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by Michael James Casey, December 9, 2010 This report is a critical examination of the efforts being put forth by governments and private corporations to prepare the United States for widespread usage of electric vehicles (EVs). While the technology to run automobiles on electrons rather than fossil fuels has existed for decades, there has been a recent resurgence in the EV industry, due to hefty federal incentives and the impending rollout of several new all-electric vehicles from several automobile manufacturers. Although a consumer’s options for the purchase of a new electric vehicle are going to exponentially increase, there are still many steps to be taken in terms of electric power infrastructure and the recharging process, before EVs can truly become a profitable and substantial share of the global automobile market. The report will begin with a recent history of electric vehicles and brief overview of some of the latest models about to arrive in American showrooms. Next will be a technical breakdown of the battery recharge process, followed by analysis of how energy utilities are going to meet demand, with a focus upon the leading efforts of Portland, Oregon and the west coast as a whole. The second half of the report will discuss the lingering environmental consequences that still accompany a shift from fossil fuels to grid power, followed by a comparison between the EV infrastructure goals that have been set forth by China and the United States. The goal of the report is to assess current implementation efforts and give a comprehensive overview of how the widespread rollout of electric vehicles will be facilitated by corporations and governments in the next decade and beyond.
Throughout most of the 20th century, automobile manufacturing represented the backbone of the U.S. economy, with “locally made cars powered by locally-produced oil”. But by the start of the 21st century, the once sturdy U.S. auto industry had been supplanted by foreign made cars running on foreignsourced oil, to keep up with the climbing American demand. The market for producing and powering vehicles has shifted overseas so much that today, every time an American purchases a new car, they are exporting $15,000 in capital to foreign economies that provide the oil and parts to run that car10. Electric vehicles as a viable alternative to traditional cars did not truly enter the mainstream consciousness until the major oil crises of the early 1970s, which made clear for the first time that the developing world was rapidly depleting the planet’s crude oil stock. The shock of sudden fuel shortages awakened a complacent auto industry to the need for improving engine efficiency while also developing alternative propulsion technologies. After the crisis passed and the country re-entered an era of cheap and seemingly abundant oil, this early spark of progress was stifled by the public’s demands for increasingly large and consumptive personal vehicles, epitomized by the “SUV craze” that gripped automobile makers for the better part of the past two decades. In the three plus decades since C.A.F.E. standards were first mandated at 18 MPG, that rate has only risen to
35 MPG, while according to the census bureau there are 117,000 gas stations operating in the United States, or one gas station for every 2,500 people6. There was a well-documented push to bring all-electric vehicles into the mainstream in the 1990s, with General Motors developing and test-leasing their EV1 model to buyers in select markets in the American southwest beginning in 1996. After producing nearly 1,200 of the vehicles, in early 2002 GM began recalling the vehicles from lessees and systematically destroying them. The following year, GM’s CEO Rick Wagoner officially cancelled the EV1 program, citing doubts that the company could sell enough of the cars to make it a profitable long term investment. It is remarkable to consider that in less than a decade since abandoning their electric vehicle program, GM is now heavily reinvested in developing EVs for its automobile portfolio. This abrupt turnaround is due to a number of factors. In the aftermath of the financial collapse of late 2008, assistance in the form of a government bailout of GM and Chrysler followed the near-collapse of both companies in 2009. Forcing out Rick Wagoner, the Obama administration was explicit in their stipulation that financial assistance was contingent upon GM re-tooling their manufacturing process for smaller, more efficient models while simultaneously exploring new propulsion options for their vehicles. In the years since GM lost out on the earliest stages of the electric vehicle era with termination of the EV1, Toyota has taken up the slack with its wildly popular Prius model. Instead of a purely electric vehicle, the Prius utilizes both a battery pack and traditional gasoline engine, a compromise that allows drivers to exploit the efficiency advantages of electric propulsion with an unlimited driving range. After a decade of production, Toyota Motor corporation has sold over two million Priuses worldwide5, and while this only represents a small portion of the 1 billion strong global vehicle fleet, the success of the electric-gas hybrid from Toyota has forced GM and other car companies to develop their own electric vehicle models in order to compete. Just in the past few years, the
The systemic destruction of GM’s first electric vehicle project
ongoing development of hybrid vehicles by a growing list of manufacturers has spurred new design innovations in battery technology, gradually reducing weight and increasing power storage capabilities and driving range9, steadily improving the appeal of all-electric vehicles as viable transportation options for American drivers. The New EVs
The hybrid-electric 2011 Chevrolet Volt
After years of well-publicized research and promotion, a number of major automobile makers are poised to rollout new electric vehicles for the 2011 model year. Between next year and 2014, the influx of EVs into the marketplace will accelerate from a trickle to a deluge, as over thirty carmakers have announced plans to introduce new electric, hybrid, and plug-in hybrid models in the coming years11. The earliest of these models are the Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf, with the
former being a range extender EV (battery topped by a gas-powered generator) and the latter being a purely battery driven vehicle5. The Volt is aimed at the driver with a disposable income (prices start at $40,000) who is wary of being stranded roadside with a dead battery, offering 40 initial miles of allelectric driving until the small gas engine kicks in to extend range up to hundreds of miles1. The Leaf, which costs significantly less ($25,280 after a federal tax credit), is an all-electric vehicle with a stated range of 100 miles, aimed at the earliest technology adopters who have the capacity to charge their vehicle overnight in their own garages. To increase the Leaf ’s viability and chances for long-term success, Nissan is banking on the widespread implementation of electric vehicle infrastructure along American roads in the near future. The company is confident enough in its prospects that it has already retooled its manufacturing plant in Smyrna, Tennessee to make up to 150,000 Leafs annually1.
