Thursday 22 March 2012

Walmart Starts the plug-in Smarts.

Electric cars are all about the batteries.

An electric car costs about 10% as much to run as an equivalent petrol car, has virtually no maintenance and is cheap to make. So why are they so expensive?

If you want an electric car that does 200KPH and goes 200Km between charges, get a Tesla at $200K+. I f you want an E-car that does 0 to 100 in 4 secs, a Mercedes is for you, price to be announced but it will be hefty. If you need to replace a Tesla battery you  reportedly need to fork out $50,000. Now wonder so few are sold!

But if you want a town car to take you to work, shopping, or the kids to school, get an Indian built Reva for about $15,000 or wait for the Australian designed, Chinese built E-Day for under $10,000

But whatever car you choose, the price is about the batteries and the batteries are about range.
With weight not an issue, on our ketch Heavy Metal we have 600 amp hours of storage for under $1,000 but in a car, lead acid battery power is less attractive because of range for weight. But what if you could double the range and do it at no cost? Walmart in Columbus Ohio has done just that! Simply by running a few cables and installing some plug in points, your e-car is charged while you shop so your range has to take you only one way. The cost to them of a full recharge might be 60c, but the average top up might be more like 10c.

Now compare that with the Coles-Woolworths 4c per litre reward scheme here in Australia, where the average reward payout is about $1.20. If they offered free charging at 10c their rewards payout would reduce by over 90%. It is a no-brainer, but will they?

You have to be joking! The big duopoly has cornered the petrol market with its 4c/litre supermarket spend reward system, so why would it want to undermine that? We need a third player to get in here and attract the electric car commuter and that will probably be Costco, with its US roots and Walmart philosophy, or German based Aldi with its innovation and established chain of outlets. Then again, it could be done on a whole Shopping Centre or Mall basis with shared cost and even pay-as-you-go card activated spaces. So even if we pay, it is still attractive at 10c per top up!

Who will be first? Aldi, Costco, Franklins? Perhaps we need a Walmart here!


  1. Taxpayers are paying as much as $75,000 each toward production of some of those high end electrics to keep the price even that low, while private industry develops affordable and practical solutions. Will the politicians never learn to let people solve the problems?

    1. Thanks dfish, the Tesla and the Volt etc, American built electrics are designed to look like and perform like top end gasoline cars.
      Taxpayers are also supporting US automakers to avoid unemployment, but as you point out, at what cost? But as you seem to be suggesting, the answer is to let in the cheap Indians and the Chinese e-cars and watch the scramble to match them. Our governments are supporting the equivalent of the horse and buggy industry as it died in the early 20th century. They are flogging a dead horse as the saying goes!
      Then there will be a gradual replacement of the current gasoline based industries by electric powered and renewable systems, sop jobs simply move as they did back then.

  2. You are too least for big oil. Great post - and I appreciate being cast as a spy.

  3. what do we do when those batteries have to be disposed ? The Prius battery is only god for 5 years and then costs $5000 to replace? I'm not arguing- just wondering what primrose path we're headed down? It's a quandry for me.

    1. You are wise to ask.
      I prefer the hydrogen car that does not need batteries, but stores H in a tank similar to LPG and converts that to electricity on the go.
      Honda has such a car in production but it needs H outlets for refuelling.
      Ex-Californian Governor, Schwarzenegger had a dream of a hydrogen highway from LA to Seattle, but he was sidelined by whoever felt threatened enough to publicise his secret paternity!
      I wonder who that might have been?

  4. Dear Stafford: Do you have open competitions for such services in Australia? I know that competition is the ONLY way to drive down the recharge unconciable pricing. The hybrids (using both gas and electric) I have heard do not work so well, and are only good at city driving, not high speed distance. I still think that we need good commuter trains that are magneto~smilar to the Japanese.BTW the hydrogen car is much better than those hybrids by far. You just know someone was sitting on the loo all night figuring out how to charge for such thing as free energy, especially not at that Tesla pricing. (although Tesla did have the original freeing of energy concept..consumerism certainly dashed that~!)

    1. The ideal set up I believe is high speed trains that stop only at 'superstations'. Superstations are about 10 miles apart so a commuter trip is many times faster than road. Above eeach railway property is a multi- storey car park for electric plug-ins.
      Imagine say twenty thousand electric cars all plugged in for the day while their commuter drivers are at work.
      Your on board computer tells the facility your expected return time, so when you return your batteries are fully charged.
      BUT in between, the city has a storage facility to deposit and withdraw energy from the batteries in the cars.
      If each car has available capacity of 5,000 Watts to be used in that way, one superstation could be holding (say) 100 million watts of capacity. At home, the plug-in could work the same way for the grid where all those cars are again plugged in and available.
      It is a bit like linking ordinary computers to provide super computer capacity.
      Of course I am talking off the top of my head about this available capacity concept and the math could be way out but the idea might have merit. However, one of the biggest problems with solar is that its peak comes in the middle of the day and that is precisely when the plug-ins need to be charged.
      To answer your question about what is happening here, in Australia where we are the world's worst per capita polluters and there is very little political interest in alternatives to fossil fuels. A lot of pressure is applied by vested interests to keep using coal and its gas derivative. We are a long way behind.
      BUT, my younger son has installed a solar system on his roof and sells excess power to the grid. He pockets a cheque for about $200 per month. If he had a plug-in car (they cost under $20/month to run) he could run his house and car for no cost for power so I guess he is eagerly awaiting the arrival of the E-Day car at $9,990 due on sale here in 2012!

    2. Not sure if I'm right or not, but aren't other electricity users (or just taxpayers) subsidising the returns that people like your son are getting for their excess power? Maybe that's justifiable, except to those people paying bigger power bills who can't afford the initial outlay for solar systems.

  5. You are right. The returns per unit are more than they pay for units used when consumption exceeds that gtenerated, so the taxpayer is funding the difference. However, the rationale is that it costs less to pay householders extra dollars for power going into the grid because it costs less to do that than to build a new power station to supply the extra needed.
    I think in the long run, electricity prices will continue to rise until home generated power reward matches grid power cost.
    By that time we should have solar power generating roof paint, so we will all be doing it for very small cost.

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