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Robert Rapier

Robert Rapier

Robert Rapier is a chemical engineer in the energy industry. He has 25 years of international engineering experience in the chemical, oil and gas, and…

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The Biggest Challenge Facing Biden’s Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Plan

  • The Biden Administration recently unveiled an ambitious plan to build a network of electric vehicle charging stations across the country. 
  • Fast chargers are needed, because the amount of time it takes to charge a vehicle is another factor influencing the decision to purchase an electric vehicle. 
  • Beyond charging speed, a massive buildout in EV charging capacity will require more power and more grid capacity to supply them.
EV Charger

Last month the Biden administration released a plan to build a network of 500,000 electric vehicle charging stations across the country. President Biden considers this an essential part of the fight against climate change by enabling the continued rollout of electric vehicles.

In announcing the plan, Vice President Kamala Harris noted, “When we ask people what is the biggest barrier for them to buy an electric car, the answer is almost always figuring out where and how to charge it”. 

The plan emphasizes standardization as the charging network expands from the current patchwork of 100,000 public charging outlets. EV owners are well aware of the challenges of navigating the current fractured EV charging network, which have different outlets, payment options, and hardware hookups. 

President Biden had sought $15 billion for the plan, but Congress cut that amount in half in the recently-passed infrastructure bill. Nevertheless, the Administration has stuck to the original plan, with $5 billion deployed to states, territories and the District of Columbia. The remaining $2.5 billion will be targeted at putting charging stations in rural areas. 

Faster Charging Required

Fast chargers are needed, because the amount of time it takes to charge a vehicle is another factor influencing the decision to purchase an electric vehicle. But the reduced funding likely means more slower charging stations.

Level 2 charging stations require 2-10 hours to fully recharge a depleted battery. Higher power and more expensive Level 3 charging stations can achieve this in 30 minutes. This means most EV customers will likely need to do most of their charging overnight at home. 

But the faster Level 3 charging stations will need to be strategically located along major highways and interstates to serve drivers on long-distance trips – a necessity especially if EVs are to play a larger role in commercial transportation. Presently there are vast stretches of EV deserts across the U.S. Midwest and South, and that is a major hindrance for those wanting to buy an EV.

A Strain on the Grid

Beyond the charging speed, a massive buildout in EV charging capacity will require more power and more grid capacity to supply them. The International Energy Agency (IEA) has estimated that by 2030 EVs could require between 525 terawatt-hours (TWh) and 860 TWh of electricity globally, up from 80 TWh last year. This is equivalent to more than three times the current power consumption of California.

The California state government is facing a formidable challenge, given its increasing reliance on renewables while facing extreme climate conditions that severely strain the grid. Current rates of new power plant commissioning are slower than what would be needed to achieve 100 percent clean energy by 2045, as set out by the California Energy Commission, while not all power plants newly in operation are using clean resources. A case in point are the temporary gas plants to avoid blackouts during summer.

Innovative Solutions are Coming

Even so, California – home to nearly half of all EVs in the U.S. – is at the forefront of vehicle-grid integration. The state intends to stop selling gasoline-powered passenger cars by 2035, so it has launched a number of initiatives to ensure that EVs don’t overwhelm the state’s electric utility infrastructure. 

Southern California Edison has launched a $436 million program to install 38,000 electric car chargers over the next five years. The program will incentivize smart charging during the day when solar energy is at its peak, and power is cheapest as a result. 

But there are other innovative solutions being developed by several start-ups, which could help. L-Charge, for example, has developed a charging station that’s off the grid entirely and can charge 100 km (roughly 60 miles) in just 5-10 minutes. The company has developed both a stationary and mobile version of its chargers. The stationary version can be located in conventional locations, but the mobile version can actually travel around a city and charge vehicles on demand.

Meanwhile, Amazon-backed startup Span has developed a smart electrical panel, capable of being paired with a Level 2 EV charger. Span panel can be paired with Amazon’s voice recognition interface, Alexa. This integration will make it easier for homeowners to identify the largest power users in the home at any given time. In turn, that could help balance the energy load and charge EVs only when there’s spare electricity capacity. 

In many areas, tapping into the grid means charging an EV with fossil fuel-generated power. But the mobile charging station developed by L-Charge, which runs on relatively low-emission liquefied natural gas (LNG) or hydrogen, also offers a solution that doesn’t involve additional strain on the grid. This is an important innovation in a world in which demands on the grid are expected to grow rapidly over the next decade.

In the long run, electric vehicles may both accelerate the shift to renewable energy and help stabilize the grid. Many homeowners will increasingly rely on solar power they generate themselves to charge their EVs, and this could displace significant fossil fuel power sources over the next decade.

But if this transition is going to proceed on an aggressive schedule, the Biden administration’s plan will need to be supplemented by investment in faster-charging stations and in bolstering the electrical grid or developing off-grid solutions.

By Robert Rapier

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  • Mamdouh Salameh on January 05 2022 said:
    The biggest challenges facing not only President Biden’s electric vehicle (EVs) infrastructure plan but also the future of EVs at large are price, range, charging points, speed of charging and above all the need for global electricity expansion.

    The greatest contributor to the price is the battery, which could account for a significant portion of the cost of an EV. The dominant force in battery-powered cars is the costly lithium ion technology, the same used in laptops and mobile phones.

    The second and most significant public concern about EVs is range. EVs with a range of 250-300 miles remain positively expensive for many, costing between $70,000 and $100,000.

