Navigant Research Blog

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 PluginCars.com. 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.

 

For EV Range, 200 Miles Changes Things

— July 23, 2015

The rapid growth of plug-in electric vehicle (PEV) sales in the last 4 years has slowed in the United States as of late. Low gasoline and diesel prices have likely had an effect, but more likely, the slowdown is coming from a lag between the introduction of next-generation models and the clearing of first-generation inventories. Notably, second-generation PEV development is focused on significant range increases at lower costs, which will greatly impact the PEV market as well as create interesting implications for infrastructure developers and electricity providers.

The most near-term second-generation introduction is the Chevrolet Volt, which is slated to enter production in August. Besides the significant redesign of the vehicle body, the Volt’s all-electric range has been extended by 12 miles and the price starts around $34,000. This is $7,000 less than the original 2011 Volt. Further afield, Nissan has announced its intention to increase range of the next-generation LEAF beyond 200 miles. The second-generation LEAF is not likely to be introduced for quite some time, however, it is rumored that some of the battery technology designed to achieve this 200-plus mile range will feed into the 2016 LEAF, assisting that vehicle in breaking the 100-plus mile all-electric range mark.

When the second-generation LEAF is finally introduced, it won’t be alone. 200-plus mile all-electric range introductions are expected from Tesla and Chevrolet at price points from $30,000-$40,000. Similarly, some premium brands, specifically Audi, are likely to introduce 200-plus all-electric range vehicles to compete against Tesla’s large sedan and SUV platforms. The introduction of these vehicles makes all-electric drive a more viable option for a larger population. However, it also drastically changes things for electric vehicle service providers by increasing demand on a per-vehicle basis and expanding that demand to intra-city locations.

Longer Range = More Use

Most battery electric vehicles (BEVs), aside from the Model S (which already has a 200-plus mile range), are acquired as the second vehicle in households with two or more vehicles, and use is limited by vehicle range. Initial studies on average annual vehicle miles traveled (VMT) for BEVs have indicated that these limited-range BEVs travel around 9,650 miles a year. Meanwhile, light duty vehicles average around 11,250 miles.

However, for the Model S, average annual VMT is higher than for the average BEV. Last month, Tesla was the first automaker to announce that drivers of the Model S have surpassed 1 billion all-electric miles, with 68% of those miles being driven in North America. This equates to roughly 13,200 miles per Model S sold in the United States and Canada through May 2015. Given estimates on Tesla’s U.S. monthly sales, the average Model S has been in service for over 1.3 years. This means average annual mileage is around 10,400 (or 7% more than other BEVs).

Granted, Model S owners have great incentives to drive often, as the Supercharger network makes long-distance travel fuel costs free. Yet, these drivers also have the benefit of a vehicle that can get them to the network stations. Soon enough, owners of non-Tesla’s will, too, and these vehicles will need their own networks.

 

Is the Gogoro E-Scooter Priced Too High?

— July 1, 2015

Taiwan-based electric scooter (e-scooter) battery swap company Gogoro has finally unveiled pricing for the most ambitious e-scooter program in the world. Gogoro’s e-scooter, called the Smartscooter,  and access to a battery swap network will cost consumers $4,100 and about $30 per month, respectively. For the company’s first deployment in Taipei, it is offering 2 years of free maintenance, 1 year of theft insurance, and 2 years of free battery swapping. The Gogoro Smartscooter became available for pre-order in Taipei on June 27.

There are several ways to interpret the pricing announced by Gogoro. On one hand, for an exceptional looking and performing e-scooter, the price seems fair. Gogoro’s Smartscooter has a range of 60 miles and a top speed of 60 mph (going from 0 mph to 31 mph in 4.2 seconds). Advanced features, such as smartphone integration, light-emitting diode (LED) headlights and tail lights, an intelligent security system, a digital dashboard, and an overall sleek design, make this scooter far more attractive than most other electric models. On the other hand, many consumers in Asian megacities, including Taipei, are accustomed to paying $500 or less for low-end gasoline-powered scooters. A higher-end, more comparable 125cc gas scooter costs roughly $2,600, which is still considerably less than Gogoro’s Smartscooter.

Lack of Battery Ownership Remains an Issue

Gogoro CEO Horace Luke had previously stated that the company’s e-scooter would be in the $2,000 to $3,000 price range. The Smartscooter was expected to cost about the same amount as a comparable gasoline scooter since consumers of the Smartscooter won’t actually own the batteries used in the vehicles (which constitutes a large portion of the overall cost and value of the e-scooter). Removing the battery from the purchase price was meant to drastically reduce the cost of the vehicle, using more of a leasing-style mobile phone business model, where the initial purchase price of the e-scooter is reduced to encourage early adoption and subscription fees for the use of the company’s battery swapping network will eventually make up the difference over time. It is somewhat surprising that even without consumers having to pay for a battery, the e-scooter is still more expensive to buy than a gasoline equivalent.

Taiwan Subsidies a Factor

Nevertheless, Gogoro claims that when government subsidies and the cost savings of using the battery swap network instead of gas are considered, the overall cost of owning a Smartscooter will be less than its gas counterpart after 2 years. E-scooters do receive subsidies in Taiwan, with the amount ranging from TWD21,000 ($663) to TWD34,000 ($1,074) in most regions. These subsidies should help narrow the gap in price differential and encourage larger adoption of the e-scooters.

While it remains to be seen if Gogoro can win over thousands of customers to support its battery swap network, if successful, a network like Gogoro’s could become the most impactful development in electric transportation since Tesla introduced the Model S. Nearby, enormous scooter markets such as China, India, and Indonesia could see battery swap networks in their megacities sooner rather than later if Gogoro is successful in Taiwan.

For more information on electric scooters, see Navigant Research’s Electric Motorcycles and Scooters report, which forecasts global cumulative sales of electric scooters will total over 42 million units from 2015 to 2024.

 

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