If you don’t know that the momentum for electric vehicles in U.S. is gaining speed then you’ve missed some serious road signs along the way.
A few weeks ago, in fact, numerous Fortune 100 companies, including two major automakers, joined utilities and other partners in signing an accord which hopes to create a nationwide vision for electrifying the transportation sector both on the personal and industrial levels. GM and Honda joined Exelon, National Grid and numerous other utilities and environmental advocacy groups putting their names to the Transportation Electrification Accord.
GM and Honda also are putting their money where their mouths are, creating new EV models and infrastructure systems. Utilities like Pacific Gas & Electric and Exelon, concurrently, are building out new additions in their grid to accommodate the coming charge-ready future.
Officials with GM and Exelon talked recently to Electric Light & Power/POWERGRID International about the accord and what their companies are doing specifically.
Britta Gross, director of GM’s Advanced Vehicle Commercialization Policy, said EVs are the natural next step in the automotive evolution. From the beginning of GM’s work on the Volt 12 years ago, she noted, the company has been working with utilities on the grid infrastructure needs necessitated by EV growth on the roadways.
“There are areas that automakers just don’t’ compete in,” she said. “One of those is infrastructure. Why compete in an area that prevents all of us from moving forward.”
Capital-intensive firms like GM know how to spend money on transportation infrastructure, but they don’t have the expertise; that’s where partnerships with utilities such as Exelon come in. Chicago-based Exelon’s task is to figure out how to encourage EV buyers and then find the best ways to juggle all of that charging demand over the course of a day.
Chris Budinski, director of utilty strategy at Exelon, said so many factors are pointing toward a growth curve in EV adoption. Battery prices are coming down dramatically, for one thing. But, as with any growth curve comes a steep learning curve.
Exelon worked to get ahead of the challenges posed by distributed energy resources (solar, wind) and loads (EVs) by implementing its advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) rollout. The AMI overlay certainly helps Exelon response better to the needs near the grid’s edge, and the utility also has prepared for ways to anticipate EV load both at home and on the road any time of day.
Thing like time-of-use rates and incentives to schedule charging when the grid has excess capacity are key programs to consider going forward, he said.
“It’s not just to charge, but to charge smartly, charging at off-peak times when it makes the most sense,” Budinski added, noting the optimal days depend on the region. “For a lot of us that’s later in the day, even overnight. We’ll consider time-of-use and other rates. Rate design is a key tenant or element to those programs.”
GM, Honda, Exelon and those who signed on to the accord are not alone. Volkswagen created ElectrifyAmerica to build out a network of thousands of fast-charge stations nationwide, and that spinoff is partnering with grid experts such as Black & Veatch, ABB and SAI, among others.
The momentum leading to greater EV adoption might be technical in buildup, but it’s also got a visceral edge, too. EVs will change the road, some day, but also the driver.
“I have driven a number of electric vehicles, and I’ve done my best to test them,” Exelon’s Budinski said. “The thing that surprise me most was—even in the more affordable models—was the pickup and acceleration of these vehicles. “It does make for fun driving.”