From Scott Carlberg

The U.S. will have its one-millionth electric vehicle (EV) purchased in this month.  The news of more EVs needs to be looked at in context of all vehicles out there, consumer choice and infrastructure.

There were 272 million vehicles in operation in the U.S. in the first quarter of 2018 (source). So the news of the 1,000,000th vehicle is good, but in relation to the cars out there, it is small. EV sales are advancing, though – 45,000 EVs were sold in September alone.

Charging station at a south Charlotte shopping area

Those numbers say that the pace of adoption is picking up. There are still some barriers, though. Consumers’ “range anxiety” is one barrier. Some people worry they will outrun their charge. Having a 300 mile vehicle range is seen by some as a point that may alleviate that worry. In a recent report the top ten Battery Operated Vehicles (BEVs) are all more than 100 miles, and the top is above 300. So, for someone running a business trip from Columbia to Raleigh doing a 225 mile one-way trip – it still doesn’t seem to work easily.

Road trip! Columbia to Raleigh. And back.

When a gasoline tank gets low people are accustomed to pulling into a service station for fuel (…Slurpee, chips…). Big signs display the brand and even the price per gallon. It is second nature to us to the point that we have petroleum brand loyalty. There are well over 100,000 gasoline stations in the U.S. (An aside: “Station” has changed. The four-pump Texaco I remember near my home in the 1960s is not like a gleaming 30 pump convenience store today.) There are somewhere around 15,000 EV charging stations. Once consumers are as familiar with EV charging as they are with pumping gasoline, that barrier can fall.

That seems to be happening. Various utilities and businesses are making the effort to put in chargers. In Greenville, NC, the utility wants to work with commercial businesses in an EV charging pilot. Local hotels and the Greenville Convention Center discussed installing the stations. The Ashboro, NC, Zoo has chargers. Target has chargers in some of its North Carolina locations. Some Spinx convenience stores in Greenville, SC, have chargers. Ocean Lakes Family Campground (SC) has EV charging stations. Spartanburg has 12 electric vehicle charging stations, spread across downtown parking lots and garages. UNC Asheville has chargers.

Unlike liquid fuels, EVs can fill-up in varied locations, not just at a fuel retail outlet. For charging stations, “One of the big sectors we’re seeing growth is multi-family housing and commercial real estate. Right now, 70-80 percent of EV charging is done at home and at work,” according to one developer (WECT, Wilmington).

In the middle or all this technical development, Carolinians are involved. This month, researchers at North Carolina State University announced that they have, “built an electric vehicle fast charger that is at least 10 times smaller than existing systems and wastes 60 percent less power during the charging process, without sacrificing the charging time. The team is now building a version that is capable of charging vehicles more quickly, while also charging multiple vehicles at the same time. The new technology is called a medium voltage fast charger (MVFC).” ECC will have more on that in a future blog.

Electrification can help air quality. Here’s the thinking. The transportation sector generates (nearly 28.5 percent of 2016 greenhouse gas emissions) … “the largest share of greenhouse gas emissions. Greenhouse gas emissions from transportation primarily come from burning fossil fuel for our cars, trucks, ships, trains, and planes. Over 90 percent of the fuel used for transportation is petroleum based, which includes gasoline and diesel,” according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Tailpipe emissions are zero for EVs – at the vehicle. If the power generation for the electric charge is not clean, is the car clean? Pollution displacement is a term I have heard for this circumstance. The pollution is not from the vehicle, but has been placed elsewhere, where the power is made. As EVs are charged with low- or no-carbon sources of electricity, we benefit. Those zero carbon sources are some renewables and also nuclear energy.

The public has more choices for EVs. “In 2018, automakers have introduced more than 46 advanced fuel vehicle models, including 28 PHEVs, 15 EVs, and three fuel cell vehicles.” (source) As the second million vehicles get sold, more progress can be made on one aspect of reducing air emissions.

ECC will write more about EVs. In the meantime, here is an article that provides interesting perspectives about EVs, from UtiltyDive magazine: Electric Vehicles: The Swiss army knife of the grid: Experts see a future where electric vehicles provide an array of grid services, from demand response to soaking up excess renewable generation.