NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Making Electric Cars Feasible

March 21, 2011

Batteries big enough to give an electric car significant range remain heavy and expensive.  Many policymakers seem to be staking the electric car's future on the development of much cheaper batteries.  More capital investment in the relatively low-voltage lines, transformers and terminal equipment that distribute power to city blocks, high-rises and suburban neighborhoods is a direct substitute for much of the additional capital investment that must otherwise be funneled into the electric car.  This "last mile" grid investment will likely play a much larger role in delivering electric miles cheaply, reliably and conveniently, says Peter W. Huber, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute.

  • Market forces have propelled the progressive electrification of factories, offices and homes for over a century.
  • Electric motors and associated systems that convey and control the electricity they need, powered by onboard diesel generators, have likewise displaced mechanical alternatives in locomotives and monster trucks.
  • High-power semiconductors developed in the 1980s are now being deployed inside cars to electrify water and oil pumps, radiator-cooling fans, brakes, throttles, steering systems, shock absorbers and engine valves.
  • These trends all point toward the last great leap, the one already taken by locomotives and monster trucks: electric drivetrains will knock out the gearbox, driveshaft, differential and related hardware.

The free market path to getting grid electricity to our wheels hinges on giving every company that already owns, or cares to invest in, any part of the electron pipeline -- electric utilities certainly included -- the freedom and flexibility to invest new capital, set prices, recover costs and earn profits commensurate with the risks, while working closely with car companies, car owners, municipalities, employers, mall owners, parking garages, individual homeowners and others, says Huber.

Source: Peter W. Huber, "Broadband Electricity and the Free-Market Path to Electric Cars," Manhattan Institute, March 2011.

For text:


Browse more articles on Environment Issues