Navigant Research Blog

EVs at Home on the Texas Range

— March 21, 2014

Selling electric vehicles (EVs) in oil-rich Texas is comparable to Nixon going to China, and the effort thus far has had similarly unexpected but successful results.  Cars that do not use gas are proving surprisingly popular in the Lone Star State, and one of the main drivers for EVs has nothing to do with the cars themselves.

Navigant Research’s Electric Vehicle Geographic Forecasts report estimates that Texas has around 5,000 registered EVs currently and that this number will grow to nearly 100,000 by 2023.  While the well-to-do from Texas’ oil & gas industry can afford the higher price of an EV, the state’s utility structure is playing a major role in supporting EV sales.

As a deregulated state, Texas allows utilities to directly participate in EV charging, which provides a new revenue stream for power distribution companies that, in other states, are focused on reducing load through energy efficiency measures.  Because they can (and because it increases their profits), utilities NRG, Austin Energy, and CPS Energy have all begun installing EV charging stations across the state.  A visible, reliable network of charging stations is essential to increasing consumers’ confidence that they won’t have to worry about getting stranded with a dwindling battery while about town.

Among the Drillers

CPS Energy’s network of charging stations helps to prevent the state from running afoul of federal air quality laws.  NRG’s eVgo network has several subscription options to reduce the cost of home and public charging.  Nissan LEAF drivers in the Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth areas also have access to free charging thanks to Nissan, which is subsidizing the NRG eVgo network in an attempt to bolster vehicle sales.   Another EV charging network growing in Texas is Tesla Motors’ SuperCharger network, which encircles the Dallas, Austin, and Houston areas.

Power providers in Texas are also interested in promoting EVs because the vehicles can help offset the variability of the vast wind resources being installed across the state, which will make it one of the largest producers in the world.  Texas’ grid operator, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, is working with the Southwest Research Institute to demonstrate using EVs to counterbalance wind energy production in the state.

Austin Energy has made the smart decision to use only renewable energy from wind and solar to power its charging stations.  This negates the argument that EVs merely transfer emissions from the tailpipe to the smokestack of a power plant.  The city of Austin now has nearly 1,000 EVs, according to the Austin American Statesman.

Texas is also under consideration as a location for Tesla Motors’ proposed Gigafactory, which could produce batteries for hundreds of thousands of EVs.  If that happens, we’ll see even more gasless cars roaming between the oil & gas wells in Texas.


Formula E Racing Will Showcase Wireless Charging

— November 26, 2013

Bikes_webQualcomm took the early lead in the wireless electric vehicle (EV) charging race, and starting in 2014, the company will test the limits of its wireless power transfer technology on the Formula E (electric) racing circuit.

San Diego-based Qualcomm, which is primarily known for developing wireless technology for mobile handsets, will take the technology the company has been developing for 2 years, including intellectual property (IP) acquired  from the University of Auckland to the streets of Rio de Janeiro, London, Berlin, and Beijing as part of the all-electric Fia Formula E racing series.  For the first year, electric safety vehicles will be charged by Qualcomm Halo’s 20 kW charging technology, and in future years, the race cars themselves will be charged wirelessly.

From Track to Street

During a panel discussion at the recent EVS27 conference in Barcelona, Qualcomm’s Anthony Thomson said that the company will install wireless chargers at the race locations and leave the charging equipment in place after the race concludes for use by other EVs.  The 10 driving teams (7 have been announced) participating in Formula E field two drivers per team, and each driver will have two cars – one for distance driving (with reduced power) and one for sprints – and they will manage their vehicle charging for optimal performance.

The Formula E races will be a high profile platform for showcasing the latest in EV technology, as the quiet vehicles open up new possibilities for communicating with the drivers.  The racing series does not restrict the technologies used in the electric motors or batteries, and racing teams will experiment with new technologies on the track before they are introduced to commercial vehicles.

Formula E will also highlight how much quieter EVs are than fossil fuel burning cars, as the series will include interaction where selected fans will be able to talk with the drivers during the race.  Drayson Racing, which will compete in the Formula E series, announced that it is licensing the Qualcomm Halo Wireless EV Charging technology from Qualcomm, which is focusing on licensing the technology rather than making final products for sale.

The New Standard

Qualcomm is now taking a victory lap after the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) selected the 85 kHz frequency used by the company’s wireless charging system as the basis for an upcoming wireless EV charging standard, to be known as J2954.  While other companies in the nascent industry are likely to reengineer their products to operate at that frequency, Qualcomm will not have to make adjustments.

Wireless vehicle charging is still in its early days, though bus companies in South Korea and some automakers have expressed interest in replacing cabled charging with the convenience of wireless charging.  While the industry is small today (just over $1 million annually), according to Navigant Research’s report Electric Vehicle Charging Equipment, by 2020, the global market for wireless charging equipment will surpass $420 million annually.


Don’t Get Too Fired Up Over Tesla Mishaps

— November 14, 2013

Despite being named 2012 Car of the Year by Automobile Magazine and Yahoo! Autos, and chosen as one of Time magazine’s best inventions of 2012, recent media headlines in 2013 haven’t been quite as kind to Tesla Motors’ Model S.  Over the past two months, three fires in Tesla’s vehicles have gained widespread attention.  The fires have significantly contributed to the 20% slide in Tesla’s stock price this month, although the stock is still up more than 300% since the beginning of 2013.

