Navigant Research Blog

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.

 

Cities Taking Steps to Charge Up EV Sales

— June 9, 2017

Urban areas with air quality concerns are promoting the use of plug-in EVs (PEVs) as a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. By investing in EV charging infrastructure, cities such as New York City, Seattle, and Boulder are hoping to allay residents’ fears of not having a place to recharge their vehicles.

New York City is emphasizing fully emissions-free driving by installing charging stations that get their energy from the sun. The city recently ordered more than 30 solar-powered charging stations from Envision Solar, the manufacturer of EV ARC units that fit within the footprint of a typical parking spot. The parking-constrained city is ordering the charging stations to provide power to New York City’s fleet of PEVs, which will likely grow by 1,000 vehicles in 2017.

Seattle to Add Light and Charge

The city of Seattle is leveraging its street light infrastructure for expanding EV charging. The city will install 100 of BMW’s innovative Light and Charge systems, which tap into the power of street lights. The Light and Charge system is part of BMW’s ReachNow mobility service that was initially piloted in Munich and is being brought to the United States for the first time.

The system will include both direct current (DC) fast chargers and Level 2 charging and will be placed at up to 20 locations, including the Woodland Park Zoo, where the first Light and Charge systems are now up and running. The smart street lighting Light and Charge technology also includes upgrades to more energy efficient LED lights, as well as sensors for monitoring the environment and a connection to the cloud for sharing data.

Big Charge in a Little City

The much smaller city of Boulder, Colorado is more than doubling its EV charging station capacity to 46 units in 2017. The city is using a $100,000 grant from the Regional Air Quality Council to upgrade its existing charging stations at recreational centers and other locations, as well as to add new stations.

Boulder is awash in Nissan LEAFs thanks to the progressive actions at the Boulder Nissan dealership, which is one of Nissan’s largest sellers of PEVs despite the city’s smaller population (about 100,000). The city is helping to educate residents about the economics and operational benefits of owning a PEV through the EnergySmart program. The unique EV advising service provides an advisor to talk residents through understanding the ins and outs of tax rebates, accessing charging infrastructure, and integrating EVs with home solar charging.

PEVs Charging Ahead

As seen in the chart generated by Navigant Research’s new Electric Vehicle Forecasts data service, the efforts that these cities are taking today will pay off in coming years and contribute to greater sales of PEVs. Annual sales of PEVs in Boulder, New York City, and Seattle are expected to grow by more than 800% to nearly 148,000 units between 2016 and 2025, according to Navigant Research.

Total Sales by Powertrain, Scenario, and Year: 2016-2025

(Source: Navigant Research)

Speakers from all three of these cities (myself included) will be discussing EVs and urban mobility solutions at the upcoming EVRoadmap Conference in Portland, Oregon. The annual event, which will be held June 19-21, has become the most important EV conference in the United States. EVRoadmap will feature speakers from across the globe and program tracks on cars, charging, and community.

 

Beyond Ultra-Fast Charging: Part 2

— June 1, 2017

The potential of automated drive has produced many a report theorizing about the likely impacts of automated drive technologies on the transportation system, the built environment, and more generally, society. Navigant Research is no stranger here; however, our tack is far more conservative than some others. The basic theory most of these reports (including ours) supports is that automation adopted primarily in passenger mobility schemes will drastically reduce transportation costs and increase passenger convenience. This leads to more transportation overall with higher dependency on automated light duty vehicles, but also less use (proportionally) of alternative transportation modes (bike, bus, rail, air, etc.).

The above means that automated vehicles are likely to be highly utilized and therefore automated mobility fleet managers are likely to desire durable vehicles with limited downtime for maintenance or refueling. To be competitive for automated services, battery EVs (BEVs) would have to rely on ultra-fast charging, which would make batteries less durable. Otherwise, they would require more advanced battery systems or significant increases in battery size (to bring charge rate [kW] and battery capacity [kWh] closer to a 1:1 ratio), either of which makes them more expensive.

