closer to the vehicle when you park above it, improving the efficiency of inductive EV charging.
Meanwhile, BMW unveiled its I Home Charging system, which is geared to charge your i3 EV with electricity generated by your home solar panels if you have them (and you should!), or else to automatically charge your EV from the grid at the time of lowest possible demand (and thus lowest electricity prices for time-of-use regions), a move that BMW says can save EV owners as much as $800 per year.
In other BMW news, the automaker has partnered with PG&E to bring EVs another step closer to the smart energy source of the future. First, BMW will install a large energy storage unit at its facilities in Mountain View, Calif.; but more importantly, the company is piloting a demand-response program with 100 i3 customers. Through the iCharge Forward program those i3 drivers will receive up to $1,500 to allow BMW to pause their car-charging when PG&E needs to cut demand on the grid.
If the 18-month pilot is successful, then eventually BWM will expand the program to all its i3 owners, and will use the funds it receives from PG&E to lower the cost to purchase an EV.
The last news for the first week of the new year comes from ARPA-E, the Department of Energy’s innovation station. The group just partnered with Local Motors, developers of the world’s first 3D-printed car, to offer $150,000 for conceptual ideas for lightweighted vehicles. The lighter a vehicle is, the less fuel it will needs, which means an EV can travel farther on a charge. The challenge runs until March 5, and there are already 15 submissions, including this shiny-looking solar micro vehicle.