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Electric Mobility: Poised to Take Off

 

In the 10 years since the first modern electric cars hit the market in volume, they have had a remarkable ride—and the pace is accelerating. Electric vehicles (EVs) are perpetually in the news these days, whether it is the latest idea from Tesla’s mercurial CEO Elon Musk or new models including pickups and SUVs hitting showrooms.

While the auto industry spans the globe, the three major EV markets are China, Europe, and North America. China intends to dominate the global production of electric cars, just as it does with photovoltaic cells and hopes to do with lithium-ion battery cells. Europe’s vehicle-emission regulations are growing more stringent; this means that manufacturers must sell increasing volumes of EVs each year—and European consumers seem to be snapping them up.

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North America lags China and Europe in EVs due to a lack of a national energy plan, climate efforts that face an uncertain political future, and a mix that favors large and heavy vehicles. However, the U.S. focus on EVs has recently increased—and not just for their indisputable carbon reduction benefits. As adoption grows, there are warnings that North America’s large domestic auto industry will fall behind in EV product development and find itself beholden to Asian companies for battery-cell production.

The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) will host the ‘Frontiers of e-Mobility’ virtual forum (June 7–10) is part of a three-session Electrification 2021 conference. It will examine a broad range of issues and challenges that face policymakers, auto companies, charging networks, electric utilities, and the many others across the emerging vehicle and charging ecosystem.

Multiple challenges
For automakers, ramping up to design and build higher volumes of EVs brings a host of challenges. Prime among them is securing adequate supplies of battery cells years to meet future needs from fabrication plants that aren’t yet built. There are questions about jobs, given the lower number of worker hours involved in assembling an EV versus a gas car of the same size. Then there are the daunting challenges of educating the public about EVs and teaching shoppers how, when, and where to charge EVs when consumers are used to visiting gas stations.

For policymakers, the interplay of many components poses important questions. How should incentives for EV adoption be structured, and how can they be allocated equitably? What’s the best way to boost the numbers of charging stations, and which kind? Should the focus be on DC fast-charging along highways, Level 2 charging-at-work, or the difficult issues of charging access for both multiple-unit dwellers and underprivileged communities?

For competing charging networks, the main challenge may be the chicken-and-egg dilemma. Their business models depend on much higher utilization numbers than they see today, but that requires higher volumes of EVs on the road. Yet car shoppers may not be comfortable taking the leap of buying an EV until they are convinced that a robust and ubiquitous charging network exists to deliver charging when and where they need it. Today, most drivers do not know how much of a charging network exists—and drivers don’t have to use an app or navigation system to find a gasoline station (the closest parallel). Additionally, customers need to know that the majority of EV miles covered today are charged overnight at home.

For electric utilities, EVs are starting to look like an attractive way to sell more kilowatt-hours for a negligible investment in delivery infrastructure, if vehicles are mostly charged overnight during the lowest-demand time. However, DC fast-charging sites run headlong into challenges such as demand charges and lengthy service connection times. The charging issues have to be addressed via regulatory changes under the different rules set by 50 public-utility commissions; these changes require informing and drafting new tariffs—and may take years (rather than months) to enact.

What to focus on first?
One of the biggest unanswered questions is which areas of vehicle electrification deserve the most intense focus. Local delivery fleets often enjoy the strongest cost-of-ownership for electrifying immediately. A variety of experiments in electrified last-mile delivery—from e-scooters to autonomous robotic cargo vehicles to drones—suggest that the fast-growing volume of delivery services may change from the traditional big truck/delivery van model.

But working for faster electrification of the 250 million privately owned vehicles on U.S. roads during the next 10 or 15 years would have the most significant impact on reducing carbon emissions. That’s the thinking behind mandates in a few states to end the sales of vehicles with tailpipes by 2035.

The challenges are many, the hurdles are substantial, and the need for public education is critical. The overarching theme of EPRI’s Electrification forum on e-Mobility will be how to tackle these issues for not just a few hundred thousand vehicles, but for millions each year.

The cars are coming; the remaining questions involve how eager people and companies will be to buy them, how the EVs will be charged, and which businesses will charge them

 

Source: Utility Dive
Date: May 11, 2021


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