Posting in Cities
Will charging all our electric cars overload the grid? What is Best Buy doing building charging stations? And why do we need to keep an eye on EV progress in China?
I talked to Brian Wynne, president of the Electric Drive Transportation Association, about how utilities and other players are preparing for a major EV deployment in the next few years, and why it's important to keep an eye on China.
What are the utility companies doing to get ready for electric vehicles?
We think Southern California Edison will have the largest initial deployment. They have an entire plug-in vehicle readiness program, [which includes] upgrading their grid where they think vehicles are going to cluster; and developing back-end systems so customers understand how pricing changes when they charge at different times.
Most of us think of vehicle efficiency as miles per gallon. The real benefit of electricity is that it’s about one-fifth of the price of electricity at today’s prices. It’s about two to three cents a mile driving down the road using electricity and about 12 to 14 cents a mile using petroleum. So they’re educating their consumers about this. Other utilities like Duke Energy are also making the same point. There are 3,000 utilities in the country. Not all of them are focused on this, but we want to build best practices.
As people understand, plugging this car in is not different than plugging in a large refrigerator, but it depends on how and when you charge it. I for one will want to know what it costs me to fuel my vehicle. That could be separately metered by the utility, which is one option. Or the vehicle can have the technology in it to monitor the time the charging occurs or have it start charging when you get to a certain price point at off-peak hours.
Can you explain transformer loading and how this could be a problem?
The concern is if there’s a cluster of electric vehicles with fast chargers behind a single transformer that it could draw too much juice. But where that clustering is going to occur initially, the utilities are well aware of that and they’re looking at how to get ahead of the issue.
How will the vehicles challenge our grids?
The grid has an enormous amount of overcapacity. The real advantage we have in using electricity is that we’re using this national resource efficiently--all this overcapacity just sitting there underutilized. The key is to encourage people to plug in and fuel their cars when that capacity is available and to avoid taxing that grid when it’s getting toward its peak requirements.
Mike Rowand [Director of Advanced Customer Technology] from Duke Energy said they did a study, and if every one of their [4 million] customers bought a Chevy Volt tomorrow, it would increase the grid requirement only 10 percent. They don’t think it will be an issue.
Who are the different players—other than utilities--involved in the preparation?
There’s the vehicles on one end and the electricity providers on the other. You also have component manufacturers that are spinning up to meet demand—especially battery manufacturers; the folks who are building the chargers; the folks that provide technologies in the smart grid; players like BetterPlace; and some retailers like Best Buy that are looking at deploying charging stations so customers can plug in and go shop for big-screen TVs.
Then there’s municipal authorities like here in D.C. and other urban areas that want to encourage plugging in. San Francisco wants to be the first city to deploy public infrastructure for charging.
How may electric cars are you expecting?
There are no really good specific numbers. The bottom line is we will have a good variety. You have pure battery electric vehicles like the Nissan Leaf, CODA and Tesla Roadster. Then you have electric vehicles with range extenders, like the Chevy Volt. With these cars, the only thing in the drive train is an electric motor. A battery pack will power it for about 40 miles and then a little combustion engine will run a generator to put energy back in the battery. Then you have plug-in hybrids, which will be more electric motor dominant rather than combustion engine dominant.
And it’s more than light duty vehicles. You’ve got school buses, transit buses and medium-sized delivery trucks like UPS trucks.
What kind of EV preparation have you seen in other countries?
I spend a fair amount of time in China. The Chinese have adopted an extremely aggressive plan. They look at it not just as an environmental and economic imperative but as a commercial opportunity--to leapfrog the rest of the world in electric vehicles. They showed with cell phones that they can leapfrog technology, and we need to pay attention to that.
The Chinese have the largest example of mainstream deployment of electric vehicles in the world, and that’s electric bikes. They make 20 million electric bikes a year, and there are 250 million on the street. It has completely changed access to economic opportunity for millions of Chinese. We think of the Chinese as heavily policy driven, but this was a complete market phenomena. The Chinese are going to embrace this technology and be aggressive in promoting it. The commercial imperative is an important goal that we dare not take our eyes off.
You mentioned retailers and municipalities. Where else will we find charging stations?
Most will occur at home at first and then at the office because that’s where the cars will sit for the largest times. The public infrastructure becomes important as we get more ubiquitous and as we get to people who don’t have garages. It’s less expensive to put a charger in the home than it would to put it in the middle of a street. It needs to be a much more robust station if it’s out in the weather and more people are using it. For the retailers they would put them out in a prominent place and make it as easy as possible. If I can park right out front and fuel on them, I’m going to be more likely to go in and shop.
