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Local Project Aims To Cut Cost Of Electric Car Batteries

A potential game changer for making electric cars more affordable is playing out in San Diego.

Local resident Mike Ferry said he loves his new Nissan Leaf but is unsure if his love will last.

"There is a big question mark," said Ferry.

However, there is no questioning the growing popularity of electric cars in San Diego County. Locally, about 900 plug-in vehicles are on the road, which is the most per capita in the country.

The problem is when the 100,000-mile warranty runs out, that is near the same time a new battery is needed.

"The batteries also happen to be the most expensive component in the car," said Ferry.

Various estimates place the cost at about $13,000 for the Chevy Volt battery and about $18,000 for the Leaf. With new technology and new factories, those costs are expected to drop 70 percent by 2015.

To meet the tough demands and performance needs of the car, the battery pack needs about 80 percent of its juice. When it gets below 80 percent, it will likely have to be replaced. Even then, there is a still lot of life in the battery.

Ferry, who is also the transportation programs manager at the California Center for Sustainable Energy, wants to figure out how much that is worth.

His group is leading a study at UC San Diego to see if the used batteries can help soak up and store solar power.

"We think it could have another 10 to 15 years left," said Ferry. "The batteries could soak up energy when it's not needed and discharge energy later in the day when the grid needs power. It could be very useful."

Potentially, the battery could be worth anything from very little to more than $1,000, which could help defray the cost of a new battery and help put a charge into a technology still surrounded by issues of cost.

The project, led by the California Center for Sustainable Energy, also includes the UC Davis, UC Berkeley and San Diego Gas & Electric. Testing the car batteries in a solar grid is expected by January.

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