Navigant Research Blog

Rail Looks to Move the LNG Market

— September 13, 2016

Pipeline (2)The natural gas market in North America continues to have oversupply issues and a much lower price than other regional markets. Natural gas producers in Canada, Alaska, and other parts of the United States that are looking for new outlets for gas deposits may soon see new sales thanks to an old form of transportation—rail.

For the first time in decades, liquefied natural gas (LNG) is being used to power locomotives in the United States, and trains will soon begin delivering LNG by tanker for the first time. In June, the Florida East Coast Railway (FECR) began the first line in nearly 20 years to operate an LNG-diesel duel fuel train in the United States. The train runs between Jacksonville and Miami, and the company intends on converting all of its locomotives to dual-fuel setups.

Displacing Diesel

FECR is currently sourcing its engines from General Electric. Also offering LNG conversion kits to railway operators are manufacturers Energy Conversion, Inc. and EMD. Railroad operator BNSF is also testing LNG locomotives. The use of LNG in locomotives first began in the 1980s by Burlington Northern Railroad, but after several trials, engine conversion efforts lost steam, until efforts to put them back online returned just a few years ago.

The potential market for LNG as a rail fuel is considerable as diesel fuel consumed in the top 7 major freight railroads was about 7% (3.6 billion gallons) of the U.S. total diesel fuel consumption in 2012, according to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA). Supplying engines with LNG fuel while in operation requires the addition or modification of an LNG tender car. LNG tender manufacturers in North America include Westport Innovations of British Columbia and Chart Industries. The EIA expects that switching to cheaper LNG will more than repay the cost of converting the engine and tender car that holds the fuel.

Alternative to Pipelines

Rail is also being proposed as an alternative distribution mechanism to sometimes-contentious gas pipelines. The Alaska Railroad Corp. (ARRC) became the first rail agency to obtain approval from the Federal Railroad Authority (FRA) to transport LNG by rail tanker in October 2015. Transportation of LNG from where it is produced to interior markets in Alaska is likely to begin soon, and Union Pacific Railroad has similarly applied for permission to transport LNG in the lower 48. Specially designed LNG tanker cars are needed to store the fuel during transport, and new designs are currently in use in Japan and in Europe, where companies VTG and Chart Industries are collaborating.

LNG and oil pipelines continue to face opposition for their potential to endanger the environment that they pass through, so transporting LNG by rail could be a less objectionable method of distribution. Switching from diesel to natural gas also has environmental benefits. According to the EIA, natural gas produces 27.4% less CO2 than diesel when being burned.

Utilizing the railways for both delivery and consumption of LNG has inherent synergies, especially if the refueling depots and processing plants can be located near rail terminals. Until this market matures, some natural gas producers in Canada struggling to find options for exporting the abundance of natural gas are moving into the United States and Mexico in order to maintain growth.

 

Mobility Services Target Driving Less (or at Least More Efficiently)

— September 1, 2016

CarsharingThe problem of urban congestion includes both too many cars simultaneously on the road and too few places to park them. New mobility services from Ford and Lyft are using data analytics and last-mile ridesharing to solve these twin challenges.

Increasing urbanization (82% of people now live in urban areas in North America, according to the United Nations) is intensifying the pressure on city streets and roadways and encouraging more urban dwellers to forego owning a car because of the expense and hassle of finding a place to park. Realizing that vehicle sales to city residents may start to flatten, automakers (including Ford) are diversifying their revenue streams with mobility services.

The recently unveiled FordPass app enables any car owner to pre-book a parking space in garages in more than 160 cities. FordPass also includes phone access to humans to help customers get around in traffic or find other mobility options, and the company also opened its first FordHub mobility storefront in San Francisco. When you also consider the company’s FordPay payment service, it’s clear that the automaker isn’t afraid to borrow from a certain Cupertino company’s playbook. (What’s next, the iFordFone?)

Autonomous Future

Ford also continues to march toward releasing a fully autonomous vehicle. The automaker recently invested in lidar manufacturer Velodyne’s autonomous sensing technology. Ford also announced its intention to produce a fully autonomous car by 2021 for use in ridesharing services. Uber, Lyft, and many other companies see taking those pesky compensation-seeking drivers out of the equation as the future of ridesharing.

Navigant Research forecasts that annual mobility services revenue will reach $4.8 billion in 2020. Automakers will play a significant role in these services, which include carsharing and ridesharing services, congestion charging programs, EV charging services, intelligent traffic management, and smart parking systems.

Smart Urban Mobility End-User Services Revenue by Region, World Markets: 2015-2024

Mobility(Source: Navigant Research)

If an autonomous vehicle is electric, it would reduce urban emissions while also addressing the problem of limited parking. If used to get people to and from mass transit stations, ridesharing programs can reduce the overall vehicle miles traveled by removing trips into the city core. Such is the case in the Denver suburb of Centennial, where light rail customers can request a free Lyft ride if they live near the Dry Creek train station. While using tax dollars to put people in private cars may seem counterintuitive, if it increases the utilization of light rail, it can be viewed as a net positive in solving the last mile challenge and reduce the cost when compared to limited-use bus services. Employees who work for XOJET, which provides luxury rides above the clouds, can also now access Lyft to get to and from their hotels and airports while they are accommodating the jet-setter crowd.

 

Alternative Sales Channels Look to Avoid EV Dealer Woes

— August 25, 2016

EV RefuelingEV sales in the United States continued to climb to new heights in July, and market participants generally agree the growth is despite (not because of) the consumer experience at dealerships. Sales of plug-in hybrids are up a whopping 68% over last July, while battery EV sales are up nearly 51%. This is remarkable considering gasoline is cheaper by 43 cents per gallon than a year ago.