Pushing aside the media hysteria, let’s take a look at the facts.  On average, 17 automobile fires are reported every hour in the United States (194,000 on average every year between 2008 and 2010), killing an average of four people every week.  Of particular importance, mechanical or electrical failures or malfunctions were reported in roughly two-thirds of automobile fires.  As for the Tesla fires, all three involved car crashes; the fires did not begin spontaneously as the result of electrical failures or malfunctions, and in all three incidents the driver walked away without injury.

Technology Comparison

For a deeper comparison of electric and internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles, it’s useful to analyze the safety of the vehicles more generally.  This can be achieved through analyzing vehicle fires and deaths per billion miles driven.  EVs are approaching 1 billion miles driven.  The Chevrolet Volt (300 million), Nissan LEAF (323 million), and Tesla Model S (100 million) represent the majority of these electric miles driven.

According to the U.S. Federal Highway Administration, roughly 90 highway vehicle fires and 0.15 highway vehicle fire deaths occur in ICE vehicles per billion miles driven.  Conversely, EVs have had a total of four reported fires and zero fatalities for the first near one billion electric miles driven.  Thus, ICE vehicles are 22.5 times more likely to catch on fire than EVs.  It’s also important to keep in mind that EVs are the first models of their kind, essentially experimental vehicles, and have still been able to far surpass the safety record of ICE automobiles.


So why is there so much attention and scrutiny on Tesla? Considering the frequency of car fires, perhaps the fact that Tesla went so long without having any is the main reason for the Model S making headlines.  Consumers may also hold EVs to a higher safety standard than traditional vehicles, due to the absence of gasoline in EVs.  However, not all are expressing distrust or skepticism around the Tesla fires.  Panasonic, manufacturer of battery cells for the Tesla Model S, has recently come to the aid of the automaker, and the company’s chief financial officer expressed confidence in Tesla and the performance of its batteries.  Panasonic ranked as the fourth best overall lithium ion battery manufacturer in the world in Navigant Research’s Leaderboard Report: Lithium Ion Batteries for Electric Vehicles.

Regardless of the recent media concern over EV safety, one issue remains clear : if your car does go up in flames, having an electric battery under the hood is much safer than a tank of gas, any day of the week.


Variety is Critical to Growing EV Charging Market

— November 14, 2013

To increase sales of EV chargers, should the equipment be speedier? Slower? Smarter? Simpler? Smaller?

These are the questions that electric vehicle supply equipment (EVSE) companies are addressing as they design the second generation of chargers.  With plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) selling by the thousands each month in the U.S., EVSE companies are exploring new options to spark demand for residential and commercial charging equipment, and to differentiate their equipment from their competitors’.

Navigant Research’s recent report, Electric Vehicle Charging Equipment, which forecasts that more than 400,000 charging stations will be installed by 2015, highlights two areas where manufacturers are embracing variety: how quickly they can charge a vehicle and the level of built-in intelligence.

Not Too Slow, Not Too Fast

The first wave of DC fast chargers emphasized the fast aspect, with most companies offering 50-kilowatt (kW) chargers that could provide a battery electric vehicle (BEV) with an 80% charge in 15 minutes.  However, high speed charging can have serious financial implications for the building owner, if it occurs during times of peak power.  To avoid these demand charges, which can cost a company hundreds or even thousands of dollars for a single ill-timed EV charge, several EVSE manufacturers are offering “fast-enough” chargers.  These DC chargers can provide power at up to 20 to 25 kW, and are significantly less expensive to purchase and install, which will make them attractive to a larger audience.

Even at these slower rates, most people will be able to get back on the road in 20 minutes or less, since EV drivers generally don’t wait to be running on empty to recharge.  For example, according to the latest data from the DOE-funded EV Project, the average 20-minute DC charging session in the state of Oregon provided a smidge less than 8 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of energy, which is about one-third of a Nissan Leaf’s battery capacity.

Simpler is Better

ABB will be among the vendors at the EVS27 conference in Barcelona next week, which I’m attending, showing off a 20-25kw DC charger, with their new Terra 23 unit that can charge vehicles that use either the CHAdeMO or SAE’s combined charging system (CCS) standards.

Tesla Motors, on the other hand, has gone with uber-fast charging with its Supercharger network, which offers 120-kW charging.  Tesla is using its 32-station U.S.  charging network as a marketing tool that’s free to Model S owners – but not available to other EV owners.

For consumers who are looking to buy an EV charger for their home, the options are getting simpler, smarter, and less expensive.  The price of simple Level 2 home chargers, which eschew advanced networking communications features that add significant cost, has dropped from more than $1,000 to $500 or less.  Bosch and Clipper Creek are among the companies currently offering sub-$500 Level 2 EVSE chargers.

EVSE provider Etrel is pushing for greater sophistication with its charging equipment.  The company will premiere a new home charger at EVS27, a web-enabled system that can be programmed online or via a mobile phone to charge when electricity is favorably priced.  Also during EVS27, the CHAdeMO association will hold a meeting to discuss the latest advances in intelligent fast charging applications.


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