- Part One: Charging Ahead from the Grid Up
Part one of this two-part series on electric vehicle infrastructure reviewed the state of the industry, whether infrastructure or electric vehicles should come first (“the chicken or the egg” argument), and challenges the industry currently faces.
Part two puts electric vehicles and charging infrastructure for fleets into perspective. One current concern revolves around the need for, or lack of, public charging infrastructure. Could the future look more like the present? And, where did electric vehicles all begin? Experts share their insight.
The Changing Needs of Fleet
One thing to keep in mind when understanding electric vehicles (EVs) used in fleet applications is that they are used mainly for shorter, stop-and-go urban routes with return-to-base operations. Because of this main difference between how consumers and fleets use EVs, the big question is whether public charging infrastructure is needed for fleet operations.
The first difference is that one of the most common reasons for the hesitation in buying an electric vehicle is so-called range anxiety.
“Range anxiety is the nervous feeling that a driver will run out of ‘juice’ while on the road,” explained Greg Fioriti, chief revenue officer for ECOtality. “Commercial infrastructure is an important backbone of the EV lifestyle, because it allows drivers to extend the range of their vehicles.”
However, Richard Lowenthal, founder and CTO of ChargePoint, has a different take on that nervous feeling. “Range anxiety only afflicts people that don’t actually drive electric vehicles. If you have done the math, and figured if the vehicle fits your driving pattern, you know you will be fine,” Lowenthal said.
So, while it may not be a necessity for fleets, Brian Hanrahan, director, In-Home Technologies and Electric Vehicles of Florida Power & Light (FPL), noted that access to public charging can help reduce range anxiety and help increase the awareness and adoption of electric vehicles.
Also noting reduced range anxiety was John Nakamoto, manager, national sales training, technology & electric vehicle sales operations for Mitsubishi Motors North America.
“Although the vast majority of EV charging is done at home through either Level 1 or Level 2 electric vehicle supply equipment (EVSE) charging units, establishing access to public charging stations helps reduce ‘range anxiety’ and other concerns, which, in turn, leads to greater sales and acceptance of EVs in general,” Nakamoto said. “The more charging stations available as part of a public or private network, the better for EV owners, whether stations are located in public parking lots or on city streets.”
Through the EV Project, launched in 2009 by ECOtality after a $99.8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, data shows most drivers use public infrastructure for “opportunity charging,” or adding a little power to the battery to keep it fully charged, when possible. According to Fioriti, this gives drivers “the surety that they can make it to their next destination.”
Lisa Jerram, senior research analyst for Pike Research, a part of Navigant, also sees public infrastructure used for opportunity charging. “There is a desire to use public charging as long as it is in convenient locations and can be used for ‘top-off’ charging. However, early on you don’t need total coverage to satisfy the charging needs of most plug-in-electric vehicle (PEV) drivers,” according to Jerram. “Companies are still trying to work out the best business model for public charging infrastructure.”
Jerram noted that the markets for PEVs and EVSEs are occurring successfully in tandem. “There are several more PEV models set to be introduced in North America over the next two years, and the number of companies offering EVSE equipment has grown dramatically in response to the growing PEV market,” she said.
Currently, the vast majority of charging is happening at home or at fleet locations. According to Hanrahan of FPL, “Access to public charging can enable those who don’t have the ability to charge at home to drive an electric vehicle.”
No matter how it is used, Deb Frodl, chief strategy officer and GE global alternative fuels leader, is one expert who believes public infrastructure for fleet use is “absolutely essential.”
“The drivers of GE’s EVs are sales and service personnel. They are on the road daily and weekly. They desire hotel and public charging so they can maximize their electric refueling when traveling,” Frodl explained. “Additionally, having infrastructure deployed really helps create comfort with these new vehicles. Seeing charging stations at different locations goes a long way toward building public awareness of the technology.”
Michael Farkas, CEO and co-founder of the Car Charging Group, also sees a need for public infrastructure. “There is absolutely a need for public EV charging infrastructure. While most studies report that charging will be completed primarily at home, in many urban areas, people do not have their own private garages,” Farkas noted. “EV drivers in these markets are not able to install personal EV charging stations, nor should other non-EV driving residents have to pay for the electricity consumed by EVs. Therefore, public EV charging stations, which include their own meter to monitor the electricity consumed, have become necessary.”
‘Charging While You Park’
Some experts see the benefit of public infrastructure, but don’t believe that it’s necessary for today’s fleets.
