Utility Industry: We Need to Promote Electric Vehicles in Order to ‘Remain Viable’

The Edison Electric Institute, the power industry's main trade group, is calling on utilities to better promote electric cars in order to stimulate demand for electricity and help reverse trends that threaten the long-term viability of some in the industry.

Without a strategy to help connect more vehicles to the grid, utilities will continue to face slow growth and stagnant revenues, warns EEI in a new report. The organization calls electric vehicles a “quadruple win” for power companies looking to boost demand, find new ways to interact with customers, support environmental goals and mandates, and reduce operating costs through electrifying their own fleets.

“The bottom line is that the electric utility industry needs the electrification of the transportation sector to remain viable and sustainable in the long term,” conclude the authors.

Some leading investor-owned utilities have rolled out programs to support charging stations, created pilots to test integration of new vehicle-to-grid technologies and have supported studies to model how lots of electric vehicles would interact with the distribution system. But there hasn't yet been a strategic, industry-wide effort to support the electrification of transportation as a way to boost demand.

To understand why EEI is now calling for more electric vehicles, consider where the industry is headed. As the chart below illustrates, growth in retail demand has come to a virtual standstill.

At the same time, the states with the biggest solar PV markets are seeing that technology slow electricity demand growth even further. This is adding additional pressure on utilities (creating borderline disruption in some markets), as third-party developers capture much of the value from developing solar.

“Stagnant growth, rising costs, and a need for even greater infrastructure investment represent major challenges to the utility industry,” writes EEI. “Today’s electric utilities need a new source of load growth — one that fits within the political, economic and social environment.”

Part of the answer is electric vehicles, which could both grow electricity sales and help balance a future grid made up of much more distributed renewables.

Thus far, utilities have had a conflicted relationship with electric vehicles. Although sales continue to grow, consumer demand has been relatively low compared to initial estimates. That has prevented power companies from investing heavily in charging infrastructure. There are also legitimate concerns about how electric cars and trucks will impact circuits on local grids.

However, the potential upside is enormous. If the two charts above have utilities worried, the chart below should have them excited about the future.

As Opower pointed out in a recent analysis, owners of electric cars use nearly 60 percent more electricity than the average customer. And customers who own both a solar system and an electric car consume roughly the same amount of electricity from the grid as an average customer — offsetting much of the excess solar that utilities must buy back through net metering. More

 

 

The Sunswift eVe solar-powered car broke a 26-year-old land speed record for electric vehicles

The Sunswift eVe solar-powered car broke a 26-year-old land speed record for electric vehicles on Wednesday at the Australian Automotive Research Center in Victoria. While the record still has to be ratified by the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile, it would make eVe the fastest electric car to ever compete a 500 km set distance course by a significant margin, Gizmodo reported. The previous record, set in 1988, was an average speed of 73 kilometers per hour; the Sunswift eVe reached 100 km per hour average over the 500 km course.

Sunswift eVe, designed and built by students at the University of New South Wales, seeks to overcome the traditional obstacles that have impeded solar-powered cars, namely, offering both speed and range in the same vehicle.

“There are many solar cars out there with a long range, and many other solar cars capable of even higher speeds,” Rob Ireland, business team leader at Sunswift, told International Business Times. “However, we’re trying to do something ground-breaking and overcome both.”

The zero-emission solar and battery storage electric vehicle is capable of covering 800 km on a single charge and has a top speed of 140 km per hour (87 miles per hour). The car’s solar panels have an 800-watt output and when the sun isn’t shining, eVe relies on its battery pack, reducing drivers’ range anxiety. The car’s motor, “supplied by Australian national science agency CSIRO, operates at 97 percent efficiency, meaning eVe consumes as much power as a kitchen toaster,” according to IB Times.

For Wednesday’s record attempt, the solar panels on the roof and hood were used to charge the battery, but were covered for the actual run, as the attempt had to be completed on a single charge.

While the Sunswift eVe is not fully road legal, the team believes that isn’t far out of reach, telling Renew Economy they hope to have the vehicle on Australian roads within the year as “a symbol for a new era of sustainable driving.” And Ireland said the practicality of the two-seat, four-wheel car is unmatched among solar-powered vehicles.

In the run-up to their attempt at the land speed record, project director and third-year engineering student Hayden Smith explained to Renew Economy why it was so significant. “Five hundred kilometers is pretty much as far as a normal person would want to drive in a single day,” Smith said. “It’s another demonstration that one day you could be driving our car.” More