    The ease of charging and also the availability of charging points are always on EV drivers’ minds particularly when they are embarking on a long journey of hundreds of miles. Therefore, it is not surprising that 18% of EV drivers and 20% of plug-in buyers in California are switching back to gasoline cars. It currently takes up to two hours to charge a car for a full range of 250 miles. According to a recent AAA survey, 63% of Americans cited “not enough places to charge” as a reason not to purchase an EV. While many EV owners can charge their cars at home, they can’t yet recharge their vehicles with the ease and speed of gas stations. They need new fast-charging points.

    Still, range, charging time and price are only temporary teething problems for EVs. Technology will sooner or later resolve them. However, the real challenge facing a deeper penetration of EVs into the global transport system is the realization that oil is irreplaceable now or ever.
    The other is the need for global expansion of electricity generation costing trillions of dollars to be able to charge the supposedly millions of EVs that will be on the roads. How would this expansion be sourced: by solar, nuclear or hydrocarbons?

    There is extraordinary hype about EVs by the media. But when Akio Toyoda, the President of Toyota, the world’s biggest car company, says there is too much hype surrounding EVs and also notes that the electricity needed to charge electric cars would strain grids and increase carbon emissions, the world should listen attentively.

    Even the innovative L-charge isn’t a long-term solution for charging points. There isn’t enough global LNG production to charge the millions of EVs that they will supposedly be on the roads by 2040.

    And whilst EVs are benefiting from evolving technologies, ICEs are equally benefiting from the evolving motor technology. As a result, ICEs are not only getting more environmentally-friendly but they are also able to outperform EVs in range, price, reliability and efficiency.

    EVs are going to face an uphill battle against ICEs. And while they are bound to get a share of the global transport system, they will never prevail over ICEs. As a result, ICEs will continue to be the dominant means of transport throughout the 21st century and far beyond.

    Dr Mamdouh G Salameh
    International Oil Economist
    Visiting Professor of Energy Economics at ESCP Europe Business School, London
  • independence01776 d on January 07 2022 said:
    The biggest challenge (only in the US) is politics. Lots of folks elected to office in DC are beholden to the fossil fuel businesses that pay for their elections. The public is quickly moving past the era of big oil. It will be a few more years before politics catch up. In the US 40% say they are likely to buy an EV with as their next vehicle. The reasons are simple: 1) Save lots of money on operation and maintenance cost, get a better, safer, quieter car with more acceleration, with more room, storage, and comfort.

    The current challenge for EVs doesn't involve the government. It's simply a supply chain issue as EV sales double every year and supply tries to keep up. This is for the short-term keeping prices higher than they otherwise would be as demand outstrips supply. But the US has 13 giga factories being built for battery production, the world has around 40 under construction. The major automakers are building similar amounts of factories to produce EVs. All have announced hundreds of billions to be spent over the next decade to transition to EVs. In the meantime, the public delays buying their next vehicle, not wanting to purchase an antiquated ICE vehicle that will have little resell value once it leaves the dealer's lot.

    We are fast approaching price parity between EVs and ICE. The average new ICE vehicle sells for near 38k in the US. EVs are now priced on average about 10 to 15% higher than comparable ICE vehicles, but the lower cost for operation and maintenance now make them the more economical choice. In the luxury sedan market, BEVs are cheaper to purchase, without any incentives, than comparable ICE vehicles.

    So for the next few years we have to wait for supply to catch up and people are doing so. They clearly understand the value proposition. Its known as the Osbourne effect, where people hold off purchasing something waiting for the thing they want as a replacement to arrive. Auto sales of ICE vehicles peaked a few years ago. They are still down 30% in the US. They are waiting for EVs to arrive, such as the Ford F150 E, the Silverado, the CT and countless other models recently developed and soon reaching volume production over the next couple of years. Vehicles already sold out for years as the public demand cannot be satiated.

    The impact to oil is already occurring. Investment in new drilling in areas where oil production costs are higher than OPEC/Russian oil/gas is waning. The US and Canada show limited expansion coming out of the pandemic with levels significantly below prior highs, even though we have returned to prices per barrel last seen in 2014. Investors are no longer willing to take the risk, now that the replacement of ICE vehicles with better, cheaper, cleaner, safer, is knocking at the door.

    Likely in just another decade no one will be buying an ICE vehicle at all. Norway went from 100% ICE to 95% EV in less than 10 years. The rest of Europe is now following the same path. China is right behind the EU. And the US lags, because 1 or gas prices though high, are lower and our preference for larger vehicles, pickups, large SUV's means we have to wait for the next iteration of battery technology recently commercialized to reach full scale production in order to facilitate the millions who wish to buy an electric truck or large SUV.
  • independence01776 d on January 07 2022 said:
    P.S. Bought a used EV 3 years ago and added solar to our roof and now save around $3,500 a year on energy cost. The car, a cheap 2015 Leaf, we've had for 3 years and driven over 20,000 miles at a total cost for maintenance and operation of $245 dollars (rotate tires, plug a slow leak in one of the tire, 2 annual checkups). We've reduced our consumption of gas and natural gas by 80%. Still use natural gas for stove and hot water, and our long distance car which is a Camry. Everything else is electric powered off our solar, or green electricity supplied by our CEC.

    Once EV's with V2H are available, we may save the last $1,000 dollars each year we still pay for utility supplied natural gas and filling up our by replacing our Camry with a nice Ford F150 that not only runs off of solar power, but can power our home on days when our solar panels do not produce enough electricity.

    Estimated savings for energy over the 25 year life of our solar panels is around $60,000. We could continue to give that money to oil businesses and monopoly utilities, but we choose not too.

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