power trains made by Enova Systems of Torrance, CA, to be initially sold to major delivery companies like UPS and FedEx9. Compared to the directional whims of individual vehicle owners, the set routes that are driven by delivery trucks make range anxiety less of an issue for delivery companies. Over the next few years, EVs are sure to take hold of the automobile market in a significant way, but will be most concentrated in urban locations and within local delivery fleets11. Electric vehicles will not appear on a majority of American roads until there is a recharging network with enough reach to facilitate travel not only within but between major cities. Charging Infrastructure Running more and more vehicles on electrons instead of fossil fuel will require both a substantial investment in power distribution infrastructure and significant public education efforts. There are three power levels of recharging stations that have been identified by electricity providers. Level I is a standard 120-volt electric outlet, which can be found in the garage of many homes and will fully recharge an EV battery in 14 hours. Level II is a 240-volt/32 amp AC system with a specialized plug and socket (similar to the ones used for refrigerators), which will fully charge a battery in 4 to 8 hours but require substantial electricity service upgrades for homeowners. Level III is a 500volt/125 amp system that will charge a battery in just 30 minutes, but require three phase electric circuits (similar to the ones found in the rooftop HVAC systems of high rises) and in the case of service stations with multiple recharge points, will require an electricity capacity on the order of megawatts11. Widespread usage of electric vehicles will present the U.S. economy with a variety of downstream business oppurtunities. The recharging of EVs will represent a huge increase in the peak load demand on electric power utilities, and will be dependent on technology for charging providers to communicate with power plants for load shedding and sudden increases in demand. Utilities and large electrical equipment manufacturers are realizing the potential of the Electric Vehicle Service Equipment (EVSE)
The 100% electric 2011 Nissan Leaf
In addition to these new models from the major automobile players, there are growing number of electric vehicle startups making notable inroads into the EV industry. Coda Automotive is a Californiabased company that is developing an all-electric sedan with a range of 120 miles, powered by Chinese batteries and American electronics and assembled in Oakland, the company plans to put 14,000 Codas on the road starting next year with prices starting at $37,00010. Smith Electric Vehicles is a Kansas City-based subsidiary of the UK automotive company. They developed a line of all-electric medium duty trucks for delivery fleets that run on electric
industry, with some already providing charging equipment for a user base that barely exists yet11. General Electric plans to introduce their WattStation charging system to the market in 2011, to be aimed at EV drivers but also businesses and governments that want to provide their customers and constituents with automobile charging options outside the home. There are many economic benefits to be shared in the emerging EVSE industry, with electrical wholesalers predicting that for every dollar spent on a new charging station, fifty cents worth of parts will be required to hook it up to the power grid11. If current estimates of 600,000 charging stations in North America by 2015 hold true, the implementation of EV recharging
Carmakers know that they need to improve low temperature battery performance and speed up recharge times in order ease range anxiety among consumers and ensure the profitability of their new EV models, which is why they are encouraging the installation of charge stations in supermarkets, parking garages, and along city streets in the coming years9. The world’s largest retail company Walmart has said it is in discussions with auto manufacturers to install charging stations at some of its over 8,500 locations, in addition to selling future models of electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles11. Between different regions of North America, there are large disparities in the capacity for public recharging of EVs. Much of it is focused on the west coast, with the state of Oregon currently leading the nation in ownership of hybrid and all-electric vehicles1. Portland Gas & Electric, which serves a city that is already well-known for its comprehensive environmental improvement strategies, began installing last summer the first of over 2,500 charging stations in homes and businesses throughout the city. Recharge stations of all levels are being installed, with fast charge Level III points planned in strategic locations and along high-traffic transit corridors9. PG&E has ambitious predictions for the spread of EVs in the United States, forecasting a 30% share for EVs in total US car sales by 2020 if a reliable recharging infrastructure is established9.