Since fleets are operated in a number of different ways, one of the problems is determining what the appropriate vehicle is for a specific vocation. “We do a lot of work with fleets on how they drive their vehicles to determine the optimum technology. The need for public infrastructure will be highly dependent on the use of these vehicles,” said Mike Simpson, vehicle systems engineer for the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL). “If fleets need vehicles for longer daily ranges, they may have use of a public infrastructure, but I don’t see many fleets using these vehicles in this way.”
Simpson noted fleets preparing for EVs will, and should, install infrastructure based on how many vehicles they need. “Essentially, you need at the very least an outlet. Most of the fleet managers we have seen are actually installing Level 2 equipment that is more of a fixed infrastructure,” he observed.
Ben Echols, electric vehicle transportation manager for Georgia Power, sees fleets as a “different animal” in terms of charging infrastructure.
“Fleet and public sector vehicles will not be relying on public infrastructure, at least at Level 1 or Level 2, to charge. You just cannot put enough energy back in the battery in the little time they have to charge. It’s a different animal when you look at the infrastructure for fleets,” Echols said. “None of the fleets that are currently operating electrics are relying on public infrastructure. And, I don’t think you want to see that. You don’t want fleet drivers spending their productive time waiting on their vehicles to charge. However, as battery and charging technology advances, you may see the use of high-energy fast charging to supplement some fleet operations.”
Since fleet managers are generally operating fleets with known routes and vehicles that frequently return to a home depot or home base every evening, it provides time to charge EVs and a predictability that the vehicles actually are, or will be, charging.
Tom Saxton, vice president and board member for Plug-in America, believes public infrastructure is an added benefit.
“It would be nice, but I think we could have millions of vehicles in fleets with zero public infrastructure. As it comes online, it would be an added benefit. There is no real need for public infrastructure if the vehicles are charged correctly. It’s helpful, but not necessary,” he said.
Also believing public charging infrastructure is more of an issue and concern on the consumer side was Justin Ashton, co-founder and VP of business development for XL Hybrids.
“For fleet trucks (Class 1-8), the most appropriate EV routes will be those operating predictable patterns and geographic areas under 80 miles per day, otherwise the size and cost of the battery becomes prohibitive. Most EV trucks will come back to charge at night after the day is done,” Ashton said.
Ford Motor Co. does see a role for public charging infrastructure. However, Michael Tinskey, associate director, vehicle electrification and infrastructure, doesn’t believe public charging will be the “game changer.”
“We believe most charging is going to happen at home or at work followed by public charging; however, when it comes to widespread fast (or rapid) charging (i.e., the equivalent of a gasoline dispenser) then I believe we’ll start to see a real impact on infrastructure,” Tinskey said. “Wireless charging, in the mid-term, may allow for more convenient charging and therefore more electric miles.”
General Motors believes priority must be placed on successful home charging solutions, followed by workplace charging.
“Home and work are where cars are parked most of the time — and, if you don’t have access to a place to charge at home, then workplace charging can provide this daily charging role and encourage more consumers to enter the PEV market,” according to Britta Gross, director, advanced vehicle commercialization policy for GM. “For the Chevrolet Volt, in particular, public charging is the lowest priority. That said, when placed in highly visible and sensible locations, these public charge stations can raise awareness and cause new consumers to become curious about PEVs.”
Jaycie Chitwood, environmental strategy and future fuels manager for Toyota Motor Sales, noted charging times.
“The reality is, it takes several hours to charge these vehicles and I don’t see that working into a fleet case,” she said. “I think it’s more important to make sure than an EV fits with the use case, such as a relatively fixed route of a limited number of miles. Then, the vehicles can recharge at the operations base.”
The only thing holding back infrastructure, according to Lowenthal of ChargePoint, is people realizing how useful the vehicles are.
“We are more dependent on people understanding vehicles and that the vehicles are appropriate for their fleet,” he said. “The primary model for an EV is ‘charge while you park.’ That isn’t appropriate for every fleet, but it is important for a lot of fleets.”
Looking Toward the Future
The future of EVs and infrastructure may look a lot like the present, according to some experts. The internal combustion engine (ICE) still has a hold on the market, due to its increased range capabilities and lower up-front pricing. It’s clear that EVs still have an uphill battle ahead. However, with range increasing and prices dropping, the tipping point may be near.
