At the first Wednesday Nite @ The Lab of the spring semester, speaker Bruce Johnson, a solar farmer and alternative energy proponent, discussed the future of electric cars in 2022 and beyond. Though Johnson dedicated his career to television production in the commercial and public TV sector, his true passion is alternative energy. This was his eighth time speaking at Wednesday Nite @ The Lab, a weekly speaker talk series held at the University of Wisconsin.

Johnson’s talk focused on the evolution of electric cars and the realities of owning one in today’s fast-changing alternative energy industry. He stepped through the timeline of electric vehicles, starting in 1895 with the Edison Baker electric vehicle made by Thomas Edison to the more efficient electric vehicles of today.

One thing that makes modern electric vehicles so much more efficient than their predecessors is the lithium ion battery, Johnson said. Electric cars were powered by lead acid batteries until Tesla came out with the first commercial vehicle that utilized lithium ion batteries in 2008. These batteries have a higher energy density which means they are more efficient and can drive further than cars with lead acid batteries.

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Though Johnson is a big advocate for electric vehicles he did not shy away from discussing the shortcomings of some models of EVs. He stated that the Nissan Leaf, which he had previously owned, only had a range of about 75 miles and even less when it was cold, this was because some energy had to go toward heating the cabin on cold days. Cars like the Nissan Leaf did this using resistance heaters, Johnson explained that these are inefficient and can use up the battery.

Car manufacturers have made big strides in this area and some vehicles like Tesla’s now use a more efficient way of generating heat called the heat pump which can extract heat from cold air. Johnson said the newest models of Tesla have a range of 405 miles, though you still lose about 20-25% of range in cold weather.

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Electric vehicles efficiency depends on a number of variables, including the weather conditions, the vehicle’s tires, the brand of vehicle and other factors. With all of these variables in play it is necessary to plan your trips carefully if you own an electric vehicle, Johnson said.

Though Johnson explained the constraints that electric car owners deal with, he stressed that things are always improving. He stated that he has seen more progress in the past 18 months than he has seen in the past nine years in this industry.

When discussing his reason for owning electric vehicles Johnson said, “It’s never the wrong time to do the right thing. I have no doubt in my heart that this is the right thing because there is no planet B.”