The GE Wattstation
infrastructure represents a market of $3-6 billion for the power industry over the next four years11. Existing research shows that drivers mostly refuel in close proximity to home or work, which is why auto manufacturers suggest that initial infrastructure investments focus on personal charging infrastructure 12. Getting EV technology off the ground among individual consumers will largely rely on mundane but crucial policy details, like the issuance of speedy construction and electric work permits to bring rechargstations to private homes and work settings2. The auto industry is also reaching out to power companies and major retailers to help in the implementation of a public charging networks.
A public Level II charging station in Portland, Oregon
San Diego and southern California at large are also preparing for widespread EV adoption, with utility company SoCal edison utilizing the ZIP codes of new electric vehicle owners in their plans for upgrading transformers and other components of an aging electricity infrastructure2. In anticipation of being one of the four host cities to receive the first shipments of Nissan Leafs, San Diego has installed the nation’s largest collection of Level II public use chargers, with a total of 1,440 operational charging points in place as of summer 20101. Environmental Impacts Although an all-electric vehicles does not directly emit CO2 or other harmful pollutants into the atmosphere, reliance on grid electricity for propulsion only shifts the negative environmental impacts to new sources that are mostly out of sight and therefore out of mind. While EV owners are charging their new clean vehicles overnight in their garages, coal and gas-fired electrical generation plants are working overtime burning petro-chemicals to transform into electricity and keep up with the new offpeak demands6. As David Grainger of the Canadian National Post puts it, “electric cars are dangerous because, like alcohol-based fuels, the man behind the curtain is making us feel like his magic is real when in fact it is all just an illusion. Choking fumes are relentless, we are just moving them down the road”7. In addition to operational energy consumption, the manufacture of electric vehicle batteries also pose significant environmental consequences. A lithium ion battery is composed of materials that are mined in Canada, refined in China, packaged in Japan, and sent back to North America for a couple decades of usage until they die, at which point the end users have to dispose of them7. Faced with the prospect of discarded EV batteries and their toxic materials piling up in landfills, scientists and automakers alike are exploring the potential use of old batteries as static storage reservoirs for renewable energy sources, and GM has explicitly petitioned the U.S. Congress to incentivize the development of these second life cycle options for electric vehicle batteries12. This
planning for the long term viability of electric vehicle components highlights the fact that the most sustainable consumer products are the ones designed and built from the outset for durability, flexibility, and adaptation to different uses and second life cycles. In spite of the environmental costs that accompany electrically propelled cars, when considered over the long term these vehicles are still drastically cleaner than traditional fossil fuel models. Whereas a typical car is directly dependent upon crude oil, with its implicit environmental impacts from refinement and distribution, through the electric grid an electric vehicle can draw power from any source that powers the utility - be it coal, nuclear, hydroelectric, wind, or solar. The sad fact about shifting vehicle energy sources from fossil fuel to electricity is that it is “more practical to scrub the exhaust of a coalfired plant than to rely on individual vehicle owners to maintain the quality of their emissions systems”11. Implementation Strategies: China The planet’s most populous nation has seen explosive growth in the ranks of its middle classes over the past few decades. Due to the enormous energy demands of over 1.3 billion people, China has been firing up new power plants and importing oil at an astonishing rate, with gas prices at over $4 per gallon, a steep rate in a country with a median annual income of $2,80011. For these reasons of necessity, the government has declared that by 2020, 5 million electric cars will be on Chinese roads, up from practically none today. The banking firm HSBC estimates that this could represent as much 35% of the global electric vehicle market. Beijing has already pledged $17 billion to cities for installing charging infrastructure15, hoping to have facilities operational in the country’s three largest cities by 201113. The government has also provided $15 billion to the country’s leading automotive battery companies to jump start electric vehicle industries in 20 pilot cities10, in addition to discounting EV purchases for consumers for up to $8,80015. With substantial monetary incentives and a totalitarian government reach, China is hoping to beat the United States at the electric vehicle game
