B&V Series on EV Adoption: Electric Vehicle Momentum Gaining Speed

Eitor’s Note: This is the first of a two-part series by two experts from Black & Veatch. The final piece will run in the January 24 edition of the Electric Light & Power Executive Digest.

Last year marked a watershed in electric vehicle (EV) adoption as it relates to the smart cities movement, with transit systems and fleet operators from New York to Los Angeles placing multi-million-dollar orders for everything from electric city buses to battery-powered ambulances and police cars.

While EVs currently constitute only a fraction of the total vehicle market (see link at bottom of story), electric vehicles are quickly moving from early-adopters to mainstream. Light-duty sales of electric vehicles rose 37 percent in 2016, according to Forbes. And Navigant Research reported that global orders for plug-in electric buses increased 40 percent from 2016 to 2017.

The benefits are clear: EVs are quiet, efficient, clean, green, low-maintenance and increasingly cost-effective, as battery prices have dropped precipitously and total cost of ownership is reduced. Perhaps most importantly, EVs improve the quality of life for everyone.

Many municipalities and utilities in the U.S. took the first step toward an all-electric future years ago when they started integrating hybrids into their fleets of light-duty vehicles. Armed with that positive experience, they are now transitioning those internal fleets to all-electric. 

For example, New York City has more than 650 EV sedans and 75 battery-powered ambulances, with plans to add 2,000 EVs by 2025. Seattle will deploy 120 new electric buses by 2020, and Los Angeles is investing $138 million to purchase 95 electric buses, with plans to replace its entire fleet of 2,300 buses with EVs by 2030.

An estimated 5,000 public transit buses are purchased each year in the U.S., and there are 850 electric buses currently on order, with active proposals for hundreds more. The Los Angeles Police Department has also added 100 electric cars to its fleet as replacements for aging vehicles.

Over the next 5 to 10 years, we will see a surge in the adoption of electric passenger cars, municipal fleets, utilities fleets and battery-powered public transportation. Then, factor in the private sector: semi-trucks, enterprise fleets, taxis, ride-sharing services, airport shuttles, ZipCars, and more.

That’s a lot of vehicles needing charging stations, creating a potentially significant impact on the power grid. For example, if Tesla’s new semi-truck replaced all diesel trucks on the road today, it would require a 10% increase in U.S. power generation. Or, if half the light-duty vehicles on the road today transitioned to EVs, the impact would be a 12.5 percent increase in total U.S. electricity demand.

The time to start planning for that inevitable spike in demand is now, because of the complexity that arises when so many players are involved and due to the time it takes to navigate regulatory and governmental environments.

Looking ahead

The current electric grid has the capability to respond to the everyday peaks and valleys of demand, but a massive deployment of EV high-power charging stations would present an unprecedented challenge. Here’s the issue: with a Level 2 AC charging station, one that a typical driver would use to charge a car overnight, it takes 4-6 hours to bring the vehicle to full power. But a municipal transit agency or private fleet operator might want to charge vehicles in 20 minutes, which then requires a high-power DC EV charging station.

Utility companies are justifiably concerned that this type of demand could overload transformers on electrical distribution circuits, possibly resulting in brownouts, and forcing the utility to embark on costly infrastructure upgrades.

What’s required is adaptive planning that brings all parties into the process, including municipalities, public transit agencies, utility companies, regulators, technology integrators, vehicle OEMs, the private sector and the community. It sounds daunting, but it can be done.

In fact, proactive cities are embracing this challenge as an opportunity for better engagement and alignment around a common vision. San Diego has received attention for its initiative—known as Smart City San Diego—that combines trade association Cleantech San Diego with the city itself, San Diego Gas & Electric, General Electric and the University of California San Diego.

A planning partnership is critical

The goal of the planning process is the creation of a smart grid that has the capacity to accommodate high-power EV charging stations, and the flexibility to balance supply and demand from distributed energy resources (DER), such as rooftop solar and EV charging stations themselves.

For instance, one challenge facing the industry is the mismatch between peak production from solar energy—which is between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.—and peak EV charging time, which is typically overnight. In California, so much solar energy is produced during the mid-day period that some is wasted due to lack of energy storage infrastructure.

But there are ways to address the issue, such as encouraging municipalities to open up their charging stations to the public during the day or encouraging private employers to put charging stations in employee parking lots. There are also rate adjustments that can be made to encourage daytime charging.

Here are the key players and the ways that they can contribute to a well-planned energy future:

·         Policymakers are essential to encourage and facilitate EV adoption through education, outreach and incentives. It’s up to utility regulators to develop programs, strategies and rate structures that help utilities recover capital costs and encourage public-private infrastructure funding.

·         Municipalities are a key driver of the EV movement and are continuing to initiate EV adoption. They work closely with utilities to ensure that high-power EV charging stations are sited and deployed in a planned, controlled manner.

·         For utilities, it’s all about adopting new ways of thinking about grid planning and operations and being proactive. Utilities are starting to incorporate EVs into every aspect of the planning and are investigating new revenue streams related to EVs.

·         The role of vehicle manufacturers is to work with other partners to build awareness, to communicate high-power charging requirements to customers and fleets, and to share data with all parties in the process.

·         The private sector, from EV service providers to new EV fleet business models, have a major role in the planning process, keeping utilities informed on the potential demand that will be generated by private fleets.

Finally, it’s important that the community continues to support innovation and the adoption of new technology. Grassroots movements and non-profits are actively organizing and participating in “National EV Day,’ “test and drive” events, blogs from the EV community to educate peers, school projects and other activities and events.

If all the parties come together and create a true partnership, the result will be widespread adoption of EVs plugged into an efficient, adaptive charging station infrastructure. And that means reduced greenhouse gas emissions and cleaner cities for everyone.

For more on B&V’s EV report, click here


About the authors: Maryline Daviaud Lewett is Director of Business Development for Black & Veatch’s Transformative Technologies business. She is responsible for sales and partnerships in distributed infrastructure, sustainable transportation, and engineering, procurement and construction of electric vehicle charging infrastructure networks, fuel cell vehicle filling infrastructure networks, and behind-the-meter energy storage.

Paul Stith is Director of Strategy & Innovation for Black & Veatch’s Transformative Technologies business. He specializes in sustainable transportation and distributed clean energy solutions.  He works with vehicle OEMs, utilities, transit agencies, cities and emerging transportation service providers to plan and build infrastructure for electrification and automation of light, medium and heavy-duty vehicle fleets.


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The Clarion Energy Content Team is made up of editors from various publications, including POWERGRID International, Power Engineering, Renewable Energy World, Hydro Review, Smart Energy International, and Power Engineering International. Contact the content lead for this publication at Jennifer.Runyon@ClarionEvents.com.

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