Navigant Research Blog

Denver RTD Hops on the Electric Bus Line

— October 3, 2017

Commitments to electric buses (e-buses) are ramping up in the United States. Several agencies are bringing in fleets of a few dozen to over 100 e-buses over the next few years. One such agency, the Regional Transportation District (RTD) of Denver, is deploying 36 e-buses from Chinese company BYD Motors, Inc. Among the biggest drivers for the interest in e-buses is their increased efficiency. These BYD buses are expected to get 12 MPGe to 14 MPGe, significantly improving on the 3-4 miles per gallon of diesel buses. E-buses also have reduced maintenance costs. RTD says the biggest maintenance issue with these buses are the doors.

BYD Bus Details

Each vehicle costs $750,000; this includes the price of the battery chargers and a lifetime warranty for the lithium iron phosphate batteries. Lithium iron phosphate batteries were chosen for two reasons: they are designed to prevent thermal runaway and the batteries are air-cooled to maintain a narrow range of temperatures.

The buses have a maximum battery capacity of 292 kWh that requires 3-4 hours of charging time, giving them 12-14 hours of continuous use before requiring a charge. This has been demonstrated to provide 200 miles of range at 30-40 mph. However, in operation, the range is closer to 80 miles because buses make frequent stops during the 1.3-mile route.

Incorporating E-Buses into the Fleet

Three-phase alternating current (AC) fast-charging stations were installed for the fleet. The AC-to-direct current (DC) converter is onboard the bus. The lack of fast-charging standards in the United States for heavy duty vehicle e-buses is a challenge, as buses must be coupled with proprietary standards. That being the case, RTD has opted to use European standards. The construction of the charging station cost $432,000; this figure does not include the cost of the battery charging equipment.

Because the new fleet is quieter than traditional buses, they have been outfitted with noise generators (that fluctuates pitch with the vehicle’s speed) to notify pedestrians of their presence when operating along the pedestrian-oriented 16th Street Mall. The buses were ordered in 2015 and manufactured in China; final assembly will take place in Lancaster, California to meet Buy America requirements. As of August 2017, 34 of 36 buses had been delivered. RTD has indicated it hopes to incorporate e-buses in regular operations in the future.

Although the e-bus rollout has been successful to date, RTD reports that few agencies have reached out for advice about implementing their own e-bus fleets. Nevertheless, transit agencies across the United States are taking a good look at e-buses.

Other Market Drivers

While lower operations and maintenance costs are already market drivers, there are other market drivers that will become more prominent and increase the desire for e-bus adoption. Dynamic charging systems would enable buses to carry smaller batteries, decreasing costs. In addition, vehicle automation is well-suited for EVs on fixed routes, including buses. Other market drivers include increasing cities’ targets for air quality and climate change concerns and increased demand for vehicles with a reduced carbon footprint. According to Navigant Research’s recent Market Data: Electric Drive Buses report, electric powertrain buses (including all types of hybrids) are expected to grow from approximately 21% of the total bus market in 2017 to around 22% in 2027.

 

Does Yamaha’s Entry into the US E-Bike Market Signal a Turning Point?

— October 3, 2017

Electric bicycles (e-bikes) continue to be the highest selling EVs on the planet. Navigant Research estimates that a total of nearly 35 million units will be sold globally in 2017. However, the US market has struggled mightily to keep up with its successful European and Asia Pacific counterparts.

Market Percentages

In 2016, just under 1% of total bicycle sales in the United States were attributed to e-bikes—compared to 15.7% in Germany and 24.2% in the Netherlands.

E-Bike Market Share of Total Bicycle Market by Country, Select Markets: 2016-2025

(Source: Navigant Research)

Navigant Research projects that e-bike market share will remain relatively low over the 10-year forecast period (below 4%) in the United States since the country has:

  • Lower gasoline prices compared to most other world regions
  • Poor bicycling infrastructure in many major cities, which are primarily designed for cars
  • Low consumer awareness and relatively high levels of opposition from independent bicycle distributors toward e-bike technology (compared to other world regions)

Turning Point?

In what may be a turning point for the US e-bike industry, Yamaha announced it will begin selling its branded e-bikes through US dealers in 2018. The company has been refining its production of e-bikes for decades, with over 2 million sales in Japan since 1993. The major new US market entrant boasts widespread brand awareness, an expansive dealer network with hundreds of locations in the United States, and large R&D budgets unavailable to most North American e-bike vendors.

Yamaha has shown four models thus far, including the UrbanRush, YDX-TORC, CrossCore, and CrossConnect—spanning racing, mountain, and street cruiser styles.

Impact on the Market

While Yamaha is somewhat late to the manufacturer e-bike party in the United States, the company’s entry is likely to present some challenges for other manufacturers and dealers. In the short term, Yamaha will primarily capture a portion of its sales—with some consumers opting for a trusted brand with hundreds of dealers that are available to market, sell, and service their e-bikes.

However, over the long term, Yamaha’s presence should help propel consumer awareness for e-bikes in the United States more broadly—which will be positive for all vendors left in the market. Similar to Elon Musk urging major automakers to sell more competitive EVs, a bigger e-bike market will increase overall revenue opportunities. Smaller companies would be wise to differentiate their e-bike products from Yamaha’s offerings to avoid losing market share to the more powerful marketing competitor.

