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Weekly Trend: Two Ways Electric Vehicles Will Progress in 2015

Electric vehicles broke sales records in 2014, charging past expectations. Yet, as we look toward President Barack Obama’s ambitious goal of 1 million EVs on the road by the end of 2015, new records may not be enough.

Nissan reported that it sold 30,200 Nissan Leafs in the U.S. last year, “a 33.6 percent increase over the number sold in 2013,” Think Progress states. Tesla also projected a record year, estimating 33,000 vehicles delivered globally.

However, those figures are barely a drop in the bucket. “With total vehicle sales for 2014 coming in at around 16.5 million, plug-in vehicles made up less than 1 percent of total sales [in the U.S.],” Fortune reports.

So why haven’t EVs caught on as quickly as expected? As the EV City Casebook, a report by Urban Foresight, the International Energy Agency, the Electric Vehicles Initiative, and Clean Energy Ministerial, explains, “Mainstream consumers have different needs and motivations to early adopters. Hence the challenge in the years to come is to identify the EV products, technologies, and business models that will connect with mainstream needs and motivations.”

But that’s not to say that those needs can’t be identified. The challenge ahead for startups and entrepreneurs will be to determine not only the technologies, but also the business models, that facilitate EV adoption. The progress we’ll see in 2015 breaks down into two categories.

1.    More options for on-the-go charging and longer battery life.

There are 125,000 gas stations in the U.S., but only 15,200 charging stations. While the number seems sizeable, consider that the U.S. covers 3.8 million square miles; that’s roughly 1 charger every 250 miles. And when the most popular EV, the Nissan Leaf, only travels 84 miles per charge, long-distance trips get tricky.

“Pound for pound, even the most advanced battery contains about one-tenth the energy of gasoline,” The Globe and Mail states. “And batteries are expensive, accounting for about 40 percent of the price of most electric cars.”

To help, companies are developing range extenders, which are small, external units that help power the vehicle. “The first generation of these range extenders are small fossil-fuelled internal combustion engines, found in vehicles such as the BMW i3 and the Audi A1 e-tron,” the EV Case Book states. “However, in the longer-term, technologies such as fuel cells could offer lower emission solutions to enhance the range and performance of electric vehicles.”

There’s also the possibility of battery swapping. For example, Tesla Motors recently announced a battery-swapping pilot at particular points along the San Francisco-L.A. corridor. “Meanwhile, Tesla Motors recently announced it has started piloting a battery-swapping program at custom-built locations along the route from San Francisco to Los Angeles. According to Greentech Media, the swap only takes three minutes and costs less than the cost of a tank of gasoline.

2.    More options for EVs in homes

Unsurprisingly, the high cost of an EV remains a sticking point for the vast majority of consumers. Even though the Nissan Leaf comes with a $7,500 subsidy, its price tag still rings up at $22,500—comparatively affordable next to Tesla’s Model S.

But what if engineers could find ways to offset the cost in other ways? One such idea is to bundle solar power and electric vehicles. As the Chicago Tribune reports,

Installing solar panels on the roof of your suburban home means that you’re generating your own electricity—and paying a lot less (or maybe nothing at all) to a utility company as a result. At the same time, if you are able to someday generate enough energy from solar and that energy is also used to power your electric car, well then you might also be able to knock out your gasoline bill.

This option may appeal especially to suburban consumers who face longer commutes. “The monthly cost [of combined solar and EV] might be just $89 per month—compared with $255 per month for a household driving a regular car without any solar panels,” the article states.

Similarly, charging at home may be cheaper than at a charging station. At CES in Las Vegas last week, ChargePoint released its vision for in-home charging systems. ChargePoint already operates 20,000 charging stations across the U.S., but this move signals that the Internet of Things has come to transportation. Not only would ChargePoint Home allow drivers to plug in at home, it would enable them to sync up with appliances such as the Nest thermostat system. ChargePoint CEO Pasquale Romano told Greentech Media that the system would seamlessly communicate with utilities for metering as well.

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Melissa Steffan

Melissa is the former assistant editor for 1776, where she worked on the media team to create compelling, idea-driven content and reporting. A Seattle native, she graduated from Seattle Pacific…