|Steven Chu, the secretary of energy, gave a short talk on electric vehicles on Thursday at the Washington Auto Show. Dr. Chu, a physicist who is widely expected to be departing shortly from the job he has held for four years, described the progress made so far and what would have to happen next to make electric vehicles a mass-market product.
First he cited the cost of the battery. While it has declined from about $1,000 per kilowatt-hour of storage in 2008 to about $500 today, it would have to decline to $125 over the next 10 years.
A kilowatt-hour will propel a small electric car three or four miles. Its cost is cheap, about 11 cents. Storage for that kilowatt-hour is what is pricey. A battery that stores $2 worth of electricity but costs $8,000 to buy and has the same range potential as two or three gallons of gasoline is an odd combination, like buying a solid gold cup and using it to serve tap water.
Second, Dr. Chu said, the cost of a kilowatt of power from the rest of the drive system, now $30, would have fall to $8. That would make cars with electric batteries competitive with cars running on internal combustion, even with the efficiency of the latter improving as time goes by.
He said that features available only in cars with batteries, like the ability to heat or cool a car cabin to a comfortable temperature a few minutes before the owner gets in, could help sell the cars.
The Obama administration’s current goal calls for one million electric vehicles to be on the road in the United States by 2015. Asked whether it could be achieved, Dr. Chu replied, “It’s ambitious, but we’ll see what happens.”
He said he was encouraged by a recen tprice cut for the Nissan Leaf, and Chevy’s sales of 24,000 Volts last year.
Dr. Chu steadfastly refused to talk about whether he will step down. Pressed on that issue, he replied, “I came here today to give great announcements at the auto show of our E.V. challenge and E.V. blueprint.’’ He announced an effort to have major employers install charging stations at work so that the 40 percent of people who live in apartments or other structures that may lack outdoor outlets could charge up, and he ticked off goals for progress on batteries and drivetrains.
(Last week, the transportation secretary, Ray LaHood, used almost identical language to deflect a question about his imminent plans at a news conference about the Boeing 787; he announced his departure this week.)
During a short question-and-answer session with reporters in the cavernous Washington Convention Center, I asked Dr. Chu whether sequestration would interrupt progress on energy problems. (Under the New Year’s Eve deal in Congress to head off the “fiscal cliff,” automatic massive budget cuts, known as sequestration, are scheduled to take place in March.)
To the puzzlement of some reporters, he promptly began describing how we would still need to sequester carbon dioxide from power plants even if progress is made on embracing electric vehicles.
When I clarified things and said that I was referring to fiscal sequestration, he quipped to good-natured laughter, “See what a nerd I am?”