A common critique of green products is that they require changes in consumer behavior to deliver environmental benefits or that they cost too much, or both. That critique fails to acknowledge that higher costs and changes in behavior are often the hallmark of technologically innovative products, many of which go on to become hugely successful and to reshape our society.
Consumer technology products, in particular, frequently require changes in consumer behavior. From the PC to the cell phone, they have required consumers to change they way they perform familiar tasks, and to perform new tasks–ranging from backing up disks to engaging in continuous communication streams. As far as costs are concerned, many technologies enjoy economies of scale later in their lifecyle that are not available in their early days. Deep pocketed corporations, sometimes with the support of venture backers, combined with passionate early adopters, come together to help such products across the chasm to widespread adoption.
The products of Apple Inc., to name one overused example, tend to combine the characteristics of requiring behavioral change and high cost. The iPhone and iPad are predicated on the idea that consumers will change their behavior to use them–typing without a keyboard, anyone? And they are substantially more expensive than traditional alternatives.
Electric vehicles also present a combination of the need to change behavior and high costs. Recharging a vehicle is a different process than refueling, for example. And electric cars need to be recharged more frequently than conventional cars need to be refueled.
But statistics indicate that most americans’ daily commute is less than the range offered by electric vehicles. While to be taken with a grain of statistical salt because of selection bias, a survey of early adopters of electric vehicles shows little concern over range limitations.
Meanwhile, the high costs of electric vehicles are due to the relatively miniscule scale of production and technological immaturity of electric cars compared to conventional vehicles.
The total cost of developing the market for electric vehicles includes creating an infrastructure to enable drivers to charge their vehicles conveniently. A charging infrastrucure is just starting to be created. One participant is ECOtality of North America, which will deploy some 15,000 charging stations over 36 months at a cost of $230 million, or about $16,000 per station. Half the funds are being supplied by the U.S. Department of Energy.
This pilot project has research objectives that could be important to the development of an infrastructure for charging electric vehicles. According to ECOtotality, project “will collect and analyze data to characterize vehicle use in diverse topographic and climatic conditions, evaluate the effectiveness of charge infrastructure, and conduct trials of various revenue systems for commercial and public charge infrastructure.” This kind of intelligence will be crucial to help guide the innovation in the emerging electric vehicle market.
Skepticism about the markets for green products and services is fine and healthy. But it should be articulated in the context of what we know about technology innovation in other markets.
What are your thoughts?