 

Integration of EVs Becoming a Priority for Utilities

— September 26, 2017

Utilities are rapidly coming off the sidelines and tackling the opportunity to integrate EVs head on. Sales of plug-in EVs (PEVs) in the United States have reached nearly 120,000 units so far in 2017, up 28% from the same period last year, according to HybridCars.com. Utilities are more actively planning to accommodate the growing numbers of cars plugging in at residences, workplaces, and in public spaces. Utilities also are working toward using the largely controllable load to balance renewable generation assets.

PacifiCorp Making Moves

In Oregon, PacifiCorp reached an agreement with the Oregon Public Utility Commission (Oregon PUC) and other stakeholders to invest $2 million in EV charging infrastructure that will include the “incorporation of emerging technologies, such as renewable generation, energy storage or direct load control.” PacifiCorp joins fellow Oregon utilities Portland General Electric and Avista in piloting EV charging investment in order to better serve EV drivers and provide more flexibility in managing the grid.

Developments in Ohio and California Enable Integration

In Ohio, AEP and a group of stakeholders reached an agreement to provide rebates of up to 100% for installing charging stations. The $9.5 million deal will include both Level 2 and DC fast charging stations, including a provision to spend 10% in low income communities. Pending approval, the spending plan would be implemented as part of the Smart Columbus electrification program that will coordinate with power provider AEP Ohio’s efforts to increase the amount of renewable generation.

In the PEV leading state of California, utilities and automakers are working to standardize and expand vehicle-to-grid integration. The Vehicle-Grid Integration Communications Protocol Working Group is developing recommendations for the California PUC in response to an earlier executive order that mandates that EV charging be integrated into grid operations. The working group is expected to complete its recommendations in October 2017.

Revenue Rises in Next 3 Years

By 2020, annual EV charging services revenue in the United States will reach $900 million, according to Navigant Research’s report Electric Vehicle Charging Impacts. By necessity, utilities will play a pivotal role in delivering and managing the power delivered to PEVs. Due to the flexibility in timing when vehicles are charged, and their benefits as mobile energy storage units, utilities increasingly view EV charging as integral to management of distributed energy resources (DER).

EV charging services company eMotorWerks is building products to integrate charging into grid operations The company, which according to ChargedEVs is working with Pacific Gas and Electric and Sonoma Clean Power to intelligently manage its EV charging units, has reduced the price of its smart charging stations by $50.

Learn about PEV Integration

A great place to learn about how PEVs are being integrated into grid operations is the EVs & The Grid Summit, which will be held October 17-19 in San Francisco. The event will feature panels focused on the impacts of fast charging and utility EV rate programs, and I will be moderating a panel on regulatory programs from across the United States.

 

Taking the EV Mainstream

— September 19, 2017

The plug-in EV (PEV) is rapidly evolving to become a viable mainstream option for almost every car buyer. As ever with automobiles, there is no silver bullet solution. This year there are several unique variations on how best to serve the needs of drivers seeking to minimize energy use as the PEV landscape matures. Navigant Research’s EV Geographic Forecasts report projects 50% growth in North American PEV sales this year and market share of between 7% and 11% by 2026.

Design is always a matter of balancing priorities. Priorities can depend on the target market, how the vehicle will be used, and budgets.

Tesla’s Approach

Tesla is trying to build on the premium brand image it has cultivated while creating the impression of going mainstream. The Model 3 has been promoted as an affordable long-range EV with a price starting at $35,000. That will yield a spartan car. Most customers will actually be paying far more to include current options, bringing the price to at least $59,000, with additional performance options to be added later.

GM

General Motors (GM) took a different approach with the Chevrolet Bolt, opting for maximum possible electric range and utility while keeping the base price under $30,000 (after federal incentives). Even including all options, the Bolt is still less than $44,000 before incentives. While some reviewers have criticized the hard plastic interior, the vehicle’s real-world range, handling, and utility have garnered very positive feedback.

Hyundai and Nissan

Hyundai and Nissan, by contrast, have veered even harder toward trying to maximize the value proposition of their respective EVs. The Hyundai Ioniq Electric and Nissan LEAF both have starting prices before incentives below $30,000 and even highly equipped models will still only hit about $36,000.

The Ioniq, built on a dedicated electrified platform with hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and battery-only flavors, went for maximum efficiency with a slick five-door hatchback body strongly reminiscent of prior-generation Toyota Priuses and a moderately sized battery. Hyundai aimed to keep both cost and weight down with a 28 kWh battery, less than half the capacity of the unit in the Bolt. With its modest weight and low drag, that’s enough for 124 miles of driving range and a leading efficiency of 136 MPGe combined.

After trying out a slightly futuristic design with the original LEAF, Nissan decided it needed a more conventional look in order to get an audience beyond early adopters. While the five-door hatchback configuration and basic dimensions are carried over, the LEAF now incorporates contemporary Nissan design cues both outside and in the cabin. Aside from the propulsion system, it’s now just an ordinary compact hatchback. With a more efficient drivetrain and battery that has grown from 30 kWh to 40 kWh, the LEAF is now expected to go at least 150 miles on a charge, double what it did when it debuted in 2010.

Chrysler

Fiat Chrysler, which has long derided EVs, has now opted to build on one of its core strengths with the Pacifica Hybrid. Like Nissan, FCA is focusing on the ordinariness of the driving experience with its plug-in hybrid minivan. The key distinguishing feature is that it has 35 miles of real-world electric driving range, enough to meet most daily commuting needs without burning any gas. But as a family hauler that might be used for road trips, no additional planning of where to stop and charge is required.

Buyers of vehicles that burn fossil fuels have long had choices ranging from tiny sports cars to full-size trucks. We’re now reaching the stage where those that want to avoid gas stations have choices at increasingly affordable price points as well.

 

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