On the Road to an Electrified Transportation Sector

On the Road to an Electrified Transportation Sector

This piece was originally published in the January 2018 issue of electroindustry.

Patrick Hughes, Senior Director, Government Relations and Strategic Initiatives, and Steve Griffith, PMP, Industry Director, NEMA

NEMA Members manufacture the products that generate, transmit, and utilize electricity. Therefore, as electricity use rises, more electrical equipment is needed to meet demand.

There are multiple reasons the pace of electrification should be accelerated: environmental advocates support electrification processes as a way to reduce fossil fuel emissions; electric utilities support increased electricity demand as a way to support business models that rely on investments in new equipment; and electrical equipment manufacturers support switching to electricity, as it results in a way to increase demand for their products.

According to a report by the United States Energy Information Administration (EIA), however, electricity use has been growing at a slow rate when averaged over the last decade as a result of improvements in energy efficiency, increased adoption of distributed energy resources, slowing population growth, and economic shifts toward less electrically intensive industries. While the EIA projects that electricity demand will grow at less than one percent through 2030, its annual outlook depicts a small uptick in electricity demand after 2030 as electricity consumption increases in four sectors: residential, commercial, industrial, and transportation.

While these four all present opportunities for NEMA Members to provide products and services to transition the U.S. to a more electrified economy, transportation represents the best opportunity in the near term. The transportation sector consumes the most energy in the U.S., making up 25 percent of annual energy use, almost all of which comes from petroleum-based fuels. Within this sector, light-duty vehicles (like passenger cars) consume the most energy.

Capitalizing on Opportunities

Electric vehicle (EV) alternatives to internal combustion engine–driven light-duty vehicles have been fully commercialized. They currently account for one percent of U.S. auto sales (four percent in California), and while there are some remaining barriers such as range limitations and the current cost of electric batteries, it is only a question of time before EV sales eclipse conventional automobiles. Looking ahead, we can envision a day when autonomous EVs will chauffeur us around safely and emission-free, refueling wirelessly between rides.

Electrification of the transportation sector doesn’t stop with vehicles. Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Airport has converted a number of its ground-support vehicles from diesel to electric and has installed the requisite charging infrastructure.[1] Ports, too, can be electrified. Some diesel equipment at the Georgia Ports Authority, including ship-to-shore cranes, has been electrified and is reducing emissions and lowering operating costs.[2]

Through its recently completed 2017 Strategic Initiative on Connected Transportation, NEMA is facilitating electrification across the transportation sector. It will advance the development and adoption of connected, autonomous, and electrified transportation through industry-led standards and guidance, policy advocacy, business information and intelligence, and other areas of industry collaboration to help NEMA Members capitalize on an emerging industry.

[1] https://www.southerncompany.com/innovation/electric-transportation.html

[2] Ibid.

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