Electric vehicle sales increased across key global markets last year. In the United States, EV sales increased by 81 percent compared to 2017.
Yet policymakers, automakers and technology companies are still working on the right mix of policies to keep momentum moving forward for e-mobility.
This week, more than 500 automotive, energy and technology executives gathered in San Francisco at Bloomberg New Energy Finance’s summit on the future of mobility. Greentech Media was there and compiled some highlights.
Electrify America takes on demand charges
In an interview with Electrify America COO Brendan Jones, BNEF energy analyst Nathaniel Bullard asked if fellow EV charging station network operators ChargePoint and EVgo could be potential partners for future cycles of Electrify America’s expansion.
“Absolutely,” said Jones. “We reached out to both companies and engaged with both companies in cycle one. We’re restarting the RFP process for cycle two.”
Regarding ChargePoint in particular, he said, “We’re in ongoing conversations with them today, and we will continue to engage with them.”
Bullard also asked Jones how Electrify America plans to maintain EV charging-station utilization rates and hold down demand charges going forward.
“To have good utilization at all EV stations, you need robust EV car sales. That’s the number-one variable,” said Jones.
“When you get that,” he went on, “you have to drive down your expenses so that [with] a 20 percent or 30 percent or even a 40 percent utilization rate in a 24-hour cycle, you begin to get revenue-positive at those stations.”
Jones said the availability of electric vehicles with 200-300 or more miles of range is beginning to ease consumers’ concerns about range anxiety.
“Now we have to have sustainable charging infrastructure,” he said. “The number-one cost in charging infrastructure, outside the capital investment, is demand charges. You have to find ways to mitigate demand.”
The solution, he said, calls for a two-part strategy: utility rate reform and demand mitigation — either via software or batteries and peak-shaving.
Jones noted that Electrify America had just announced a partnership with Tesla to deploy storage in high-demand utility districts across the country.
Under a deal announced Monday, Tesla will install battery storage systems at more than 100 Electrify America charging stations across the United States.
“If a charging service provider, such as myself, passed on demand charges to the consumer, nobody would buy an EV because your charging event would be so expensive,” said Jones.
He told Reuters that if demand charges were passed on to the customer it would cost $70-$110 to charge an electric vehicle in a high-demand charge market.
“Cash for clunkers” for buses?
Remember the “cash for clunkers” program?
In June 2009, President Obama signed legislation creating the Car Allowance Rebate System — colloquially known as the “cash for clunkers” program. The short-lived program had two goals: stimulate new car sales in an economy still mired in recession, and getting older, high-polluting vehicles off the road. Consumers were offered rebates worth up to $4,500 to swap gas-guzzlers for more fuel-efficient vehicles.
Proterra CEO Ryan Popple wants to replicate the program for public transit buses. Yes, such a program would benefit the electric bus-maker Proterra. But Popple’s focus is on the emissions lock-in associated with conventional diesel buses on the road today.
“I’m not worried at all, at this point, about the marginal purchase decision,” he said during a panel on the role of cities in driving electric mobility. “We’re staying plenty busy selling electric buses. What worries me is that every time a new diesel bus deploys, a community is going to be eating that thing for 12 years. You’re looking at 900,000 pounds of pollution on a 12-year deployment on a diesel bus.”
The problem for the climate, Popple said, is that diesel buses deployed with financial support from the federal government are required to be on the road for at least 12 years.
“Any city that we didn’t get to that puts diesel buses on the road in 2019, those will still be polluting outside the window of time where we have to have solved this emissions problem,” he said.
He added, “I’d love to see if the feds said, ‘We’re going to waive the 12-year asset life. Bring us your oldest, dirtiest, tired buses, and we’ll give you a trade-in credit so that you can get an energy-efficient electric zero-emissions bus.’”
An additional benefit coming with deploying electric buses is that public transit agencies and utilities will often have to partner to upgrade aging grid assets.
“It forces a city — and the utility — to do upgrades that they probably should have done 20 years ago,” Popple said. “Especially when we’ve been doing deployments on the U.S. East Coast.”
“Yes, you may have to put in an upgraded transformer that may take six months of coordination with the utility,” he said. “But at that point, once you get in there, now you’re starting to think about: How am I going to integrate with distributed energy? How am I going to do vehicle-to-grid?”
What will EV charging look like in 10 years?
During a panel on the “refueling” site of the future, BNEF’s Bullard asked panelists what the EV charging experience will look like for customers a decade from now, when electric vehicles account for a much larger — say, 30 percent — share of new car sales.
“By the time you reach that 30 percent mark, the refueling experience will not be 30 minutes. The technology exists today, and will continue to evolve, to make for a relatively short experience that can come close to what we experience today with a gasoline-powered vehicle,” said Martin Gafinowitz, senior vice president with the industrial conglomerate Fortive.
“Today,” he said, “nobody who willingly goes to a gas station really enjoys that experience. It’s more of a necessity purchase.”
“The best user experience is the one I don’t even need to have,” said Frank Muehlon, head of global electric vehicle charging for the Swiss engineering giant ABB.
“If I can just charge at home, conveniently, if I can just charge at my workplace, I do not really need to think about it — that’s perfect,” he said.
“If I do go to a recharging site,” he added, “I do not want to bother with [questions like], what do I do with the time I’m there? I’d rather...leave as quickly as possible because that’s not a [desirable] place to be.”
He also said EV charging companies are getting some user-experience basics wrong.
“What I see right now is operators putting the chargers out there, one beside the other. Every gas station has a roof, right? If I’m an EV driver, I stand out in the rain,” he said.
“We really need to look at what the consumer experience is,” agreed Rebecca Shelby, Ford’s manager of electrification policy and standards.
“I would challenge the sentiment that we think fast-charging is the way to go, and that it will continue to get faster and faster in the future, because I don’t want to have to stop for any time to charge or gas my vehicle," she said. "I want to be doing something else. I want to be grocery shopping. I want to be at work. I don’t want to think about: I need to charge my vehicle.”
“It’s a combination,” said Roy Williamson, VP of advanced mobility for BP. “I have a millennial daughter who won’t wait more than two minutes for anything, and certainly not for charging her vehicle.”
“We do need good grid-balanced technology at home. We need good destination charging,” he said.
He added that companies in the electric mobility ecosystem also need to optimize the use of fleets.
“The utilization of vehicles is going to have to go up dramatically over time for fleets,” he said. “We’re going to have to find hubs. Those hubs might be at today’s fuel stations.”
He said BP is researching what those hubs should look like and where they should be located.