Perhaps not a surprise that the present life is never too different from the past: wars keep happening, an incurable illness is always present, a financial crisis occurs from time to time… If we look at it from the bleak side, of course.
Although this sounds unfortunate, the phenomenon of the past are not too new to the generations afterwards, since the same problems still occur. But what had changed since the past in our second millenium A.D. of existence, is that our modern life is moving on at a much faster pace. It is the innovations, in the past there were only discoveries.
A lot of the most important discoveries in science took place in the 20th century, and analyzing the developments of the second millennium, it appears that we are living on century-old achievements. On today’s day, the majority of products from any scientific domain is an innovation and not an invention. This could be compared to placing a straw into a drink or attaching a keychain to a USB key, where several decades old products are innovated via supplementary goods and options that cannot be functional on their own. But the trick is that on today’s day no discoveries are needed to change our living standards. All scientific domains are currently in service to business forces where innovations become the engine of the fast-pace life making the conventional unit be time and not a scientific breakthrough. This being said, it is important to know what are the latest industrial and technological developments because their commercialization will impact the international economy, and thus the standards of life for people worlwide.
In this section only two fields with industrial innovations are considered – electricity and energy.
Speaking about playing around with electricity, one of the prominent new productions in this field are electric vehicles. Once someone mentions an electric vehicle, what first comes to mind is a Tesla car (although there are many other companies producing electric vehicles such as Daimler, Fiat and Chevrolet). However, electric cars were first invented in the second half of the 19th centuries. By 1890s electric cars prevailed over the fuel cars in a ratio of 10 to one. What happened next, what deprived electricity of its lead role in the car industry, is Ford car conveyor production line and company’s marketing. Interestingly, the most generalizing answer to the question why are fuel cars still more popular than the electric ones, is that people are simply used to the concept that cars must run on gasoline.
In an interview with Darryl McMahon, an award winning author in his expertize on electric vehicles and a founder of the Electric Auto Association in Canada, the scope of development and proliferation of electricity in transportation comes out to surface. In the last decade there had been a 14 to 20 per cent increase in electric vehicles production and sales on the international market. Mainly this is linked to taxes on gasoline. Therefore the states where such taxes are prone to grow become actively involved in producing electric vehicles, and the states which are concerned over preserving the ecology, are eager importers. So far the leading states in electric vehicle production are France, Germany, South Korea. The most prominent buyer of such cars is Sweden. But cars are not the only means of transportation with an electric engine. If submarines and space crafts are powered by electricity since their creation, by now all trains are becoming electrified, large ships and cruises are switching to electric drives and even airplanes are on their way to fully adopting the electric engines.
There is something important to know about the functioning of transports with electricity. The electric motor on its own is cheaper to create than the combustion engine, but the motor is indispensable of the electric battery pack, which so far makes electric vehicles less competitive compared to their petrol counterparts. The cost of building electric batteries is very high due to the extraction, refinement and incorporation of rare natural resources (more precisely, precious metals such as lithium) obligatory for the production. In addition, some parts of these batteries are assembled manually. All of these factors make the final cost of the electric battery be worth the payment of 10 years of fuel. But apart from the battery, which plays a big difference in the price of the final product, electric cars are identical to the gasoline ones except for some advantages: they consume less of computer power and it is at least in half cheaper to charge the car with electricity than with gasoline.
Regarding the innovations to modify the electric battery, they range from economic tools to physics. Car companies producing electric vehicles have already initiated a plan to release as many of electric engines (including batteries) as possible into the market to intuitively lower their prices. From the perspective of engineering, the plan is to apply less of raw materials, eliminate manual labour, use more of carbon electrodes and replace lithium with sodium. But according to McMahon, the reason why electric vehicles are still less popular than the gasoline ones, is because there is more of financial interest for car companies to sell the ones with the combustion engine. The average life span of a car is 20 years and throughout this time car companies gain revenues from their mechanical services. In the case of electric cars, the risk of a breakage is very minimal, what makes it more profitable for companies to supply the public with gasoline cars. Last to mention, regarding a popular idea that there is a collusion between large corporate entities on limiting access to the international market for alternative engines, McMahon believes that there is no bias among oil and transport corporations towards alternative engines in competition.
The second interviewee who shared some secrets on the development and innovation in electric cars’ industry, is a Tesla sales’ assistant. The assistant revealed how one of the generally desired cars manages its production and advances itself on the market.
The particularity of the Tesla Company compared to giant car industries, such as General Motors and Wanxiang, is that it does not take jobs abroad – all assemblage and production of mechanic components is in USA. Yet, the company is recognizing its needs to expand, and soon will open up a factory in Europe. In addition, the company is actively working on innovations for its electric motors and batteries to lower the production expenses.
The sales’ assistant explained that electric cars are not in a serious competition to combustion engines because their production is only 30 years old where petrol cars have been tested, developed and modified for 200 years. The company is recognizing as its main issue the reliance on lithium – an expensive rare metal for battery construction, and consequently seeks new applicable materials to diminish its price and make Tesla cars more affordable to the public. However, the price of the battery pack is not the only component that adds up a value to the car. Electric engines differ in their functional capacities and, consequently, the price is reflecting that. Nevertheless, the sales of electric cars and the supply of electric stations is increasing worldwide, especially in Canada, as the sales’ assistant alluded, the Tesla Company is doing very well in Vancouver.
Interestingly, the sales’ assistant also commented that public’s perception of Tesla car as one of the most expensive cars is misleading. It goes up to $200,000 maximum with the most top features included, where the latest model of Ferrari costs $400,000. Tesla car has only two models so far, X and S, and their prices are similar to Mercedes E class and BMW X5, which are not perceived by the public as too sumptuous. However, in order to grow more, the company had come up with a plan to introduce to the market car models at a much lower pricing. Thus, in two years Tesla Company will launch model 3, costing only $35,000. In order to be a stronger competitor Tesla needs to lower its fares. But it is important to mention that the executives of the company do not see any potential rivals for Tesla cars, not even hybrid or hydrogen vehicles. Tesla Company does not have a specific mission such as to oust combustion cars from the market; it simply wants to promote sustainable transportation, which is zero gas emissions. Precisely this factor so unique makes Teslas attractive, where ecological preservation with no compromise on comfort is possible.
Regarding the same question inquired previously,why electric vehicles could not have swiftly replaced petrol cars since their entry into the international market, the sales’ assistant provided a very simple and peculiar answer: it takes five minutes to fill up a car with gasoline and several hours to charge it with electricity…
It seems that people are never ready to sacrifice time where money is time.
In the next part, this blog will look at industrial innovations of the energy sector and at innovations in technology.