Plenty of thought has gone into developing the current crop of electric vehicles, from the Tesla Model S to the Chevrolet Spark EV. Now, it’s time to concentrate more on the power infrastructure and on realistic needs of likely EV owners.
Because the driving range of nearly all EVs remains limited, they’re being consigned largely to commuter duty. That’s fine, but having a short-range EV then means owning an additional car for longer trips. For millions of cash-strapped families, buying and operating a single vehicle is tough enough. Budgets for the non-affluent simply won’t stretch that far.
Innovation is definitely needed, at least until true long-range EVs are developed and can be produced at affordable prices.
This year’s winner of the European Satellite Navigation Competition, the ebuggy mobility project, promises to be a “long-distance traffic solution for e-vehicles.” The competition was sponsored by the European Space Agency, European GNSS Agency, German Aerospace Centre, Nokia, and others.
The idea could hardly be simpler. An EV owner wishing to take a trip could start out with a full charge, but stop at one or more relay stations along the way. At the first one, the owner could hitch a battery trailer, fully charged, to the car and drive on. Trailers could be exchanged at regular intervals, dropping off the one with the depleted battery and then driving off towing one that’s fully charged.
When approaching one’s destination, the last ebuggy that was used may be dropped off at the final relay station. While at that destination, the EV can be driven using its own battery, charged in the customary way at local charging stations.
A satellite navigation system has been developed to manage such a trailer fleet of the future, monitoring and controlling movement of the battery trailers in “real time.”
Prototypes were constructed with the support of Germany’s Ministry of Economics and Technology and various partners, including Stuttgart University. At some point, ebuggy GmbH plans to develop the ebuggy battery trailer and relay-station network for series production. An international ebuggy network also is planned.
Practical? Perhaps. But a tiny bit tacky, too. Pulling a series of ebuggies would be rather like towing a little U-Haul trailer containing all your stuff.
Though feasible in Europe, this idea might not sell well in the U.S., with its longer distances between cities and points of interest. Yes, the network of public charging stations in the U.S. has been growing impressively, now thought to be topping 5,000 (Ed: The new Tesla Supercharging stations are particularly intriguing). But that leaves an awful lot of road miles across the country with no possible source for recharging.
Several trouble spots come to mind. If your EV has a range no greater than 75 miles or so, how do you arrange a trip if relay stations are, say, 50 miles apart? You’d have to stop at every single one and make an exchange. What if no ebuggies are available at a given station? You can’t just keep on driving. Such issues aren’t so crucial now, when only small numbers of EVs are in operation. But if and when that total grows appreciably, plenty of logistics questions pop into mind.
Still, ebuggy demonstrates the kind of thinking that just might make a difference, even if this particular proposal doesn’t really pan out on a widespread scale–or at all.