Think back to visiting an airport about five years ago. One of the things that you may recall is the number of people who were on the hunt for electrical outlets. Their phones needed charging, and they needed someplace to make that happen. You’d even see people wearing business suits—women and men alike—who would be literally sitting on the floor in a corridor, tethered to the wall plug that is undoubtedly where it is in order to provide the janitorial crew an outlet for their buffing equipment. You might even have seen people carrying a multi-plug adaptor so that they could ask someone who had already scored the outlet if they could use it to increase the opportunities for recharging.
Today, everyone and their grandmother has a phone, yet the number of people on the prowl for power seems to be greatly diminished. This is probably the function of two things. One is that the batteries in the phones have simply gotten better, so there isn’t necessarily the need for the recharge. Also, there are solutions like Mophie cases that provide additional charge if needed.
A bigger reason why those people are no longer hazarding getting a roller bag over their ankles is because both airports and airlines have built out charging infrastructure so that whether it is a long table top with seats that has a series of plugs in a corridor or gate areas with posts that are lined with outlets or seats with the outlets fitted in—to say nothing of the outlets on airplanes so that someone is able to use their phone during flight and climb off the plane with a full charge.
So what happened is that batteries got better over time and that the proliferation of phones and a greater concentration on customer service led both the airport authorities and the airlines to help out the passengers through the development of customer-friendly infrastructure (rather than sitting on the floor in the middle of a concourse).
Yes, this is bringing me to the point of electric vehicles. Like the phones, they’ve faced two big problems: batteries that just don’t seem to go the distance and not a whole lot available charging infrastructure.
As for the first, this is becoming a characteristic that reminds me of what was once said about quality: It is the price of admission in the auto industry. Nowadays, OEMs must realize that whether or not people don’t drive, on average, all that far on a daily basis, “range anxiety” is a real thing, and it is probably a safe bet that a range of some 200 miles is the minimum acceptable metric regardless of what the statistics might say. The number of organizations that are working on battery development—not just the OEMs and companies like LG and Panasonic, but materials suppliers and universities, as well—is large, and odds are that the improvements in the technology that’s necessary to provide consumers with quick, reliable charges is going to be attained sooner rather than later.
Of course, there is the issue of infrastructure, of the build-out of a sufficient number of charging stations to make driving an electric vehicle not something is predicated on obsessing about whether there is going to be sufficient charge to make it to the next charger—and whether there might be a vehicle already using it. Let’s face it: there is no multi-plug adapters that one might have in the trunk for situations like that.
For all of the concentration on Elon Musk and Tesla exhibited by seemingly everyone that has a Twitter account, what doesn’t get a sufficient amount of attention is the Tesla Supercharger network, which makes charging Tesla vehicles all the more convenient. (The only thing that really seems to have received much attention in this regard was when the idea that—gasp!—the recharging would come with a fee.)
While there is a small but growing number of places offering free charging, such as at shopping malls (let’s face it: given the number of people who are buying on line and not going to malls, it is in the best interest of those sites to offer something special), there is a bigger build-out of commercial infrastructure, whether it is through something like Electrify America, the concern that was created as part of Volkswagen’s diesel penalty, or straight-up companies like ChargePoint, Blink Network EVgo, etc. All of those Shell and BP gasoline stations didn’t arrive overnight.
Which brings us back to the airport. The Wright Brothers’ first flight was on December 17, 1903. The first scheduled passenger airline flight took place in Florida, a little more than 10 years later, the St. Petersburg to Tampa run that was underwritten by Percival Fansler, January 1, 1914. Keep that in mind when the “impossibility” or “improbability” of mass electrification comes up.
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