Navigant Research Blog

Liquefied Natural Gas Gains Trucker Appeal

— September 9, 2015

Change_webLiquefied natural gas (LNG) has had the advantage of being a cleaner, less expensive fuel, but its limited availability and longer payback period for equipment has hindered its use in medium and heavy duty vehicles.

Due to its increasing supply, the cost of natural gas fuel has dropped by 50% since 2008. This, in addition to recent changes in the IRS code, has further increased the value proposition for natural gas as a transportation fuel. Natural gas proponents have long complained about the inequity of how the tax code has treated LNG, which was taxed by volume rather than by its energy value. Because a gallon of LNG has 42% less energy by volume than diesel, the effective tax rate was much higher, which put the retail price of the fuels closer together.

Good News for LNG Fleets

On July 31, President Barack Obama signed into law H.R. 3236, a transportation bill that changed the tax code to tax both LNG and propane at the same rate per diesel gallon equivalent, according to NGTNews. For LNG, the tax drops by 41%, which will increase the monthly savings for fleet operators when switching from diesel.

Even before the tax change, Navigant Research anticipated that the number of LNG refueling stations in the United States is likely to nearly double by 2020 to more than 210, according to the recently published report, Natural Gas Vehicle Refueling Infrastructure. With the lower cost of the LNG fuel, more fleets will consider installing refueling stations and converting their trucks.

The supply of LNG in North America will continue to flow sufficiently. According to Victoria News, the government of Quebec approved the building of an LNG plant in Becancour. Similarly, the Goldboro LNG terminal in Halifax, Nova Scotia received government approval to start exporting LNG. According to CTV, it is expected to receive natural gas via pipeline from the United States.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Energy reversed its policy to allow LNG to be exported, which has excited interest in supplying and liquefying the fuel. Several LNG export terminals are being either reopened or opened in the United States, including in Port Arthur, Texas and in Cameron Parish, Louisiana. Feeding both domestic and foreign markets with LNG is unlikely to be a problem due to the extensive shale deposits in North America and the increased use of hydraulic fracturing.


Autonomous E-Bikes May Grow Ranks of Cycling Commuters

— September 3, 2015

Bikes_webBicycling safety seems to be gradually improving, as the number of people cycling to work in the United States is growing significantly while fatalities have remained relatively unchanged.

According to the latest American Community Survey executed by the Census Bureau, the number of workers who cycle to work grew from 488,000 in 2000 to about 786,000 in the years 2008–2012, for a 60.8% increase. Cycling as the primary means of transportation grew to 0.6%, while travel by private motor vehicle remained dominant at 86%.

Unsurprisingly, bicycling to work is most popular in larger cities, with Portland, Oregon retaining its spot at the top in the United States with 6.1% of all commutes done by bike. The United States trails bicycle commuting in Europe, where cities such as Hamburg are pushing to have 25% of all city trips completed by bike. The survey also found that men bike to work (0.8%) at more than twice the rate of women (0.3%).

Biking blog graphic

According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), cycling deaths in crashes with motorized vehicles have been increasing over the past few years but haven’t kept pace with the increase in commuting. Approximately 743 cyclist fatalities occurred in 2013, which is up 1% from the year prior and is disappointing for safety advocates. Many cities are addressing safety by adding bike lanes and increasing outreach to drivers.

Electric Bicycles Keeping Pace

Electric bicycles (e-bikes) are expected to be part of the continued growth of cycling commuting trips. According to Navigant Research’s Electric Bicycles report, annual e-bike sales will grow by 76% between 2014 and 2023 to nearly 270,000 units in the United States. E-bikes can extend two-wheeled urban commuting beyond the current average of 19.3 minutes, as they can take over for weary legs on hills and aid cyclists to arrive more quickly than via pedal power alone.

An e-bike that could increase safety was premiered at August’s Eurobike conference by startup company coModule, as reported by Electrive. The Estonian company modified a Veleon electric cargo bike with autonomous driving features that can be remotely controlled via a mobile phone app. In addition to increasing the ability of cyclists to anticipate dangerous situations, the three-wheeled bikes could be used someday to deliver medical supplies to remote areas without the need for a driver.


