Unintended Consequences

The Back Story

When IEEE Spectrum contributing editor Peter Fairley heard of a new electric vehicle that could recharge its battery in less than 10 minutes, he was intrigued [see ”California to Rule on Fate of EVs,” in this issue].

Even the best-performing electric cars are notorious for their short range and long charging times. The potential of rapid charging seemed to address both problems by making long trips possible via quick pit stops.

Once he began talking to experts in the industry, however, Fairley encountered many skeptics who questioned the technology’s usefulness—to charge that fast, the battery needed half a megawatt of electricity. An electric ”charging station” with several cars plugged in would require more than ”your typical power line,” says Fairley.

He found that the new batteries were a perfect example of the unintended consequences of technology regulations. Practical or not, the rapid-charging batteries seem to qualify for incentives that the California Air Resources Board intended for fuel-cell vehicles.

”This story is about the challenge and complexity of trying to mandate technological development,” says Fairley. Enterprising companies often find loopholes in regulations without providing the kinds of advances regulators expect.

Despite the inherent limitations of technology mandates, Fairley thinks they may be the best option available to deliver the advances required to confront climate change.

”There’s a huge range of clean technology availa­ble and ready,” says Fairley. ”The problem is getting it into the market.