Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy

Revolution…Now Rewind: Revving up the Electric Vehicle Market

October 5, 2016

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Editor's Note: This blog post is the third in a week-long series examining the five clean energy technologies documented in the 2016 Revolution...Now report. Check back throughout the week to learn more about LEDs, distributed and utility-scale solar, and land-based wind.

Let’s go back five years to 2011. If you were looking to buy a new car, chances are that it wasn’t a plug-in electric vehicle (PEV): only three models were available and most people weren’t aware of the technology and its benefits. Today, the state of the vehicle market in America has evolved, and PEVs are emerging like never before. In the months between June and September of this year, the monthly sales record was repeatedly shattered. In September, the 500,000th PEV was sold.

How did so much change in five years? 

As the technology improves and consumer acceptance continues to grow, industry has responded with new PEV models – from every major auto manufacturer. Today, consumers can choose from nearly 30 different PEV models, including both range extended Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs) and Battery-only Electric Vehicles (BEVs). Not only are more models currently available, but the vehicles also boast longer ranges. While automakers have introduced multiple BEVs that can travel more than 200 miles on a full charge, people can typically drive PHEVs for more than 40 miles on pure battery. In addition, there is a growing network of more than 35,000 public charging units in the United States that PEV drivers can rely on during their trips.

Research funded by the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Vehicle Technologies Office (VTO) has helped the market overcome some key barriers, including battery costs, electric drivetrain technology, and PEV awareness.

The improved cost and performance of batteries is a key factor in continuing to lower the costs of PEV ownership. In addition to universities and industry, DOE has been a leader in battery research and development (R&D) investment: between 1992 and 2012, DOE invested $1 billion dollars in battery R&D and successfully developed nickel-metal hydride and lithium-ion batteries for PEVs.   

DOE models for PEV battery fabrication costs indicate that the expected cost of PEV batteries has fallen by an astounding 73% since 2008. Looking ahead, DOE is working with industry, academia, and its national laboratories toward achieving an even more aggressive goal of $125 per kilowatt-hour (kWh) modeled production costs by 2022 that would allow BEVs to be cost competitive with gasoline vehicles.

We can now see firsthand the results of advanced research in electric vehicle batteries making their way into the market. For example, the energy storage capacity of the second-generation Chevrolet Volt battery increased by 15% compared to the previous generation. In general, optimization of cell chemistry, design, and performance decrease the mass of battery packs, allowing PEVs to travel farther with full performance.

DOE is poised to go even further with the announcement of the VTO Battery500 consortium, which aims to more than double the specific energy (to 500 WH/kg) relative to today's battery technology while achieving 1,000 electric vehicle cycles. This will result in a significantly smaller, lighter weight, less expensive battery pack (below $100/kWh), which will lead to more affordable PEVs. The Consortium will combine the R&D firepower of four DOE national laboratories and five universities in an effort aimed at achieving revolutionary advances in battery performance.

Advancing next generation battery and energy storage technologies for electric vehicles is a critical part of President Obama’s all-of-the-above energy strategy to reduce America’s reliance on foreign oil and lower energy costs for U.S. consumers. Battery costs exceeded $500/kWh when President Obama launched his EV Everywhere Grand Challenge goal of making PEVs as affordable and convenient for the American family as gasoline-powered vehicles. Therefore, low-cost, high-performance batteries are a key component of the strategy to attain the President’s goal.

With all the great strides that PEVs have made, I hope that you will be looking to buy one the next time you are in the market. I’d encourage you to visit fueleconomy.gov to learn more.