One area set to see growth is PEVs, according to Hanrahan of FPL. “Plug-in vehicles have many benefits — there is a bright future for growth in the market; however, adoption will be gradual as fleets become comfortable with the technology and other early market barriers are removed,” he said.
According to Simpson of NREL, his perspective is constantly changing on the outlook for EVs.
“There have been three significant waves of EV deployment in this country: the early 1900s, late 1990s/early 2000s, and present day. Today, automakers have started to really embrace the technology, going beyond their demonstration program,” Simpson explained. “It’s certain that more vehicles are being sold in this round of deployment.”
Frodl of GE sees infrastructure continuing to grow based on progress over the past two years.
“There are more than 100,000 EVs and PHEVs on the road, globally,” she said. “EV infrastructure is growing as well. Since the majority of the market remains with a car or sedan, it has been heavily weighted toward consumers. We have several commercial customers piloting EVs, with tremendous feedback from their drivers. With CAFE standards, many OEMs are making commitments to EVs and PHEVs — there are more choices today and availability is growing.”
Price is another area where the EV experts see changes occurring.
“We believe that the price of EVs, in general, will decrease significantly. We see prices for EVs, with a range of 300 miles or greater, starting at $25,000 to $30,000,” said Farkas of Car Charging Group. “More internal combustion engine (ICE) cars will be replaced with EVs. We also see inductive charging methods for charging EVs on the pipeline — not only when they are stationary, but as they are driving as well.”
Echols of Georgia Power also sees costs decreasing due to improved battery technology. “I think you are going to continue to see cost decreases, because I think battery technology is continuing to get better,” he said. “Right now, you are going to see some strategies in the level of charge. More vehicles will become available and be offered in different styles and different sizes.”
A Growing Market
EV sales and use are anticipated to grow. Sales of EVs in their first years are outpacing that of hybrids on their first years.
“Forward-thinking automotive consumers are beginning to embrace 100-percent electric-powered vehicles, such as the Mitsubishi i-MiEV, and the limited number of extended-range EV models available in the marketplace,” according to Nakamoto of Mitsubishi. “Those who already own a pure EV love them. Our surveys reveal that 96 percent of i-MiEV owners would recommend the vehicle to a friend.”
Nakamoto also noted that a few factors will impact EV acceptance: expanding numbers and types of EV models; increasing the availability of access to public charging stations; fuel costs remaining elevated or increasing; and the public becoming more knowledgeable about the benefits of EVs and PHEVs.
“Sales of the first mass-produced EVs in the U.S. were almost double that of hybrids during their first year,” according to Fioriti of ECOtality. “We expect the pace of adoption to continue to grow. Though EV drivers are primarily charging at home, our EV Project data has shown a close to 25-percent increase in public charging in the past quarter. Building and maintaining a public infrastructure network will be an essential part of the EV driving system.”
But, these changes may take some time. “Cost-effective EVs that do not rely on government incentives will take a decade to develop. Likely, the fastest path will take place with extended-range EVs (E-REVs), that have a small combustion engine that can work on a variety of applications,” said Ashton of XL Hybrids. “Assuming fuel costs stay where they are now, and given the trajectory of price decreases for batteries, chargers, and installation, we believe it will take a decade for commercial (pure) EVs to scale to more than 20,000 units per year.”
Additionally, XL Hybrids forecasts changes to the traditional internal combustion engine.
“The traditional ICE for the gasoline and diesel market will slowly fragment into four or five distinct segments over the next decade,” Ashton noted. “A majority of new vehicles sold will continue to be ICE vehicles that get incrementally more efficient to meet new federal commercial vehicle fuel economy regulations.”
Ashton also sees a growing segment for other alternative fuels, such as compressed natural gas (CNG) and liquefied natural gas (LNG).
“There will be a growing segment for CNG- and LPG-fueled vehicles, especially where the fueling infrastructure currently exists or where heavy government incentives take place. Additionally, the number of charge sustaining and stop-start hybrids in fleet service that don’t require chargers will grow,” he said.
Finally, Ashton believes EVs will also find a niche in inner city and electric utility applications. “The key is price of traditional fuel,” he noted. “If petroleum prices spike, the alternatives to ICE vehicles will gain traction faster. If the price slumps, these vehicles will find less demand.”
Chitwood of Toyota sees a limited role for pure BEVs. “Battery technology is improving and costs will come down with scale, but we still don’t see the BEV replacing the internal combustion vehicle.”
Workplace charging is another area for potential improvement and growth.
