Challenges and Opportunities in Electrified Transportation

Challenges and Opportunities in Electrified Transportation

This piece was originally published in the May/June 2020 issue of electroindustry.

Electric vehicle charging infrastructure is needed to meet growing demand.

by John DeBoer, Head of Siemens eMobility and Future Grid Business Unit

Mr. DeBoer leads the North American eMobility and Future Grid business for Siemens and is a member of the global eMobility management team.

The energy landscape is shifting with the rise of renewables and decentralized energy, shaping a new energy era that is changing the way we think about electrification. The overall trend is toward decarbonization—driven by regulation as well as by public opinion and action.

In order to meet ambitious emission reduction goals, solutions will need to be pursued beyond changes in the power generation mix and at the utility level. For example, electrifying the transportation sector can significantly impact greenhouse gas emissions. The transportation sector makes up 35 percent of total U.S. energy-related emissions.

Fortunately, many of the technologies that will help reduce CO2 already exist and are deployed across the country. The difficulty lies in how, when, and where these technologies are put into use and what infrastructure will be needed to support them.

Electric Mobility Momentum

Electric vehicle (EV) growth continues at a rapid pace and is now joined by the electrification of almost every mode of transportation—cars and buses, truck fleets, and even bicycles. In fact, according to the International Energy Agency, “In 2018, the global electric car fleet exceeded 5.1 million, up 2 million from the previous year and almost doubling the number of new electric car sales.” Looking ahead, McKinsey estimates that EVs, which  currently  make up less than 1 percent of the global fleet, could reach 20 percent by 2030 for cars and 12 percent for commercial vehicles. In addition, there are now more than 200 cities in the United States that are implementing the electrification of buses and transport.

While it’s certainly an exciting time for the EV market, the simple fact is that the U.S. charging infrastructure is falling behind in terms of supporting such growth. The increasing number of EVs  poses new challenges for distribution grid operators, fleets, gas stations, and other charging infrastructure operators.

The International Council on Clean Transportation recently reported that the expected EV growth will require an investment of more than $2.2 billion in charging infrastructure across the United States’ 100 most populous metropolitan areas by 2025. The report notes that “Charging infrastructure deployment will have to grow at about 20 percent per year to meet the 2025 targets.”

Which came first—the vehicles or the charging stations? This was once a popular industry version of the chicken or the egg argument, but it’s now an obsolete and futile dispute. For consumers, the lack of charging infrastructure and the associated concern of running out of charge on the road are some of the main reasons for not purchasing EVs. Others include the lack of availability of the chargers.

The demand for electric transportation can grow only as fast as the charging infrastructure enables it to. To address the charging challenge, and create an EV- ready environment, public and private sectors must collaborate at the local level and tear down barriers so that utilities can work directly with cities and extend some of the grid value back to the transit authority.

Where there’s local investment, there’s local reward.

Electrified Transportation Ecosystem

According to Deloitte, “Cities may not be able to achieve their [smart city] goals without collaborating with their utilities”—and that goes for deploying electrified transportation initiatives as well. It’s important to build the right partnerships to collaborate on the successful deployment and expansion of EV infrastructure.

Cities, transit authorities, automakers, facility managers, property developers, corporate fleet operators, and regulators all want to enable the electrical infrastructure to support greener transportation, and utilities need to provide a modern grid that can support it. This is creating a new electrified transportation ecosystem, one where once disparate entities now have to work together to provide a single solution.

One leader in driving EV adoption and infrastructure deployment is California. Most recently, the Public Utilities Commission chose to further its EV infrastructure programs by approving $54 million for local utilities like PG&E, SCE, SDG&E, and Liberty Utilities to invest in EV chargers at schools, parks, and beaches. The state is also developing a Transportation Electrification Framework to guide utilities in future programs and accelerate transport electrification.

Corporations and campuses that are deploying smart technology in their buildings to reduce energy costs and meet sustainability goals are now incorporating EVs and chargers into their plans. In fact, charging infrastructure is becoming one of the key assets in integrating a building to make it more effective, as their resources can be tapped for enhanced energy efficiency. EV chargers were once independent islands in the middle of a parking lot, but property developers and facility managers are now recognizing the benefits of incorporating them within their smart building deployments.

While a big undertaking, these examples prove that it’s possible—and that it needs to start now. We need to provide cities with the tools to create infrastructure plans that can realistically support their electric transportation goals. We need to continue active deployment of charging infrastructure to lay the groundwork for continued growth. We need to support public and private fleet managers to build charging depots holistically. We need to increase the role of electric utilities to bolster the power grid and help advance common sense Standards. And we need to engage building operators and facility managers as they deploy smart technologies in their buildings.

Though the past decade has been one of significant growth for the EV market, expect 2020 to be the year the industry comes together and focuses on building those private-public partnerships to support and execute the deployment of electrified transportation infrastructure in cities across the country. The time is now, and we’re in full acceleration mode in the EV market. ei

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