Navigant Research Blog

Washington Utility Tests New Path to Integrating EVs

— July 27, 2016

EV RefuelingEastern Washington isn’t an especially well-known plug-in electric vehicle (PEV) market, given most PEV sales in the state are concentrated in Seattle and along the Pacific coast. However, the utility serving a large portion of eastern Washington, Avista, has made an ambitious and refreshingly unique move in preparation for the emerging technology. On July 27, Avista announced it will develop a pilot to demonstrate vehicle-grid integration (VGI) technologies in partnership with Greenlots across 200 Level 2 chargers and seven direct current (DC) fast chargers at residential, workplace, and public charging sites.

The purpose of the pilot is to determine how much PEV load can be shifted from peak load times to off-peak times without using time-of-use (TOU) rates. The hope is that the pilot will show that PEV load may be managed in a manner that reduces grid operating costs and increases grid reliability, thus optimizing potential benefits of PEVs to both utilities and ratepayers.

A Unique Approach

What makes Avista’s pilot unique is its holistic approach encompassing all forms of charging and the use of more nuanced demand-side management mechanisms than TOU rates. Including residential, workplace, and public charging within the pilot enables Avista to collect data on the uninfluenced charging behavior of program participants and then assess how demand response (DR) signals sent to PEV owners changes charging behavior across the charging network. The use of DR signals rather than TOU rates prevents new peak creation at the beginning of off-peak periods and maintains higher levels of revenue per kWh consumed by PEVs than would a TOU rate while still providing energy savings to PEV owners.

The pilot kicks off this August and will run for 2 years. Single-family and multi-unit dwelling residences will have 120 chargers installed, while the remaining 80 chargers will be placed at select workplaces or public locations alongside the seven aforementioned DC fast chargers. The chargers will be integrated into Greenlots’ SKY charge management platform, which is also being leveraged in a similar pilot for Southern California Edison that looks specifically at workplace charging.

Fast Growing Customer Base

Avista’s pilot comes in response to the strong possibility that its PEV population is going to increase dramatically. Washington’s Electric Vehicle Action Plan seeks to ensure 50,000 PEVs are on the state’s roads by 2020, up from the 12,000 registered in early 2015. As of the writing of the action plan, only a few hundred of these registrations were in counties served by Avista. Yet, the market for PEVs is anticipated to increase significantly in the next 3 years as 200-mile range battery EVs (BEVs) at under $40,000 are introduced.

On behalf of mass market long-range BEVs, Navigant Research forecasts in its Electric Vehicle Geographic Forecasts report that Washington will meet its 2020 goal sometime in 2018, with sales expanding into suburban and rural markets. If the PEV market lives up to this forecast, then PEV populations in eastern Washington counties are expected to be at least 7 times greater than current levels by the end of 2020.

PEVs in Use in Eastern Washington Counties: 2016-2020

Washington PEV

(Source: Navigant Research)


BEVs Moving Beyond 200 Miles

— June 14, 2016

EV RefuelingBy the end of 2016, the first long-range battery electric vehicles (BEVs) for the mass market will finally become available. Over the next 3 years, the long-range BEV is expected to emerge as the market standard as BEVs with ranges below 100 miles disappear from automaker new vehicle lineups. The long-range BEV under $40,000 is a marked achievement in the industry that is expected to significantly increase plug-in electric vehicle (PEV) adoption past the 1% penetration rate it has struggled to surpass in all but a few global markets. But how far past 1% will the 200 miles/under $40,000 move penetrate?

Practical Limitations

The leap in range and affordability is a significant achievement, but BEVs still have to overcome significant hurdles before the tech can effectively replace the conventional internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle. For all its flaws (expensive fuel, upkeep costs, and emissions), the conventional option cannot be matched yet in terms of cost, fueling convenience, range, and capability. Parity across all these factors, among all light vehicle types, is a long way off.

Even at a 200-, 250-, or 300-mile range, a BEV is a hard sell to anyone without a place to charge their vehicle at their residence or at their work. For those without this specific access, charging needs are likely only met through fast charging when the BEV state of charge nears depletion. Unless one is so fortunate to have access to a Tesla Supercharger, charging a 60 kWh+ BEV from 0% to 100% on public fast charging equipment (around 50 kW) will likely be an hour(s)-long engagement, and the energy cost savings analysis is not encouraging in this scenario unless subsidized.

In the United States, the share of the market without access to workplace or residential charging is not likely a minority. Over 56% of respondents to Navigant Research’s annual Electric Vehicle Consumer Survey indicated they did not have access to an electrical outlet at their residential parking space.

