The Automobile Industry is all about evolution and adaptation. Drum brakes got replaced with effective disc brakes, carburettors got replaced with super-accurate electronic fuel injection and very soon you may witness the replacement of petrol or diesel-powered vehicles on the whole with electric cars. It is estimated that about 53 years are left for the world’s fuel reserves to deplete. Hence, the hunt for alternative fuel technology is right now at full throttle.
In the current situation, the nearest available replacement for the internal combustion engine is the electric motor. However, a lot of people around the globe still have their concerns over the mainstream usage of electric cars. They all feel that electric cars are not the sure shot answer to our fuel woes. They also feel that electricity won’t be able to replace petrol/diesel at a sustainable level. In this article, we’ll take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of electric cars against conventional fuel powered cars. We will also summarise if going electric will indeed be a feasible solution for the imminent depletion of fossil fuels.
Electric cars don’t have a lot of moving parts inside the engine. In fact, they only have one moving part, which is the electric motor. The petrol engine has a myriad of rotating parts inside. In order to produce power, they have to constantly keep grinding and hitting against each other. The sound waves created from the contact between these parts is heard as the exhaust note and felt inside the car’s cabin as vibrations.
While nowadays, petrol engines release significantly lesser noise and vibrations compared to what they would a 7 or 8 years ago, they still exert noticeable levels of both. In an electric vehicle, the only moving part is the motor which spins and in turn rotates the wheels. The only sound that can be heard from this process is a very futuristic and almost silent whine. The same attribute also contributes to an absolutely vibration-free driving experience as well.
One primary drawback of the petrol engine’s working is that it produces peak torque only at a specific RPM range. As a virtue of its design, the torque produced by it starts from a very low value, goes up to its peak level and decreases again after that as the RPM’s increase.
Petrol engines also experience output loss due to a large number of intermediate parts used to transmit the torque. The torque in a petrol car gets transmitted through the following path: Piston to Crankshaft to Clutch Assembly to Gearbox to Differential Gears and finally to the wheels. So, the net output by the time it reaches the wheel gets reduced by approximately 20% due to frictional losses.
In the case of electric cars, they produce their maximum torque output straight out of the bat. That means you have access to the entire torque output straight from standstill. It only starts decreasing as you progress towards the upper RPM range due to the phenomena of back EMF. Electric cars only consist of one intermediate part between the wheels and the motor, the transmission. Hence, they produce a really high torque output and experience negligible output loss at the same time. For a comparative figure, a Chevrolet Bolt electric city hatchback produces 360 Nm of torque which is as much as a Nissan 370Z V6-powered coupe!
Electric cars have the simplest driving method in the world of automobiles. Commercial electric cars come with a transmission comprising of only one really long gear. They also don’t suffer from the problem of stalling as petrol cars do. This effectively eliminates the need of adding a clutch mechanism to prevent that from happening. So what this essentially means is that you can operate an electric with just the accelerator pedal, brake pedal and steering wheel.
Another really useful feature of electric cars is regenerative braking. In normal cars, the braking process usually results in total wastage of kinetic energy that gets released as frictional heat. However, in an electric vehicle, the same energy instead of getting lost to heat is used to charge the batteries.
While applying the brakes in an electric car, you stop giving it any accelerator input. The induction motor which works to rotate the tires now starts to act as a generator which is getting rotated by the tires. The entire circuit gets reversed and now the same rotational energy of the tires is used to charge up the batteries. In the newer batch of electric cars, regenerative braking is programmed to be so strong and effective that you will only need to use the actual brakes of the car very rarely or only in emergencies.
In a petrol car, power is produced by burning the fuel inside the engine. The by-products released due to this process are Carbon Dioxide, Carbon Monoxide, Sulphur Dioxide and various SPM’s (Suspended Particulate Matter). All of these are highly polluting in nature and cause a lot of harm to the human body when inhaled. They also cause a lot of damage to the environment at the same time.
In the case of a diesel car, the quantity of these pollutants is even higher. While pollution control technology is being improved continuously over time, the complete eradication of pollutant release is yet to be accomplished. Electric cars, on the other hand, don’t rely on any fuel combustion process to produce energy. They simply convert the electrical energy from a battery to rotate a motor which in turn rotates the wheels. So they produce zero levels of any pollutant gas or particulate matter and effectively run on 100% clean energy.
If you plan on travelling long distances in your electric vehicle, you may come across a lot of problems. For starters, the current crop of electricity-powered cars, suffer from a serious usable range issue. On average most of them only have a usable range of about 400-450 kilometres from 100% battery that too when driven conservatively.
In case you feel like exploring that grin-inducing torque payload, the effective range is going to further reduce. Also in comparison to petrol pumps which are scattered across the country in large numbers, charge stations for electric cars are pretty much non-existent currently. To further worsen this situation, most electric cars take a good 6-10 hours to fully charge from zero percent. So even the slightest miscalculation of distance and battery usage could very much get you stranded in the middle of the road.
In our country, 58% of the total electricity production comes from Thermal Power Plants where coal is burnt to create electric energy. The cleaner forms of electricity generation namely, Solar, Hydroelectric or Wind Power Plants only constitute about 25%.
In such a situation, the widespread introduction of electric cars is only going to increase the overall electricity demand. This could directly lead to an increase in the amount of coal to be burned to match up to that demand unless the government decides to invest more in the clean sources. So while the electric motor in the car doesn’t create any emissions, the same can’t always be said for the source of electricity used to power it.
Here’s the thing, electric cars have actually existed since 1832. In fact, they were also gaining popularity at a rapid rate. It wasn’t till the early 1900’s that manufacturers realized the higher potential in the field of internal combustion engines and abandoned their aspirations in the field of electric cars. Back then the IC engine was more superior in terms of technology. However, things are different now.
Ignoring the issues concerning range and recharge times, there is no denying that electric cars are far superior to their petrol counterparts in functioning. As technology develops, the range and recharge time problems will also disappear. Keep in mind, the electronics industry develops new technologies at an exponential speed. A decade ago touchscreen phones were considered to be extremely special and today even a roadside paan-shop owner probably uses one. Similarly, Tesla Motors is investing big on their supercharger grid which will allow their cars to be charged from zero to full in a matter of 75 minutes. Sure that’s still a considerable amount of time but they’ve brought down the duration from 9 hours to 75 minutes in a matter of just 8-10 years.
Governments across the world are pushing for production of greener energy sources. It won’t be long before coal based Thermal Power Plants become a thing of the past. So going by the holistic overview and rate of development of technology in the field of electric mobility, it can surely be said that going electric will be a very effective solution for the near future until something even better comes up.