role in electric vehicle implementation. As charging stations with powerful currents become more commonplace throughout the country, new regulations for safety and interoperability of systems will need to keep pace with emerging charging technologies. Municipal and state governments have also been facilitating the development of electric vehicle infrastructure, particularly along the west coast of North America. Planners in the pacific northwest envision a corridor of charging stations along Interstate 5, which links Portland and Vancouver, two cities with substantial electric car infrastructure already in place. In July 2009, Vancouver’s city council began requiring developers to include EV charging infrastructure in at least 20% of the parking stalls for new multi-family residential projects1. As more electric cars begin rolling on Oregon’s roads, that state has found that the biggest hurdles to electric infrastructure implementation is the process of providing permits to home and business owners, in addition to implementing new building codes that speed up the approval process. It is important that local governments speed up their issuance of electricity upgrade permits in order to accommodate the early electric vehicle adapters who need to charge their cars at home2. The Clinton Climate Initiative, established by the former president in 2006, has announced plans to work with 14 of the world’s largest cities, including Chicago and Houston, to install electric vehicle infrastructure. Houston also hopes to encourage EV usage by shortening the time for issuing home charging permits to just 48 hours, while other localities consider other non-financial incentives including preferred parking in government-run lots and H.O.V. lane access for single user electric vehicles2. Electric vehicle adaptation is also being increasingly backed by the private sector. During this summer’s catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, many Americans saw the unfortunate risks that now accompany petroleum extraction in the age of dwindling reserves. This disaster only helped to increase consumer interest in electric vehicle technologies, and Wall Street was soon to notice. Two major
The S18, an all-electric vehicle from Chinese automaker Chery
and claim a greater share of the new battery and vehicle manufacturing markets. But considering the automobile’s long history of importance to the American economy and lifestyle, it is doubtful that the U.S. will remain complacent in the face of this competitive challenge from overseas. United States The federal government plays a crucial role in funding and encouraging the spread of electric vehicles and their charging networks throughout the nation. Under the leadership of President Obama, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) has allotted $2.8 billion in grants to dozens of companies that are engaged in research and development of electric car technologies. This funding is in addition to the nearly $6 billion loaned to Ford Motor Company for expanding their EV operations5.In anticipation of the new all-electric vehicles being rolled out by Nissan, the Department of Energy has invested over $100 million to assist the four starter markets (Portland, San Diego, Phoenix, and Nashville) with their charging infrastructure1. The DOE has also given $39 million to Chicago-based truck manufacturer Navistar to start making all-electric delivery vehicles. The company made 400 electric delivery trucks in 2010, and expects to manufacture over 1000 annually in just a few years time9. Besides funding, the federal government has an additional regulatory
investment firms, Morgan Stanley and Lazard, have given $700 million in capital to the battery service company Better Place8. This company hopes to develop a network of battery replacement stations where drivers can stop and have their depleted batteries swapped out for fully charged ones in minutes. To make the replacement process as streamlined as possible, Better Place is working with several different EV companies on standardizing their battery designs9. The batteries that will propel electric vehicles are also one of their biggest impediments to widespread implementation. The price premium for advanced technology is the main reason why the Chevy Volt’s base price is upwards of $40,000, but economists predict that the costs of batteries will steadily decline in the near future as the technology becomes more commonplace. The typical cost of a battery pack in 2009 was between $700-$1500 per kWh (a typical metal hydride battery pack requires 26 kWh), but could potentially drop below $500 as soon as 201513. Regardless of cost, it is likely that more of the electric cars sold to Americans in the future will also be built here, for the simple fact that it is too expensive to ship the heavy batteries over the oceans15. With a strong vehicle manufacturing base already in place in the Midwest and emerging EV industries in California, the U.S. government is heavily funding electric vehicle implementation with three overall goals: 1) reviving the nation’s depressed manufacturing base with new jobs in emerging industries, 2) reducing dependence on foreign sources of oil, 3) reducing the country’s overall transportation emissions and contributions to global warming.
