Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors and SpaceX, claims that every mode of transportation will be electric in the next few decades. The only exception the Musk points out is, of course, rockets.
While many people might be asking lofty questions like, “Can you electrify supersonic, jet-propulsion aircraft?” Our minds went somewhere a little less ambitious; electric RV’s. (Also known as Recreational Vehicles)
Starting With a Leg Up
The world of RV’s is already heavily electrified. Most RV enthusiasts have generators, solar panels, or both on their rigs. Also, most RV parks have robust electricity hookups. The industry’s adoption of technology that makes electricity more mobile has been in full force for several decades. Therefore, if electric RV’s hit the market, the infrastructure required to support them would not be starting from zero. However, there are still plenty of hurdles that will need to be overcome.
Everyone’s Biggest Concern: Range
A vehicle meant for cross-country travel requires a range that will not completely interrupt the experience. If this is not solved, the market simply will not adopt the technology. This subject gets somewhat complicated as it’s not as simple as bigger batteries. We’ll break down the variables that play into the range of an electric RV.
Battery Energy Density
The amount of energy a battery can hold relative to its size is still improving every year. So long as this trend continues, the range of electric vehicles will continue to grow. Along with this trend, we will also continue to see a reduction in charge times. This is important for getting the travel cadence similar to internal combustion vehicles. Electric vehicles will need to go about as far on a single charge as we can currently go on a tank of gas. Similarly, recharging or swapping the battery will need to happen about as fast as filling the tank. Technology is moving consistently toward achieving both of these things.
An electric motor can instantly be turned into an electric generator. Because of this, electric vehicles have the ability to take advantage of regenerative braking. This means that a portion of the stopping power in the braking process is converted back into electricity, and sent to the batteries. An electric vehicle manufacturer not taking advantage of this is needlessly limiting its vehicle’s range.
Like battery technology, solar panels are also improving at a steady rate. Even today, solar panels have the ability to extend the range of an electric vehicle. However, the exciting point will be when a solar panel has the ability to generate more electricity than is being used by the motor. If this tipping point is ever achieved, you can expect to see electric RV’s flooding the roads.
Why Electric RV’s Will Be a Better Product
Being “green” won’t be the only motivator for RV’s going electric. Once the range issue is solved, an electric RV will simply be a better product. Because of this, it is likely that we will see complete migration to an electric platform.
An electric RV will require a fraction of the maintenance that the market is used to today. This is because an electric powertrain is much simpler than its predecessor. There is no transmission, engine oil, alternator, or radiator. The brake pads will last as long as the vehicle due to the regenerative braking discussed earlier. In fact, in most cases, the RV’s maintenance will consist of replacing the tires once in a while. That’s it.
The weight of an RV needs plenty of torque, especially if you’re on a steep incline. Unlike gasoline, an electric motor has instant torque that remains consistent. This means that slowly rumbling up a mountain in the right lane, getting passed by everyone will be a thing of the past. This fact may even open the market for “off-road” RV’s.
An electric RV will also be more “roomy.” The powertrain will no longer take up the entire engine compartment. In fact, an electric power train will be about the size of a large watermelon. This will fundamentally change the shape of RV’s on the market, adding more room to the cabin. There is also no use of a drive shaft, allowing the floor to move down several inches. The net effect is as much as 15% increase in interior space.
Electric vehicles are far more safe than internal combustion engines for several reasons. For RV’s, the biggest factor will likely be weight distribution. Currently, many models of RV can be knocked onto their sides during a strong wind or an evasive steering maneuver. However, an electric model will have the floor lined with its heaviest component; lithium ion batteries. This keeps the center of gravity low and all four wheels secured to the ground. The batteries also provide a layer of structural integrity that keeps passengers much safer in a collision in ways standard car frames cannot achieve.
Electric RV’s: A Question of If, not When
As you can see, once key technological hurdles are overcome this will be the obvious next step in RV’s. With battery and solar technology progressing faster than ever, those hurdles will likely be behind us soon. It won’t just be RV’s either, internal combustion in general will likely be replaced completely. Because of this, we can expect to see massive recharging infrastructure being developed all over the world. It is safe to assume that seeing a gasoline RV in the future will be like seeing a covered wagon today, there just won’t be a reason for it.
Kyle Rutten does web design and content creation for B&B RV in Denver, Colorado. He loves travel and adventure, spending most of his free time in the Colorado wilderness.