Navigant Research Blog

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.

 

EV Charging Companies Going Global

— April 5, 2017

Commercial EV charging companies are starting to go truly global, supported by major investments coming from the energy sector and automakers. These investments will see companies enter new markets with the potential to ramp up in volume. Since plug-in vehicle (PEV) sales started in 2010, the commercial charging market has been geographically compartmentalized, with few companies based in North America and Europe expanding outside their home region. This was especially true once the large multinationals like Siemens and Schneider Electric pulled back from the market, leaving it to the smaller startup companies that needed to tend carefully to their cash flow. However, large companies are returning to the charging market in anticipation of it being on the verge of a high growth period, and they are announcing their intention to become global players.

Gearing Up

Last year, RWE spun off and rebranded its renewables business, including EV charging, to innogy. It announced innogy would target the United States for its charging market, one of the biggest PEV markets with significant growth potential for infrastructure.

Then in March, ENGIE acquired EV-Box, which has one of the world’s largest charging networks. EV-Box ranked as a leader in the Navigant Research Leaderboard Report: EV Charging Network Companies last year on the strength of its market share, its multiple capabilities as a manufacturer and a software developer, and its relationships throughout key European markets.

The Navigant Research Leaderboard Grid

(Source: Navigant Research)

EV-Box has recently entered the competitive North American charging market with its charger offerings. Entering the North America market seemed ambitious, as the company was a startup with plenty of market to play in throughout Europe without crossing the ocean to tackle North America. However, having a global energy giant like ENGIE behind it could provide EV-Box with the support it needs to pursue its expansion efforts.

Developing New Products and Relationships

It still won’t be easy. Getting a foothold in a new market requires not only developing new products, but more importantly, also establishing the web of relationships needed to secure customers and installation sites. This is a time consuming and therefore expensive process, which is one reason the large multinationals—or companies backed by large multinationals—will have an advantage in this market over the smaller players in the long run. Multinationals looking to come back to the market as growth finally ramps up may find that the startups that have established significant market share and have very large public charging networks will be an easy route to establishing a beachhead. Even companies that have smaller installation bases but dominant market share in a particular country or subregion in Europe or North America could be attractive targets.

ENGIE and innogy may be the thin edge of the wedge in terms of energy companies wading into the charging market, but they are not the only companies with big pockets that are seeking charging company partners. ChargePoint, the leader in the North American charging market, secured $82 million in a funding round led by Daimler in March. The funding will support a stronger push into the European market for ChargePoint.

Maintaining a Long-Term Perspective

While all this activity is encouraging as a sign of confidence in the charging market, success in this market will still require a long-term perspective. There is significant growth, but it will still be years before charging is a well-established and high volume market. It is also a market that is still overly dependent on financial support for deployments, whether from interested stakeholders like the car companies or from governments, and growth will not be even across all the market segments of public, workplace, and private chargers. These dynamics do still favor the companies with sufficient funding to stay the course.

 

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