Navigant Research Blog

Oil Price Retreat Could Spur Government Action

— February 24, 2015

Although the oil market has been historically volatile, the circumstances of the latest price dive suggest that low oil prices may be the new norm. If that’s the case, it could negatively affect both oil companies and the markets for clean transportation technologies like alternative fuel vehicles (AFVs).

Because of U.S. and some state government policies that mandate automakers produce more fuel-efficient vehicles and/or AFVs, low oil prices mean that it’s more expensive for automakers to improve fuel efficiency and produce AFVs to make these vehicles competitive with less fuel-efficient, and less costly, conventional vehicles. If they don’t absorb these costs, they’ll likely wind up paying penalties for being out of compliance with fuel efficiency standards and AFV mandates.

Raise the Tax

Federal and state government subsidies and incentives for AFVs provide some insulation from these costs. Yet, these policies were designed in an environment where oil prices were 30%–50% higher than they currently are. More recently, two policies have been proposed that would be beneficial to automakers seeking to comply with stringent fuel efficiency standards and AFV mandates. The first is an increase in the gas tax; the second, an increase to the U.S. federal incentive for plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) and the inclusion of natural gas-powered vehicles in that incentive.

The federal gas tax is currently 18.4 cents per gallon of gasoline and 24.4 cents per gallon of diesel. The tax, which has not been increased since 1993, is used to fund the repair and update of U.S. roads through the federal Highway Trust Fund. In recent years, the fund has been on the brink of insolvency but kept afloat by stopgap measures that provide money from the U.S. general fund. The current proposal, which would increase the tax by 5 cents per gallon over the next 3 years, would provide $210 billion over the next 10 years. The following chart shows the effect the proposal would have on the average U.S. price of gasoline over the next 10 years if oil prices rise to $90/barrel by 2025.

Gas Prices Under Increased Tax Proposal, United States: 2002-2025

(Sources: Navigant Research, U.S. Energy Information Administration)

Getting Flexible

The federal incentive for PEVs currently maxes out at $7,500 per vehicle and is accessed by the PEV owner when they file taxes for the year they bought their PEV. Of note, a PEV owner has to accrue at least $7,500 of taxable income to receive the max incentive. The White House has proposed to increase the incentive to $10,000 per vehicle, provide it as a point-of-sale rebate, and include natural gas-powered vehicles as eligible. The point-of-sale rebate would enable AFV buyers to incorporate the incentive into monthly payments upon purchase and receive the full incentive irrespective of their income.

The effect of both policies would make AFVs more competitive with conventional vehicles on an energy cost basis and open AFVs up to a larger, lower-income market, making it much easier for automakers to comply with federal and state fuel efficiency programs. This is not the first time these policies have been proposed, and it’s likely they’ll meet similar fates as their predecessors. However, low oil prices do introduce a new dynamic that may provide some flexibility in Congress, as well as increased pressure from interest groups that may create the necessary support.

 

Japanese Automakers Harness PEV Power

— February 2, 2015

Plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) may provide far more value to their owners than just reducing gasoline costs and greenhouse gas emissions.  The significant energy and power capacities of the PEV system can be utilized to provide power during a blackout, curb commercial electricity ratepayer demand charges, power offboard equipment at work sites, and help grid operators balance supply with demand.  Each of the above uses requires, or is strengthened by, PEVs equipped with bidirectional capability – meaning the vehicle can both absorb electricity from the grid and return it.  Most PEVs available today, however, lack this capability.

This is because automakers don’t yet see a market for vehicle-to-grid integration, and they’re concerned that the use of vehicle batteries for purposes outside of motive power may shorten the batteries’ lives.  Test pilots in major PEV markets are answering some of these concerns, as well as developing the processes by which a PEV’s bidirectional potential may be harnessed.  The center of action is in Japan.

New Models

In Japan, the Nissan LEAF, Mitsubishi i-MiEV, and Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV are all sold with bidirectional capability as an option.  Each model can connect to an offboard inverter through the vehicle’s direct current (DC) charging port to enable a reverse power flow.  The offboard equipment only enables the PEV to supply power back to an owner’s home in the case of an outage, not back to the grid under normal circumstances.  Its purchase is subsidized by the Japanese government.

Though the system’s use is limited to emergency outage situations, this relatively early adoption of the technology in comparison to other large PEV markets is providing a launch point for testing other PEV power possibilities.  Nissan has already begun testing a fleet of LEAFs in curtailing commercial demand charges at one of the company’s facilities through the LEAF to Home system.  Similarly, the LEAF to Home system is also undergoing tests in grid balancing services.   A number of similar tests are underway in the United States and Europe as well; however, no vehicles have yet been made available to the mass market with bidirectional capability as they have been in Japan.

Two Ways Are Best

To date, using PEVs in grid balancing services represents the most interesting case from a revenue-generating perspective.  Though a PEV does not necessarily need to be bidirectional to service the grid, the revenue potential of a bidirectional PEV in grid services is significantly higher in comparison to that of a unidirectional PEV.  Tests and simulations in the United States indicate that the revenue potential of one bidirectional PEV can average around $5 per day of grid service.

This revenue potential provides a significant new incentive for PEV adoption.  However, it’s unlikely such a scenario will emerge unless energy companies and utilities pave the way for PEVs in grid services and automakers outside Japan offer bidirectional PEVs.  Please join Navigant Research’s webinar, Electric Vehicles and the Grid, at 2 p.m. EST on February 10 as we examine in detail the market drivers and challenges of using PEVs in grid services.  Click here to register.

