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Is Tesla the only automaker disrupting EV markets?

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Adoption of plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) has been much faster than hybrid vehicles this past year (Hybrids include the different combinations of drivetrain/battery configurations). Rocky Mountain International predicts that by 2050 half of the vehicles in the U.S. would be EVs, including fleets, which accounts to more than 150 million cars and light utility trucks. Each vehicle averages 3 kW charging draw and multiplying that by over 150 million vehicles would generate an huge load on the electric grid - an estimated twenty percent of the total 2050 U.S. installed electricity generation capacity. Further, vehicle charging may generate an unpredictable load at any given time of the day, resulting in peak-demand that would present grid management challenges.

At the SVForum Cleantech Breakfast Series on December 3rd, a panel of experts debated and discussed what’s happening today and the future of electric vehicles. Speakers includes Mark Platshon - Senior Advisor & Investment Partner, BMW i-Ventures and partner at Birchmere Ventures; John Suh - Hyundai Ventures; Eric Wesoff - Editor-in-Chief at Greentech Media; and moderator was Allison Leopold Tilley - Partner at Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP.

The electric charging sector refers to 'smart charging' versus 'convenience charging' (or 'straight forward' or 'dumb' charging), where an intelligent charger can provide better energy control to minimize impact on the grid. In convenience charging, drivers plug-in their EVs at their convenience, just like plugging an appliance or an electronic device at home. This draws electricity immediately, creating demand on the grid and doesn’t allow the grid operator to predict or control additional demand from EV charging. Smart charging enables a charge station to be controlled by the grid in real-time, where the grid manager can enable charging at the time slices where the loads and transmissions are low. Through communication protocols, smart charging vehicles can be controlled to charge at off-peak hours, or when there is untapped renewable energy supply, or when demand goes down during a time period in the day. Smart chargers also allow the user to override the control in times or situations that require an immediate charge.

The panelists discussed Tesla’s success story and its impact on the EV industry. Tesla Model S, BWM i-brand series, several Audi models, and Mercedes S series are in the same luxury category, however, Tesla Model S has sold more vehicles than the last 3 brands combined. Platshon said that BWM strategic focus is on the mega cities of the world, and not just California, which is Tesla’s successful playing territory.

Suh said that major automakers are interested in fuel cell technology, which is a different powertrain technology that runs on hydrogen. The generation of hydrogen is not the issue, but building the infrastructure for charging and developing the vehicles are the challenges ahead. Fuel cell is a relative newer technology versus electric/battery operated car.

What are the challenges in mass implementation of EVs?

  • Battery: Lithium Ion quality, supply and cost. Experts predict that in five years we will have newer, reliable, safer, and cheaper battery solutions.
  • Price: Making electric cars at the price range of under $20k is key in moving toward mass adoption. According to a new survey by Navigant Research, seventy-one percent of respondents indicated that they would pay for an electric car, which has comparable features to a gasoline operated vehicle, if the price was under $25k.
  • Consumer education: But price is not the only challenge automakers face - consumer education requires serious attention, as most adults are not familiar with EVs and what they offer, including charging options, accessibility, and process.
  • Distribution grid: Some of the panelists pointed out that the drawing electricity in EV charging and the impact of on the distribution grid is over blown. They explained that EV charging is not the first capacity challenge the utility industry is facing. In 1960's air conditioning was installed in many residencies, resulting in cooling homes and facilities at any time of the day, not necessarily at off-peak. Similarly, energy capacity has shifted when plasma TVs came on the market and people started buying several of them, plugging at home multiple TVs and using them concurrently. In this case, installation and operation of air-conditioning or TVs doesn’t need a permit from utilities, unlike the installation of a residential EV charger. Further, most EV owners charge their vehicles at night, i.e at off-peak time and the cumulative load on the grid is lesser than at peak time. The role of utilities is to monitor and plan upgrades as capacity changes.

What to expect in a five years time frame?

Battery technology with new materials will be a step up not only in capacity but also in safety. Another major game changer would be the autonomous driverless car, which would have a very favorable market. The autonomous vehicle addresses safety issues, would reduce the number of collisions, and help save lives. At the same time, while we are talking about EVs, cars are not the sector that revolutionizes mobility: in Europe and Asia, in particular China, electric bikes have exponential adoption rates. Electric scooters are also on a rapid acceleration. These two modes of electric mobility present a huge shift.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

1. Rocky Mountain International is an independent, non-partisan nonprofit that drives the efficient and restorative use of resources. Website: www.rmi.org

Projected EV stocks: http://www.rmi.org/RFGraph-US_projected_electric_vehicle_stocks

2. SVForum, a non-profit organization that is devoted to creating connections and providing education to the Silicon Valley ecosystem of innovators, entrepreneurs, and business professionals participating in emerging technologies.

Website: www.svforum.org (check for special membership promotion)

Events: https://svforum.org/calendar-node-field-event-date/month

3. Global Eletcric Vehicle Outlook - report by the Natural Group - natgrp.org

Download the report: http://natgrp.files.wordpress.com/2013/06/globalevoutlook_2013.pdf

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