The Future of Electric Vehicles and the Smart Grid 1


Electric Vehicles and “The Grid”

According to a recent tweet from NRG’s eVgo (@nrgevgo), their analyst data states that over $48 billion has been invested in electric vehicles worldwide. Though the tweet did not elaborate over what timeframe this investment has been made, one can assume it is likely since 2010 when the EV market began its latest resurgence and prompted the sequel documentary, “The Revenge of the Electric Car.”

In the few years since, the EV market has grown by a multiple of 25 with new EV models hitting the streets (and the news) seemingly every day. As of today, there are 21 highway-ready EV models from 15 automobile manufacturers with lower priced models now in the offing. These cars are a mix of all-electric battery powered vehicles (BEVs) and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) that are also battery powered but with gasoline range extenders to keep them going when and if the battery depletes. There are also over 40 suppliers of chargers for both home and public use with nearly 9,000 public chargers installed throughout the US alone. Along with the many other supporting entities, that seems quite a list for what is still considered a fledgling industry. It’s hard to imagine that this kind of investment will go the way of GM’s EV1 as in the last episode of “As the EV Turns”, which prompted the initial documentary, “Who Killed the Electric Car?” Some type of future for these captivating vehicles is certainly assured but it is some other intriguing initiatives that suggest a more secure future for EVs.

Despite calls for governments not to choose a particular technology, there are federal and state incentives for purchasing EVs and installing EV charging stations (it is worth mentioning here that any such incentives pale in comparison to the $4.8 billion in taxpayer-funded subsidies given to the oil industry each year). The Department of Energy’s newly released 2014-2018 Strategic Plan is laden with multiple mentions of further EV investment and only one other mention of alternatively-fueled vehicle technology; a casual comment on furthering fuel cells. It’s safe to say that the US government is banking quite a bit on the proliferation of EVs. With backing like this over at least the next 4 years, one can only imagine how many more multiples of growth the EV industry will enjoy.

One of the more fascinating notions though is that power companies now have an opportunity to encroach on Big Oil’s turf. This idea has far-reaching, if not ominous, implications as utilities already conduct a $400 billion business in the US alone. One can get pretty nervous adding a substantial portion of the estimated $500 billion transportation market to their mix to become Big Power. There are some big investments about to be made in EV-aimed smart grid technology between eight automakers, fifteen utilities and the non-profit Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) to make this a reality. At this point though only 7% of the US utilities offer incentive tariffs for EVs so there must be some hesitancy to go after Big Oil’s transportation bonanza.

Interestingly, the prospect of the utilities capturing transportation revenue using smart grid technology seems to fly in the face of comments made by the CEO of eVgo’s parent, NRG. In an interview with BusinessWeek, David Crane, predicts the impending demise of the power grid due to decentralized homegrown green energy, namely residential solar installations. Pacific Gas and Electric’s CEO, Anthony Earley, agrees though his timeframe is longer. Solar installations are expected to rise 44% to $112 billion a year worldwide, which will necessitate the emergence of a different model for utilities. In any event, this still bodes well for EVs as owners charge at home 90% of the time. Though public charger installation costs would initially be higher, they too can be (and in some cases are) powered by solar energy divorced from the grid.

All this considered, one can envision the perfect automotive eco-system albeit years from now. Reasonably priced electric vehicles quickly charged with clean renewable energy putting no pressure on the grid while keeping Big Power (and Big Oil) at bay.

About Steve Yakshe

As President and CEO of a mid-sized technology company engaged in instrumentation to monitor the world’s water resources, I developed a passion for protecting and enhancing the environment we all share. Following the sale of that company, I’ve combined this with my passion for cars to research and promote the Next Generation Car that will transport us cleanly and without detriment to our world’s ecosystem.

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