Analysis of survey responses reveals that people without access to residential charging are far less likely to consider BEVs than those with access. Near 30% of those without access indicated they would not consider a BEV regardless of range, while 34% of those without access that would consider a BEV would only do so if the vehicle achieved a range over 300 miles. In contrast, around 17% of those with access would not consider a BEV regardless of range and only 22% of those who would consider a BEV would only do so at over 300 miles.

As of yet, BEVs play particularly well to two or more car households where one conventional car can be used for more demanding driving requirements and the BEV can be utilized for short driving needs. 200 miles will likely expand the number of households replacing one vehicle with a BEV, but it will likely make little headway in convincing the two or more car household to replace an additional vehicle.

Addressing the Gaps

Residential and workplace charging are fundamental to market growth, but speedy increases in development will never address all the needs of those limited to on-street parking at both their residence and workplace. Public charging infrastructure that can match the speed of a pump alongside an actual marketing campaign for PEVs from the established OEMs will improve conditions for all consumers. However, the only way such an infrastructure is developed is if a robust fast charging business model emerges for fuel retailers—and the only way that happens is via the steady increase in the long-range BEV population (or via additional government support).

This is not to say that the battery will not eventually replace the ICE; it’s likely it will. But adoption will not follow the same speed of the disruptive technologies BEVs are so often compared with. An all-electric future is highly probable, but it is not near.


Unexpected EV Demand Has Automakers Looking to Lithium

— April 25, 2016

Electric VehicleWith the rush to reserve a Tesla Model 3 nearing 400,000 global pre-orders, the electric car race is on. This race is not characterized by vehicle speed but by range and cost. More than 200 miles of range at a price of under $40,000 has been the target for the initial market entrants since the first generation of modern plug-ins was introduced in 2010. Automakers that reach this threshold quickly will benefit greatly by seizing market share, establishing brand recognition, and, most importantly, creating advantageous supply chain contracts. Automakers slow on the take will find breaking into the plug-in market increasingly difficult, much in the same way that few automakers have made headway with hybrids besides Toyota and Honda.

Underestimated Demand

The response to the Model 3 is unheard of in the modern automotive era. However, Tesla isn’t the only electric car maker observing greater than expected demand. In February, a BMW spokesperson acknowledged that the company “just massively underestimated demand” in regards to the company’s plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) 3 series variant, the 330e, in the United Kingdom. A month prior, General Motors (GM) affirmed its upcoming 200-mile range battery electric vehicle (BEV) will not be production-limited, and a volume of 50,000 Bolts in 2017 is possible if demand supports it.

Though plug-ins have met global light duty vehicle (LDV) markets in varying degrees of success, unanticipated demand is not new to the plug-in market. In fact, the most glaring example of the demand/supply imbalance has been going on for the last 3 years as a manifestation of Mitsubishi’s inability to introduce the Outlander PHEV to North America due to unexpected demand in Japan and Europe.

Looking to Lithium

Recognizing that annual sales of plug-ins are going nowhere but up, some automakers are thinking ahead and diving deep into the battery supply chain to secure raw materials before prices become a problem. Despite a general dive in global prices of oil, gas, and mineral commodities, lithium prices have been resilient and robust.

Lithium is a core component of batteries for mobile devices, EVs, and grid-tied or residential energy storage applications. With no clear alternative, Navigant Research anticipates lithium demand (and therefore prices) will rise substantially over the next decade. Within the battery, a lithium-based compound is layered onto the cathode and the battery is filled with a lithium-based electrolyte. In total, Navigant Research estimates lithium materials make up around 10% of overall battery production costs. All things being equal, a doubling in the price of lithium would mean a 10% increase in battery production costs.

Price increases from materials may be easily absorbed by battery makers as costs are cut elsewhere through economies of scale or energy density improvements. However, automakers that can help their suppliers hold raw material battery costs low while the market is in its infancy will likely achieve significant advantages over emerging challengers and witness Prius-like success in a technology segment with much more growth potential.


Here’s How Electric Cars Will Not Cause the Next Oil Price Crash

— March 21, 2016

EV RefuelingLast month, Bloomberg Business published an article titled “Here’s How Electric Cars Will Cause the Next Oil Crisis.” The article outlined how declining battery costs will make electric vehicles (EVs) attractive alternatives to conventional petroleum powered vehicles, which will then lead to rapid market adoption. Consequently, EVs will then fuel the next oil crisis in the first half of the next decade. Historically, the word “crisis” when used in regard to energy commodities means resources are tight and prices are high; in this case, Bloomberg is using “crisis” to describe the opposite—a price crash on behalf of an oversupply of oil.