More Pollution Regulations Are in the Future

At the same time, cities (where automated mobility services are likely to emerge) will probably adopt regulations limiting polluting vehicles within certain geographic boundaries. If they don’t, the ultimate impact of automation is likely more fossil fuel consumption. In such an environment, plug-in hybrids (like those employed by Waymo) may have the upper hand. Alternatively, this could be an opportunity for battery swapping.

Battery swapping notably has a poor record, but many of the barriers to battery swapping as a solution for the passenger BEV market don’t apply with automated mobility fleets. Battery swapping in part failed as a global strategy because it depended on OEMs agreeing on a common battery pack. In a managed fleet with vehicles from a single OEM, this is no longer a problem.

Is Battery Swapping the Answer?

Battery swapping solves reliability concerns, as the charge rate can be managed to optimize life and the battery can be enrolled in revenue generating grid services when off the vehicle. This would also make transportation electrification’s impact on the grid gentler. Additionally, swapping is a faster solution than the fastest wired or wireless charging solution and (as Tesla showcased) faster than liquid or gaseous refueling.

The last advantage is that in fully automated services, range is not as big of an issue as it is when there is a human driver. Theoretically, battery swap packs could be built smaller and added to the vehicle in increments to satisfy certain uses. As an example, instead of having two or more 200-mile battery packs per vehicle, managers could instead employ three or more 100-mile battery packs, which would further reduce overall system costs and risk.

It will be some time before such a solution might be employed. It is a later consideration in the evolution of mobility automation business models. The priority considerations are the development of the automated drive technology itself and the regulations to permit driverless vehicles. It is likely that initial services will leverage conventional refueling and/or recharging infrastructure until reliable business models have been produced. After that development, then competition within mobility services will drive such innovations.

 

Beyond Ultra-Fast Charging: Part 1

— May 31, 2017

Now that the continued decline in battery prices can make battery EVs (BEVs) cheaper to drive than the competition, ultra-fast charging is viewed as the final link to making them mainstream. Given that, the automotive industry is focusing on approximating the time it takes to gas up by rolling out ultra-fast charge networks in North America and Europe.

Tesla’s success with the supercharger network supports the above assumption, but there may be flaws in the ultra-fast charging concept relating to the basics of batteries. The primary component being that charging at a power capacity (measured in kilowatts) higher than the BEV’s battery energy capacity (measured in kilowatt-hours) stresses the battery, reducing its useful capacity over time. Most of the upcoming vehicles capable of accepting an ultra-fast charge will likely have battery capacities between 30 kWh and 80 kWh, whereas upcoming ultra-fast chargers can provide 120 kW-320 kW or more, 4-10 times the battery’s energy capacity.

Reducing Side Effects of Ultra-Fast Charging

Automakers and charging networks can develop systems to diminish the cumulative effects that ultra-fast charging has on batteries (as recently evidenced by Tesla). These solutions are effectively reducing the charging rate under certain technical and ambient environment conditions, limiting the value-add of the fast charging. Such limitations haven’t yet been seriously evidenced because the fastest charging today is only operating at around 2 times the battery capacity. Most charging generally occurs at sub-1X rates.

Only when BEV owners primarily rely on fast charging over slow charging will these limitations become more common and more concerning to potential customers. This is more and more likely given the increasing range of BEVs alongside the development of the ultra-fast charging networks. The advances in BEV and charging technologies mean that BEVs will no longer be limited to single-family homeowners with a reliable charging station in the garage. Indeed, many without residential parking spaces (and therefore charging equipment) may now view the long range BEV an option so long as they can fast charge.

Such ambitions should be tempered through consumer education efforts and/or the development of more modest slow charging options in long-term parking structures. This unfortunately further complicates an already complicated pitch to the mass market. It also threatens consumer consideration of electrification or limits use of the ultra-fast chargers themselves. However, such concern is warranted to avoid negative shifts in consumer perceptions.

Overall, as long as BEVs are primarily purchased by single-family homeowners, this potential problem is probably marginal. However, for the future transportation modes dominated by automated vehicles, it is likely a non-starter.

 

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