The numbers are in, and in the U.S. alone, electric vehicle sales increased 21 percent last year -- from 158,614 vehicles sold in 2016 to 199,826 vehicles sold in 2017. December 2017 also marked the 26th consecutive month of year-over-year sales increases for EVs, led by the Chevy Bolt, followed by the Toyota Prius Prime and the Tesla Model X.
Last year saw automakers make several major EV announcements. Toyota announced its plans to electrify its entire lineup by 2025, General Motors announced plans for 20 new EVs by 2023, and Volvo announced that all models introduced after 2019 will either be hybrids or all-electric. Meanwhile, Ford said it is investing $4.5 billion into 13 new EVs. Even Jeep got into the mix announcing its plans to release a plug-in Wrangler in 2020.
In terms of charging stations, 2017 brought us the opening of Tesla’s largest supercharger station in North America, located about halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco -- something of a mix between airline waiting lounge and coffee shop. Volkswagen announced its plans to install 2,800 charging stations in 17 of the largest U.S. cities by June 2019, mostly in workplaces and multifamily dwellings, such as apartment buildings and condos (a part of its "dieselgate" reparations). In Europe, Shell released plans to charge EVs in just 8 minutes with the 80 high-power charging stations throughout the continent.
On the acquisition front, the EV charging market saw several notable developments in 2017 by multinational energy companies. Engie started things off in March with the purchase of EV-Box, a Dutch EV charging management startup. Then, the international power and clean energy company Enel bought smart-grid EV charging leader eMotorWerks. EMotorWerks’ nearly 30,000 charging stations deployed so far can aggregate vehicle charging load, allowing energy providers an easier method of balancing the grid, and drivers the chance to optimize their charging for renewables or the lowest electricity price.
Another notable acquisition in the charging space came from Shell, which bought the Dutch firm NewMotion. The company manages charging points for electric vehicles in Western Europe and will operate alongside Shell’s program of rolling out fast-charging points at its stations.
In total, the automotive industry is expecting 127 battery-electric models to be introduced worldwide over the next five years. More options combined with greater familiarity is expected to accelerate EV demand. While it’s difficult to predict when the S-curve inflection point of demand will hit, as battery costs come down and economies of scale grow, Bloomberg New Energy Finance expects EVs to reach price parity with their gasoline counterparts by 2022 or sooner. At that point, sales are expected to rise quickly.
That gives the industry less than five years to prepare and update electrical grid infrastructure, adjust business models, and roll out enough charging stations to meet demand. Wood Mackenzie projects that one in nine cars sold globally will be electrified by 2035, bringing the total EV fleet to 125 million. But it will take some effort to get there.
Recent investments by major car OEMs and acquisitions by power companies indicate that more energy players are taking action on the necessity of establishing a foothold in EV charging infrastructure. Additionally, these acquisitions show these players are preparing for the load-balancing challenges that can be expected when the inflection point hits without building new fossil fuel generation plants.
It isn’t only large players that are making preparations. In 2017, the community-choice aggregation provider Sonoma Clean Power implemented a broad-scale program to accelerate the adoption of smart-grid EV charging in its territory and has now distributed more than 1,500 free JuiceNet-enabled chargers (JuiceNet is the software platform provided by eMotorWerks) to its EV driving customers. In the first phase of the program, 86 percent of program participants stated that they would not have purchased an EV without the program incentives.
What to expect in 2018
1. More EV Models and Continued Sales Growth
The sheer number of automakers that have announced new electric-vehicle models or electric versions of their existing models indicates the industry is embracing the electrification transformation. Expect to see more Tesla Model 3s, and new longer-range models from Nissan, Jaguar Honda, Audi, Kia, BYD, Hyundai and more.
2. More Utility Programs to Support EV Adoption
According to Rocky Mountain Institute, having 2.9 million EVs on the road by 2022 could add over 11,000 gigawatt-hours of electricity demand to the world’s grids. Utilities are under pressure to meet this demand without building new fossil fuel generation plants. As utilities often work on 25-year planning horizons, expect forward-thinking power suppliers to get into the deployment of charging infrastructure.
Look for deployments and customer rebates from energy providers in the U.S. and Europe for smart-grid charging systems, which allow them to remotely manage and aggregate the charging loads of EVs over time, limit the need of additional fossil fuel plants and optimize renewable energy when it is abundant on the grid. Additionally, expect energy providers to target expansion in DC fast-charging, as it requires extensive new electrical infrastructure to deliver, and utilities don’t have to grant interconnection agreements to themselves.
3. Utilities Leveraging EVs as Grid Assets
Thousands of EVs charging at the same time hold the potential to either cripple the reliability of local utility grids or prove to be a windfall in electricity sales. It all depends on the willingness of these organizations to embrace new technologies that allow them to aggregate charging load over the course of a day, while still making sure cars are charged up when their drivers need them. As noted above, these solutions can provide a variety of services beyond grid balancing, such as optimizing charging loads for times of the day when demand is low, renewables are abundant, or prices are at their lowest.
Additionally, some software can also allow drivers or charging equipment providers to be rewarded for allowing their systems to act as virtual power plants and bid into demand response programs. Expect forward-thinking utilities to rollout this smart-grid charging technology in 2018 and leverage it to avoid unnecessary grid infrastructure upgrades to meet EV charging demand, reduce their dependence on peaker plants, and enable vehicle-to-grid integration.
4. Shifting Service and Dealership Business Models
As most innovations go, the electrification of consumer cars is going to unsettle existing business models built around internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles. With fewer parts and lower maintenance requirements, EVs are expected to reduce demand for part supplies and mechanics. We can even expect dealerships, which bank on service as a recurring revenue generator, to begin to make adjustments to their business models in the face of the pending EV boom.
5. More Bans on ICE Vehicles
Several countries have set targets to ban ICE vehicles in favor of electric ones -- including Norway by 2025, India and China by 2030, and the U.K. and France by 2040. California is also contemplating something similar as a way to meet its greenhouse gas emissions goals. Democratic Assemblymember Phil Ting recently proposed a bill that would require all new passenger vehicles sold in the state to be battery-electric or hydrogen fuel cell cars. Considering that nine other states have announced their intention to follow California's lead on vehicle emission regulations, such an announcement could have sweeping implications for the United States automobile industry. In 2018 and beyond, expect these bold goals to be backed up with implementation plans, and keep an eye on California.
5. The Volkswagen "Dieselgate" Windfall
As a part of the $14.7 billion settlement reached by Volkswagen and the United States government, Volkswagen plans to infuse $2 billion into the nation’s zero-emission vehicle infrastructure over the next 10 years. In total, 44 states from Ohio to Texas and North Carolina to California are currently contemplating how to spend these funds to reduce emissions in their communities. Expect to see announcements in 2018 on their plans. Also, expect to see California firm up how it will spend its $800 million portion for the 2,000 to 3,000 non-proprietary chargers Volkswagen plans to install across over 400 individual stations in the state.
Preston Roper is the chief marketing and operations officer at eMotorWerks. He has more than two decades of experience leading innovative marketing and operations teams at companies including Honeywell, NetDynamics (acquired by Sun Microsystems/Oracle) and Synopsys (IPO), Stem, Cogenra (acquired by Sunpower) and Tioga Energy.