 

In Growing EV Market, Volkswagen Is On the Rise

— January 20, 2015

Navigant Research estimates that plug-in electric vehicle (PEV) sales in 2014 surpassed 320,000, 60% above 2013 sales.  The U.S. market accounts for over one-third of all sales; however, the largest growth has come from China, with 2014 sales estimated to have nearly quintupled those in 2013.  The biggest developments of 2014 were BYD’s introduction of the Qin and BMW’s global introductions of the i3 and i8.  The two automakers, which combined only accounted for about 2% of the global market in 2013, now account for more than 10%.  Although 2014 wound up being a good year for the PEV market, with double to triple-digit growth in every major region, 2015 will be far better.

In Navigant Research’s report, Electric Vehicle Market Forecasts, we forecast that PEV sales in 2015 will surpass 570,000, growing nearly 80% from 2014.  The U.S. market, which grew around 30% in 2014, is expected to grow by more than 70% in 2015.  Similar gains will likely be made in China and Europe.  The bump in 2015 comes from the introduction of Tesla’s next vehicle, the Model X, alongside a number of new PEV models, primarily from Volkswagen (VW).

Late Bloomer

Likely the most significant development in 2015 will be the dramatic expansion of VW’s PEV market share.  VW has been slow to enter the PEV market, but it is now one of the largest players.  Eight PEV models (six plug-in hybrid electric vehicles [PHEVs] and two battery electric vehicles [BEVs]) are available in various regions through different brands: VW (two PHEVs, two BEVs), Audi (one PHEV), and Porsche (three PHEVs).  In 2013, VW accounted for less than 1% of the global PEV market; in 2015, Navigant Research expects the automaker to account for 10%.  This will likely make VW, along with Mitsubishi, the third-largest PEV maker, behind Nissan and Tesla.

 

PEV Market Share, World Markets: 2015

(Source: Navigant Research)

The German Wave

Further strengthening VW’s position in the PEV space are its plans to roll out even more PEV adaptations to existing luxury vehicle model lines from Audi, Porsche, and Bentley to compete against Tesla.  Navigant Research believes that VW is likely to overtake Nissan in 2017, but still trail Tesla.

VW’s broad adoption of PEVs is similar to the strategies of other German automakers, including BMW and Daimler.  These types of commitments are uncommon in Japan and the United States, where major automakers, besides Nissan, have been hesitant to enter the PEV market in force.  The net effect of this trend could produce a PEV industry synonymous with German engineering, not unlike Japan’s preeminence with hybrids.

 

Have Oil Prices Peaked?

— December 30, 2014

Increasing non-Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) oil supply and waning worldwide demand has resulted in an oil price dive.  The U.S. average retail price of gasoline is now at its lowest point since 2009, and given OPEC’s commitment to maintaining current production rates, the dive has no clear end.  The far-reaching implications of this plunge are explored in the latest issue of NG Market Notes from Navigant’s Global Energy Practice.  The most likely impacts will be on energy sector job growth, oil production expansion, and the hotly debated Keystone XL pipeline.

The historic volatility of oil prices leaves little certainty that current low prices will persist.  However, increased and sustained production capacity growth from non-OPEC sources appears to provide predictable downward pressure.  Given that, OPEC expects that the U.S. oil boom will last until 2020 before declining.  By then, the shale boom enjoyed by the United States is unlikely to be an isolated North American occurrence.

A Spreading Boom

Instead, the technological innovations that have enabled the extraction of tight oil at competitive prices in the United States are likely to migrate to a number of plentiful basins in Russia, China, South America, and elsewhere.  As a result, low prices could become the new norm.  Similarly, thanks to a combination of energy efficiency technologies and tightening government policies, world energy demand is likely to remain sluggish, further sustaining the oil glut.

The BP Statistical Review of World Energy indicates that annual global production of oil was around 4.1 billion metric tons (4.5 billion U.S. tons) in 2013, while Navigant Research’s report, Transportation Forecast: Global Fuel Consumption, projects that the global road transportation sector will consume nearly 1.7 billion metric (1.87 U.S. tons) in 2014, over 41% of production.  In North America, Europe, and some developed Asia Pacific nations, demand from this sector is anticipated to drop significantly from 2014 to 2035.  The increasing use of biofuels, plug-in electric light duty vehicles, natural gas-powered commercial trucks and buses, and national fuel efficiency standards will all contribute to this fall.

The Peak Behind Us

The Navigant Research report anticipates that global oil consumption will continue to grow, despite the above trends.  But that growth is peaking and is entirely dependent on increasing vehicle ownership in rapidly growing economies that already have significant traffic congestion and environmental concerns.

All of this is likely to temper new vehicle sales and increase government adoption of alternative fuels and fuel efficiency standards.  As a result, current low oil prices may not be temporary, after all.  Peak oil price may be reached before peak oil.

 

Blog Articles

Most Recent

By Date

Tags

Clean Transportation, Electric Vehicles, Policy & Regulation, Renewable Energy, Smart Energy Practice, Smart Energy Program, Smart Grid Practice, Smart Transportation Practice, Smart Transportation Program, Utility Innovations

By Author


{"userID":"","pageName":"Scott Shepard","path":"\/author\/scott-shepard","date":"3\/2\/2015"}