Many consumers have reported that trying to buy an EV is about as enjoyable as a root canal, with many dealers underinformed on charging requirements, local incentives, and even basic EV operating requirements. This frustration goes back than more than 20 years according to EV marketing guru Chelsea Sexton, who worked on GM’s EV1.

“There’s no question that dealers are one of the larger hurdles facing EVs, and that too many automakers are in denial…,” said Sexton, adding, “the only way to improve things is to start with acknowledging things need improving.”

Californian Oasis

The Sierra Club sent volunteers to California and nine other states with zero emission vehicle (ZEV) mandates and published a report highlighting  the challenges in the EV buying experience. The report noted significant differences in dealer support for EVs between the oasis that is California and the rest of the country. According to the Sierra Club, dealers representing car companies with EVs in the ZEV states were 2.5 times more likely not to have an EV on the lot than in California and to have only half as many EVs available to buy per dealership. These figures are likely much worse in the other 40 states, where it’s often easier to find a cheap seat to Hamilton than it is to find an EV.

According to the Sierra Club report, the most enjoyable place to learn about buying an EV isn’t at a dealership—it’s at one of Tesla Motors’ growing roster of customer experience centers, which scored much higher in the EV buying experience. Navigant Research’s Electric Vehicle Geographic Forecasts report expects that California will be home to 48% of all EVs on the road in the United States in 2016, which is partly due to much greater vehicle availability at dealerships.

A More Positive Experience

Reborn EV startup Karma is setting up a network of eight independent dealers and a flagship customer center. Following Tesla’s lead, Canadian company is looking to create a more positive EV experience by selling EVs from multiple manufacturers through a specialized dealer network. Perhaps it will become the Uber of carselling by turning an often-frustrating consumer experience into a less expensive and more enjoyable time.

Two other approaches to jump-start EV sales with minimal dealer assistance include group buys and putting EVs in ridesharing fleets. Group buy programs, which aggregate companies’ and individuals’ EV purchases and offer a steep discount, have worked well in Northern Colorado for Nissan, tripling EV sales above the national average. A similar program being put together in Montreal has seen more than 2,800 sign up to purchase a LEAF, well ahead of the entire country’s annual LEAF sales.

GM has decided to put many of the first Chevrolet Bolts manufactured into the Lyft rideshare fleet. The thought is that Lyft, in which GM has invested, will greatly expand the number of consumers who are familiar with the Bolt beyond what can be accomplished by dealers. As my colleague Sam Abuelsamid recently wrote, “Getting people to ride in Bolts with Lyft drivers has the potential to provide positive first-hand exposure without having to go to a dealer first.”

Rather than running around the long-standing dealer problem, automakers need to tackle the issue head-on by greatly enhancing dealer education and providing sufficient incentives to make it just as lucrative to sell an EV.

 

Fast EV Charging Ready to Accelerate

— August 3, 2016

EV RefuelingBattery electric vehicles (BEVs) are getting better with each model announced by automakers, with greater driving ranges, better styling, and more features, all at lower costs. The 2016 sales figures indicate that American buyers increasingly prefer going all-electric rather than plug-in hybrid with a gasoline backup.

By 2018, we’ll have a handful of relatively affordable 200+ mile BEVs available from a variety of automakers, which will require not only more commercial charging locations, but also faster chargers to cut down the time needed to fully recharge the bigger batteries that these vehicles utilize.

Navigant Research’s recently published DC Charging Map for the United States report projects that adding a network of 408 fast chargers could enable drivers to get around and between the top 100 U.S. metropolitan statistical areas. Plug-in hybrids, with much smaller battery packs, aren’t expected to support these higher charging levels.

DC Charging Stations for Long-Distance BEV Demand, Top 100 Metropolitan Statistical Areas

DC Charging Map

 (Sources: Navigant Research, Esri, U.S. Department of Energy, U.S. Federal Highway Administration)

These higher power stations (greater than 100 kW, compared to most non-Tesla charging stations that max out at 50 kW) would help encourage greater EV adoption by giving drivers the freedom to roam across their state or the entire country knowing that a charging station is within reach.

The federal government is doubling down on its bet on EVs through a slew of initiatives announced in July that support EV charging with the hope of increasing EV sales. The White House, in conjunction with the U.S. Departments of Energy and Transportation and other agencies, announced the availability of up to $4.5 billion in loan guarantees for companies to invest in EV charging infrastructure. Government agencies will also be working together to get more EVs into their fleets through combined purchases.

Speeding Up the Charge

In looking to get charge times closer to 10 minutes for BEVs, the U.S. Department of Energy will fund research into the feasibility of 350 kW charging and is inviting the private sector to assist. In theory, being able to recharge a BEV at near the time it takes to fill an SUV with gas would remove one barrier for time-conscious consumers. However, the high power has implications for safety (higher voltage and amperage), heat generation (potential to melt connectors), the lifecycle of the receiving batteries, and the site host.

Many utilities levy demand charges for peak power delivered over a specified threshold during the month that can cost up to thousands of dollars in recurring fees. Utilities are beginning to address the cost issue by developing new rate structures that consider fast charging, or by considering operating fast charging equipment themselves.

Seattle City Light will install and operate 20 fast charging stations to get a better understanding of the impacts of EVs on its grid. Also in Washington state, utility Avista will install seven direct current (DC) fast chargers with energy services company Greenlots as part of a larger project to evaluate EVs in demand response and smart charging programs.

And if 350 kW EV charging isn’t fast enough, electric buses in Geneva, Switzerland will soon be charging at a whopping 600 kW. ABB will be using stationary batteries to help limit the impact of fast charging 12 buses. In the world of EV charging, “fast” is rapidly becoming a relative term.

 

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