“We see workplace charging as a growing desire for companies to offer employees the ability to charge at work. Ford believes that PEVs will be the volume leader over PHEVs (and with the BEV’s limited all-electric range) workplace charging will be a significant contributor to adoption and drive more miles on electricity,” said Tinskey of Ford.
“Workplace charging is growing in many forward-thinking corporations and municipalities, and public charging is growing at a nice pace that matches the growth in the market,” according to Gross of GM. “These electric-drive vehicles are superior to conventional vehicles in many ways — especially the thrilling drive performance and quiet that feels like instant luxury, not to mention the fuel-cost savings. We think it’s inevitable that this technology will ultimately catch on.”
Jerram of Pike Research also sees PEV growth and increased use.
“PEVs will be a growing but niche vehicle segment, representing less than 2 percent of annual global light-duty sales by 2020. Globally, we forecast the infrastructure market growing from around 200,000 units in 2012 to almost 2.4 million in 2020,” Jerram said. “The market will become less about home units, which are the biggest market share right now, as more people will want charging at their workplace or more fleets adopt PEVs. Infrastructure operators will have more and more ways to control and manage infrastructure, as more sophisticated management software is developed.”
Jerram also believes that, in the future, fleets could be at the forefront of “vehicle-to-grid” or “vehicle-to-building” systems.
“Basically, you can use the power from a vehicle’s battery to stabilize the grid or augment building power,” she explained. “This makes the most sense with a large number of vehicles and the power can actually be used as a revenue generator. This application is still in the early stages but fleets would likely be the first to adopt it.”
In the end, Lowenthal of ChargePoint shared his big secret: “No one buys a car based on their conscience; people drive cars because they are fun. EVs are fun to drive, more convenient to fuel (when plugging in at night versus fueling at a gasoline station), and cheaper to operate. Even if they were equal to gasoline vehicles in terms of the environmental, economical, and national security benefits, they are better vehicles. That, combined with the fact that gasoline prices continue to increase, in the future, all, or nearly all cars will be plug-in vehicles of one variety or another.
One Plug Rules All
The Society for Automotive Engineers (SAE), as well as U.S. and German automakers, adopted a single charging standard for plug-in hybrid (PHEV) and electric vehicles (EV) in October 2012.
The standard allows for charging at home using either a 120V or 224VAC line. It will also allow for DC charging, which provides the basis for creating quick charging stations and perhaps the long-anticipated widespread EV adoption.
Eight major automakers, including GM, Ford, Chrysler, BMW, Daimler, Volkswagen, Porsche, and Audi have collaborated on an industry standard for fast charging.
Looking Back to Look Ahead
While it may feel like electric vehicles (EVs) are a “new” phenomenon, they have been around since the late 1800s, spanning automotive history.
France and England began developing electric vehicles in the late 1800s. In 1895, Americans got involved and started paying attention. As far back as 1897, the first commercial application was established as a fleet of New York City taxis. Then, as now, EVs had a higher price point than their gasoline-powered counterparts, at times almost triple the cost.
The decline of the electric vehicle was due to several developments:
● By the 1920s, Americans had a better system of roads that connected cities, bringing with it the need for longer-range vehicles.
● The discovery of Texas crude oil reduced the price of gasoline.
● Invention of the electric starter in 1912 eliminated the need for the hand crank.
● Initiation of mass-produced internal combustion engine vehicles by Henry Ford reduced the price of these vehicles.
Electric vehicles basically disappeared by 1935, and were essentially forgotten until the 1960s-1970s. Consumers saw the need for alternative-fuel vehicles to reduce emissions and dependency on foreign oil during the 1970s oil crisis.
The 1990 Clean Air Act, the 1992 Energy Policy Act, and regulations issued by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) brought the electric vehicle market back to reality. From 1996 to 1999 General Motors produced the EV1, the first mass-produced and purpose-designed electric vehicle of the modern era from a major OEM.
There are 40,000-plus EVs on U.S. roads today, according to ChargePoint. In 2010, two new electric vehicles were introduced: the Chevrolet Volt and the Nissan LEAF. Nothing was introduced in 2011. However, in 2012, the number of new electric vehicle options spiked to around one introduction per month, including the Fisker Karma, Ford Focus Electric, Coda, Mitsubishi i-MiEV, BMW ActivE, Tesla Model S, Toyota Prius Plug-In, and the Honda Fit. And, more are on the way.