Conclusion Beginning next year and continuing into the foreseeable future, the U.S. automobile industry will be introducing a whole new generation of electric vehicles to the nation’s roads. This report has demonstrated how private and public charging infrastructure is the most crucial requirement for the success of these new propulsion technologies. Government agencies at all levels are providing financial and policy incentives to accelerate the installation of electricity charging points in parking garages and along public roads, to supplant the home charging stations that most EV drivers will be installing in their own garages. While these efforts will motivate consumer demand for electric vehicles to a certain extent, the most effective way to induce a permanent switch from fossil fuel to electric vehicles would be an increased gasoline tax. Although Europe has successfully stimulated its own electric vehicle markets with $7 per gallon gas10, the current political climate in the United States makes a gasoline tax passage very unlikely, and President Obama has not indicated any support for such a measure. Aside from a drastic jump in oil and gas prices, the best way to facilitate the extensive adoption of electric vehicles by American drivers is to build a comprehensive and reliable roadside charging network to power them.
President Obama checking out a Chevy Volt and electric Ford Focus with Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm
1. Allen Best, “Charging Ahead: Could this year be the beginning of something new?”, Planning: Journal of the American Planning Association. May/June 2010. 10-14. Accessed December 4, 2010. 2. Derek Sands, “Charging stations, other infrastructure said key to boosting electric vehicles”, Platt’s Inside Energy - Inside Energy with Federal Lands. July 26, 2010. 12. Accessed December 4, 2010. 3. Tyler Hamilton, “Toronto eager to get electric cars on the road; City must first resolve infrastructure issues”, The Toronto Star. March 23, 2009. News section, A09. Accessed December 4, 2010. 4. Hiriko Tabuchi, “Toyota watches and waits on all-electric cars”, The International Herald Tribune. August 29, 2009. 14. Accessed December 4, 2010. 5. Eric Reguly, “Electrical engineering; There’s only one thing that separates electric cars from the Edsel: a whole lot of tax dollars”, The Globe and Mail, November 26, 2010. Business Magazine report. 18. Accessed December 4, 2010. 6. Michael Horn, “Roadmap to the electric car economy”, The Futurist, March-April 2010. 41- 45. Accessed December 4, 2010. 7. (I) David Grainger, “Electric Vehicles are not a good solution”, National Post (The Financial Post). November 12, 2010. Toronto edition, Driving section, DT11. Accessed December 4, 2010. 8. Amity Shales, “Who revived the electric car?; Think BP, whose disaster will loom for a generation. Consumers may be ready now”. Newsday, June 25, 2010. Opinion section, A39. Accessed December 4, 2010. 9. Sean Kilcarr, “The re-charge of electric vehicles: Heavy doses of federal funding and incentives are reviving the once dim prospects for all-electric vehicles”, American City and County. October 2009. 38 - 41. Accessed December 4, 2010. 10. Thomas L. Friedman, “Their Moon Shot And Ours”, The New York Times, September 26, 2010. Editorial, oped section. 12. Accessed December 4, 2010. 11. Doug Chandler, “Race of the Chargers”, Electrical Wholesaling. September 2010. 19 - 21. Accessed December 4, 2010. 12. Alan I. Taub, “Light Duty Electric Vehicles” (paper presented as testimony to Committee on Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, Washington D.C., February 23, 2010). Accessed December 4, 2010. 13. Russell Hensley, Stefan Knupfer, Dickon Pinner, “Electrifying cars: how three industries will evolve”, McKinsey Quarterly. 2009, Issue 3. 87 - 95. Accessed December 4, 2010.
14. Rick Newman, “A Stuttering Start for Electric Cars”, U.S. News & World Report. Vol. 147, Issue 10, April 2010. 47 - 49. Accessed November 6, 2010. 15. Brian Dumaine, “China Charges into Electric Cars”, Fortune. November 1, 2010. Vol. 162, Issue 7. 138 - 148. Accessed December 4, 2010.
Page 2, top: http://www.ev1.org/ Page 2, bottom: http://www.hybridcarblog.com/2009/06/chevy-volt-greatest-auto-marketing-coup.html Page 3: http://www.egmcartech.com/2010/12/04/video-2011-nissan-leaf-production-process-outlined-in-5-min-video/ Page 4, left: http://www.popgive.com/2010/07/ge-wattstation-charger-for-electric.html Page 4, right: http://www.floriansolarproducts.com/ Page 6: http://www.futurecar.co.za/category/10/electric/ Page 7: http://www.treehugger.com/files/2010/07/obama-checks-out-chevy-volt-and-ford-focus-electric-cars.php
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