This isn’t just about plug-in vehicles. It’s also about hybrid and fuel cell vehicles--all of those take advantage of the technology called electric drive. The technology is continuing to get better. The challenge has always been energy storage, and we’re making progress there as well. Today, there are 25 hybrid models either in showrooms or about to appear in showrooms.
Click here to read my post with CODA Automotive CEO Kevin Czinger
Jun 22, 2010
Charging infrastructure might be erected via public private partnership models. Please take a few minute to answer that survey, being part of an European project: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/C36NKKF many thanks for your precious time
quote: "The real benefit of electricity is that it?s about one-fifth of the price of electricity at today?s prices." do you guys proofread your column before posting? I proofread scientific journals for PhD.s for whom English is a second language, so when I see this it is natural to correct you, not trying to put you on the spot ; ) Read these February 2010 Nissan website informative posts: http://www.nissanusa.com/leaf-electric-car/news/infrastructure#/leaf-electric-car/news/infrastructure/renault_nissan_alliance_forms_zero_emission_vehicle_partnership_with_city_of_orlando here GM plans to have personal charging stations in your home: http://media.gm.com/content/media/us/en/news/news_detail.html/content/Pages/news/us/en/2010/Jun/0616_voltcharge I would say that the home charging station will generate more sales but the typical green person may also be a renter, so expect apartment communities to install charging stations also. On a public gas station approach, I would expect that method would involved changing out batteries such as is done in forklifts in warehouses. Just like universities have had to upgrade their power grids to provide laptop outlets at every desk and in lecture halls, so will the parking garages in major urban centers, by installing chargers in certain areas. You would insert a credit card and pay for charging time. This is not as much of a crisis as the hype suggests. The media wants everything to be a crisis to sell more advertising. The electric grid is underutilized and the switch to electric cars will not overburden the system, but we do have to ask the environmentalists why they wont allow nuclear plants to be built, yet they forced the oil companies to drill in dangerous offshore deep locations.
This is a very relevant report. How often to we hear elected officials, news pundits, and industry reps take up this subject without ever mentioning infrastructure? I am amazed when I hear these people talk about recharging your electric vehicle at home. I live in a city where most people live in apartments or townhouses that have no garages.
Look at the power grid map in the July issue of National Geographic and you will see how far behind the U.S. lags in electric generation methods and infrastructure, compared to much of the industrial world. The unfortunate truth is, most of the electricity generated in the U.S. is "dirty".
Buying and operating an electric vehicle is ecologically irresponsible -- in a nation that generates so much of its electricity from the combustion of coal and oil. In the U.S., the typical electric vehicle has a larger carbon footprint than the typical mid-size gasoline powered vehicle.
A 100 mile range is not practical in many parts of the country, recharging takes to long and the electorate should decide whether they want to pay for the infrastructure to support electric cars. In my opinion converting or building cars to burn natural gas and converting coal to synthetic gas (South Africa has done it for decades) are better immediate alternatives. Hydrogen should be our long range goal.
I'm not sure I buy the fact that we have a lot of electric overcapacity that can be used to charge cars, especially if electric becomes the dominate form of transportation. Because electricity is so much cheaper per mile than gasoline, building solar or wind power plants just to charge cars is the only use that pays for itself without government subsidies. Yes, it could be done a lot cheaper still using power from coal plants, but if the greens want to push renewables, this is their best case.
We will need about 30% more power lines and generating plants along with charging stations at every restaurant, hotel, shopping center and every mile along the interstate hwy system. We will also have to have a credit card to operate the charging stations. Several million tones of aluminum and copper wire for transformers and conductors to the charging stations will also be needed. The lithium for the batteries will exceed the worlds current proven reserves just to supply the needs for the United States. Afghanistan has the largest supply which could be problematic.
"The commercial imperative is an important goal that we dare not take our eyes off." We have taken our eyes off the commercial imperative available through renewable energy (all this technology has been around, in some form, for a hundred years or more). We do take our eyes, as a country, off of that fact. The US power base will, for the most part, ignore this and try to dig in further. It is certainly an opportunity.
We have excessive overnight power reserves but just in case, bring on more nukes, wind and solar. Nukes will be more necessary than in the past. If France can do it Americans need to think out of the box.
I am very interested in your view on how electric vehicles are ecologically irresponsible. I would think electric vehicles would have a lower carbon footprint than a gas-powered car because to me it seems electric is a cleaner source of energy.