To Make Fast Charging Economical, Sites Need Frequent Visits

— July 27, 2015

The number of battery electric vehicle models on offer in the United States is expected to grow significantly during the next few years, with Audi, Chevrolet, Ford, Tesla, and others all expected to add to their fleets. For these models to be successful, the expansion of direct current (DC) fast charging stations to keep the cars charged will need to keep pace. While the business model for hosting a fast charging site is improving, offering the service can become quite expensive when demand charges are incurred.

According to a new report from the Idaho National Laboratory, offering DC fast charging can increase a host site’s utility bill by 15% to 100%, depending on the rate schedule. The report, which culls data from the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) EV Project, illustrates how charges can vary greatly depending on the service territory.

How It Works

Utilities assess demand charges each month if a business exceeds specified amounts of power consumed within peak hours during a single period, usually tracked in 15 minute increments. DC fast chargers can boost power consumption by up to 60 kW, which, depending on the rate schedule and overall power consumption, is more than enough to push many businesses into demand charge territory.  And demand charges aren’t a one-time event, as they are levied monthly for up to a year or more.

For small business owners looking to fast charge electric vehicles (EVs), the price can be especially steep. The report states that “power demanded by DC [fast charging] has a more significant impact on electric utility costs for smaller commercial businesses than for larger ones.” In one example, a single charging session that puts a location above its allotted power consumption could cost $482 for that month and subsequent months. DC fast charging locations often charge $10 or less for a single charging session (such as NRG’s growing EVgo network that charges $0.10 per minute in Denver), which could create significant losses for site owners.

Therefore, if demand charges are incurred, sharing that cost among many charging sessions will make offering EV charging more economical, according to the Idaho National Laboratory. Understanding how offering DC fast charging will impact the utility bill is complicated, as each utility offers multiple tiers and rate schedules for power consumption.

Other Options

An alternative to the often severe demand charge fees is to purchase an energy storage system that would power the EV chargers at times of peak demand. Several companies, including Nissan, are entering the energy storage market to serve this developing niche.

Demand charge rate structures are a moving target in some areas as they undergo periodic revisions, which can sometimes result in contentious public utility commission hearings, as is happening now in Austin and Oklahoma.  Simplifying and limiting the fees for offering DC fast charging, such as through separate EV metering or rates, could encourage today’s reluctant business owners who are wary of the fiscal impact to begin to offer the service.


EPA Looks to Make EV Charging More Energy Efficient

— July 24, 2015

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) wants to reduce the energy consumption of electric vehicle supply equipment (EVSE) by developing its first ENERGY STAR specification for this category of products. As we know, electric vehicle (EV) chargers are idle for the majority of the day, and the specification will address the amount of power consumed while not in use.

The ENERGY STAR program will initially focus on alternating current (AC) (Level 1 and 2) charging, but the EPA is also looking at direct current (DC) charging.

According to the EPA document:

“Emerging EVSE could include features such as the ability to receive DC power from PV panels or local storage; provide DC power to other devices in a building via USB, Ethernet, or other power transmission medium; supply AC power to a building or specific appliances; coordinate power distribution with other entities in the building; include electricity storage internal to the EVSE; and enabling transmission of power from a vehicle to a home.”

Enabling DC chargers to share the incoming power via USB, AC power, Ethernet, or other media is an interesting way of getting more value out of available power. DC chargers are only used in short bursts for fast charging, so finding ways to smartly manage them as a building resource makes sense. Building in a power converter enables the charger to integrate into other stationary devices, such as using DC power from a solar panel locally instead of sending it back to the grid where its value is often less. I haven’t seen any DC chargers that can do this today, so it will be interesting to see how manufacturers develop products with these capabilities.

Paying to Park

Car Charging is looking at increasing the utility of EV chargers through a different approach. The company is assessing a fee of $0.08  per minute to EV owners who leave their vehicles plugged in but not charging for longer than 15 minutes after the charging session ends, according to The 15-minute grace period seems sensible, as many customers receive automated alerts when charging is completed. The fee is a considerable incentive for people to be conscientious about moving their cars after a completed charge, which makes them available for other (revenue-generating) charging sessions, which is critical for EVSE to become profitable.

At the EV Roadmap Conference starting July 29 in Portland, Oregon, I’ll be moderating a panel where several industry luminaries will be discussing the latest innovations in smart EV charging. Stop by and check it out, or leave a comment here with questions for the panel.


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