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The Future of Energy: Electric Vehicles Spark Excitement at Transportation Conference

by Bill Malcolm, Guest author


Imagine an electric vehicle (EV) that can power your house during a blackout or even supply power back to the grid: These are just two of the exciting developments in the fast-changing EV sector. The Electric Drive Transportation Association’s (EDTA) annual conference was May 19-21 in Indianapolis and revealed some key developments and topics for discussion in the EV world including:

  • Qualcomm announced a new wireless charging technology for electric vehicles that does not require any plug-in cable.

  • NRG eVgo described its new charge card that works at several different companies that charge EVs.

  • Who should fund the EV programs was a much-discussed topic. Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) said that customers expect the utility to develop charging infrastructure. However, currently some Public Utility Commissions bar utility investment in such programs or in charging facilities.

Nationwide, growth of EVs is taking off. By 2025 it’s predicted there will be 3.5 million registered plug-in electric vehicles (compared to the 215,000 on the road today). Those who have embraced life with an EV are happy with their decision: surveys show 97% satisfaction for the Tesla, 85.2% for the Chevy Volt, and 49.8% for the Nissan Leaf – all good figures by industry standards. Plug Insights said overall satisfaction is way above auto averages.


Car companies outline their recent developments


A highlight of the conference was hearing from the various automakers about the new technologies and added services available to EV owners. These include:


  • Nissan said its Leaf was the best-selling EV with 50,000 on U.S. roads today. It offers a charge card with free charging (restrictions apply) at many charging locations run by different companies. Nissan said 92% of Leaf households were new to the Nissan brand.   

  • GM’s Chevy Volt can go gas-free for 38 miles and also has a gas tank. The daily charging cost is just $1.60 on average. Drivers average 900 miles between fill ups. The Volt includes an OnStar Remote Link mobile application that alerts you when your charge is complete. GM said 84% of the charging is done at home, and 70% of the charging is “Level 1” (120 kV). The timing of when an EV is charged is also a hot topic. If EVs are charged in the middle of the night, for example, the vehicles could fill in the utility load valleys (i.e., at 3 a.m.). Utility programs are helping. GM said that in Michigan both major utilities ran a pilot program to incent customers to put 240 kV (Level 2 or faster) chargers in homes. Approximately 2,500 rebates per utility were available and they were all used up.

  • Mitsubishi said EVs provided power after the Japanese earthquake. (This is known as vehicle-to-grid).

  • Most exciting perhaps was the extended-range electric truck from VIA that gets 100 mpg, plugs in anywhere, and can export power to provide mobile emergency power to keep facilities on line at a job site or during an outage. This development is significant because it replaces a truck with relatively modest fuel economy (compared with an electric vehicle, which typically replaces a compact car that already gets decent fuel economy).




Utilities discuss developments and what they've learned

  • SMUD said the utility has looked at controlling when EVs charge, which avoids the problem of EVs charging at peak times. The Sacramento muni offers a time-of-use rate to encourage off-peak charging; it includes a low off-peak rate of 6 cents per minute after midnight, compared to SMUD’s 18-cent second-tier rate. Note that 120 kV charging (known as Level 1) is invisible to the grid and uses less electricity than a hair dryer.

  • SDG&E said California has a goal of 1.5 million zero-emission vehicles by 2025 and added that the utility is looking at charging during the peak solar delivery period.

  • SCE said education and engagement of customers was the challenge since most people don’t know about electric vehicles. The SCE representative said some thought EVs were mainly golf carts. SCE has turned to social media like Twitter to help educate its consumer base about EVs and has piloted a special EV rate with a meter that encourages charging at night.

  • Vermont’s Energy Investment Corporation noted EVs could be a grid resource. Vehicles can be used to store electricity because they are used for mobility only 5% of the time and only need to be charged 10-20% of the day.

  • Hydro Quebec's vehicle-to-home (V2H) project is using EVs to power the home during power outages, while its vehicle-to-grid (V2G) project uses them to provide power to the grid. The provincial utility conducted pilots on both and noted that both increase the value of EVs. 

    Hydro Quebec also ran a pilot for companies to offer workplace charging stations (another hot topic at the conference). The utility paid 75% of the cost of installing such facilities to select employers. Additionally it offered a special EV rate to incent off-peak charging and noted that while it doesn’t want EVs to charge at peak times it also doesn’t want to create a new peak at midnight. 

Electric vehicles for city fleets and car sharing is growing

At the May conference, Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard announced the city will change its fleet to plug-in hybrid EVs to save the city $8,000-$10,000 per year, per vehicle. The move will also help with national security because the vehicles don’t run on imported oil.  Ballard also announced the new BlueIndy electric vehicle car share program in a partnership with Bolloré Group of France. The cars can go 120 miles without being recharged. The company runs programs in Paris, Lyon, London, and other cities. 


Clearly opportunities exist for EVs to capture more market share in the auto industry and to even help solve other energy-related challenges. Utilities, consumers, and automakers must work together to find a way to make such technologies work in harmony with the existing grid and utility business models.



Want to learn how utilities are refocusing their business models to address new market developments such as EV? Attend Enerdynamics' seminar on Distributed Energy, Renewables and Microgrids, October 6-7, 2014, in New York City. Details here.


About the author: Bill Malcolm is an Indianapolis-based energy and transit analyst who writes the Commission Corner and RTO Watch columns for The Cruthirds Report, a Houston-based energy newsletter. He has previously worked at PG&E, ANR Pipeline, and MISO. He can be reached at BillMalcolm@gmail.com.


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