Semantics aside, Bloomberg’s analysis assumes that when EVs displace as much as 2 million barrels of oil per day (an amount equivalent to the oil glut that spurred the 2014 drop in oil prices), global oil markets will witness a similar price crash as has been witnessed since 2014. Navigant Research agrees with many of the assumptions Bloomberg uses in projecting EV sales; however, the overall premise of the article—that EVs will cause the next oil crisis—is sensationalist. It misses the bigger picture on energy and transportation, and likely works against Bloomberg’s own prediction.

It is true that EVs displace oil; Navigant Research estimates that the total amount of oil displaced by electric light duty vehicles in the United States from January 2011 through December 2014 was roughly 2.1 million barrels. However, focusing on EVs betrays a lack of comprehensive understanding on other trends in the automotive industry that are likely to be far more impactful to oil markets. These trends include improvements in conventional vehicle fuel efficiency, adoption of partially and fully autonomous drive systems, and the increasing growth of mobility programs as alternatives to vehicle ownership.

Missing Pieces

The biggest omission in Bloomberg’s article is conventional vehicle fuel efficiency. It’s not a particularly sexy conversation topic compared to electric drive vehicles; however, a small increase in the average conventional vehicle fuel economy has dramatic impacts on oil demand. Consider this: to accomplish the same 2.1 million barrel EV displacement Navigant Research estimated above, the U.S. conventional light duty vehicle fleet needs to improve fuel efficiency by roughly 0.08% in 4 years, which is nothing compared to regulated improvements that are already underway. Navigant Research estimates that U.S. Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards will increase average in-use gasoline powered light duty vehicle fuel efficiency 22% over the next 10 years. Eighty percent of global light duty vehicle markets are governed by increasing fuel efficiency regulations like CAFE standards; when considering the effects of these policies on a global scale, the oil displacement calculations belittle the oil displaced from EVs.

The only trend in the automotive industry that grabs more headlines than EVs is autonomous vehicles, or self-driving cars. The introduction of fully autonomous vehicles may not be too far off; however, adoption of vehicle connectivity and driver assistance systems that allow partial autonomous operation has been underway for quite some time and is penetrating broader vehicle markets at a much quicker pace than EVs. The impact of partially autonomous systems on oil displacement is difficult to measure at this point, but the theory is that if enough vehicles have these systems, there will be fewer accidents, which leads to less congestion on roadways, which in turn has the benefit of increasing the efficiency of all vehicles on the road, both autonomous and non-autonomous.

There’s also declining vehicle ownership to consider. Bloomberg partially acknowledges this trend in its article, claiming that the rise of ridesharing services may also contribute to greater EV adoption because energy cost savings rise in higher mileage use cases. However, if oil prices per barrel stay in the $40-$80 range for the next decade, gasoline-powered hybrids will likely win the energy cost equation over electric drive in most markets for this particular use case. The greater societal shift away from vehicle ownership is not necessarily as much a boon for EVs as it is a detriment to oil consumption. Greater use of alternatives—public transport, bikes, carshare, etc.—increases fuel efficiency per passenger mile traveled.


The Bloomberg article likely grabbed a great deal of attention by singling out EVs as the cause of the next oil crisis. However, publishing an article that misrepresents the potential impacts of EVs in the greater context of transportation and energy sector trends provides established oil interests a political target in a particularly active election year. With oil prices low and the return of the United States as a leading oil producer, the economic and geopolitical concerns tied to oil consumption are significantly lessened. Therefore, policymakers may be more amenable to reforms that negatively affect EV sales.

While Navigant Research agrees with many of the assumptions Bloomberg makes regarding battery prices and vehicle costs, these assumptions are largely contingent upon scale—and at this stage in the EV adoption curve, scale is a function of positive governing policy.

It’s unlikely that oil interests would be able to end federal EV purchase subsidies, but they have greater influence at lower levels. State and local governments are low-hanging fruit, and oil interests are likely to be effective at ending state subsidies and/or tacking on additional fees for EV owners who pay none or very few of the gas taxes that fund road upkeep. While the Bloomberg article is not igniting oil industry concerns regarding EVs, it adds fuel to their interests. This may be good for Bloomberg, but not so much for EVs, and therefore not so much for the “crisis” prediction.


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