Get Ready! Electric Vehicles are Here to Stay.
It’s hard to watch a televised sporting event or surf the web without seeing an advertisement for electrified vehicles. There are different levels of electrification. Traditional hybrid electric vehicles (HEV) are powered primarily by gasoline with battery supplement using regenerative charging. These HEVs have been around for years, but are quickly phasing out. Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) are becoming more and more popular. PHEVs use a much larger battery system over a traditional hybrid and can drive the vehicle typically 20 to 50 miles before the gasoline engine kicks in. PHEVs are considered a bridge technology which will last through 2030 or 2035 before full battery electric vehicles (BEVs) start to dominate the market. You are probably familiar with manufacturers like Tesla that only produce BEVs, but long-standing auto manufacturers are now progressing their BEV lineup. Hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEV) also exist, but are less common at this time. For the purpose of this post, we will focus primarily on PHEVs and BEVs which we will generally reference as EVs.
Advancements in battery technologies to improve mileage range per charge, coupled with an overall global climate goal of decreased carbon emissions, has led to an increase in EVs on the road. The United States still lags behind Europe and China in EV sales, however, EVs are steadily gaining acceptance in the U.S. The fastest growth in electrified vehicle sales (all levels of electrification) has been in Europe, with a compound annual growth rate of 60% from 2016 to 2020, compared within increases of 36% in China and only 17% in the U.S.¹ Ford, GM and Stellantis have set goals to convert 40% or more of their manufacturing to EVs by 2030, with GM projecting that it will stop selling gas and diesel vehicles by 2035.
We continue to live in changing times – community leaders and businesses need to prepare for this significant shift in the automobile industry. Below are some common questions about EVs to help communities get ready.
How do charging stations work and what infrastructure is needed?
EV batteries need to be charged using charging stations. As various government climate policies encourage electrified vehicle use, an expansion of charging stations will be necessary. Like the vehicles themselves, charging stations also come in different levels – Levels 1, 2 and 3. Level 1 typically uses 120-volt power and takes all day (and/or night) for a full charge. Level 2 typically uses 240 volts and recharges an EV typically within a few hours. Level 3 is direct current (DC) which is fast charging, like you see with Tesla Supercharging Stations. Level 3 chargers typically recharges a vehicle in under an hour. Level 1 and 2 charging systems can be found at homes as well as public or private facilities. Due to the infrastructure involved, Level 3 charging is reserved for public or private commercial facilities.
More and more communities are implementing climate smart green initiatives, and EV charging stations can play an important role. There are funding programs (see below) to help offset the cost of the charging stations. Charging stations are being worked into public projects such as downtown revitalization initiatives, town hall renovations, and public parking improvements. In the U.S., most public charging stations are still found in parking lots and parking garages. In Europe, curbside charging is commonly found incorporated into the many streetscapes.
Will gas stations go away? Experts predict that gas stations will continue to be needed for decades; however, their use and configuration will likely transform. Private convenience store and restaurant owners may need to convert their facilities to include EV charging, while also providing various amenities for the public while they wait.
Some key infrastructure necessities that public and private facilities must consider include:
Upgrades to electrical service to provide adequate power to run the charging systems. The magnitude of the service upgrade can vary greatly depending on the specific site parameters and local utility requirements. For larger initiatives, a power systems study may be required;
Communications and software programs to track system use and implement electrical use billing (point of sale); and
There also needs to be proper planning for the location of the charging stations, proper traffic flow, physical barrier protections, and snow management (for the northern climates). Manufacturers still have not standardized vehicle charging port locations so the configuration of the charging stations must be well thought out.
What are the effects to the power grid and power needs?
Studies continue in many countries to determine how EVs and other electricity focused initiatives (e.g. heating) may affect the power grid. Initial indications show that the power grid has been able to evolve and keep up with the EV charging demands to date. However, the evolution of the electrified vehicles is still in its infancy with EVs accounting for less than 3% of global car sales in 2019.¹ Simply put, the highest energy demands are yet to come. For instance, California has the greatest number of EVs on the road. The California Energy Commission experts state that California’s power grid can support 5 million electrified vehicles² on the road; however, as of December 2020, approximately 635,000 of the over 28 million vehicles registered in California are currently EVs.
The U.S. power grid faces some challenges to keep up with increasing EV charging demands. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) 2021 Infrastructure Report Card, the U.S. received a grade of C minus for energy infrastructure. Many improvements are needed to make the power grid more resilient and reliable. As outlined in the ASCE Report Card, the majority of the nation’s grid is aging, with some components over a century old — far past their 50-year life expectancy — and others, including 70% of transmission and distribution lines, are well into the second half of their lifespans. Significant funding is needed to strengthen our grid to be able to handle the future increased demand.
Historically, power consumption has been fairly predictable with more power consumed during daytime hours followed by less power consumed during the nighttime hours. Power consumption has also followed a more seasonal use depending on HVAC needs and climate zones. The increase in EV use may change this predictability. Some believe that more power use will transfer to the evenings/nights, shifting the peak or prolonging the peak use. Smart charging is also advancing, wherein vehicle charging systems can be set to monitor power grid use and charge at optimal times to reduce grid loads.
In short, the effects on the power grid will continue to be monitored and managed to the optimum extent, with improvements and expansion to existing and future infrastructure to meet future increased demands. These types of improvements must continually be reviewed and incorporated into community capital improvement planning and projects when necessary.
As mentioned above, there will be an increased power demand to our grid as electrified vehicles become more prevalent on the roads. In a global effort to obtain carbon neutrality, there is also a significant shift towards renewable energy power generation versus power generation from fossil fuels. These types of local, distributed generation projects may help offset the EV charging demand on the grid. As such, many communities have been approached by developers to install solar, wind and biomass projects. Community leaders must weigh the pros and cons of these projects for their constituents as they maneuver leases, power purchase agreements, zoning changes, and long term land use.
What about larger fleet vehicles?
There continues to be electrification advancements for both medium duty and heavy duty vehicles. In medium duty vehicles, there are a variety of HEVs, PHEVs and EVs available. There are numerous HEV options for heavy duty vehicles currently available.
Some transit authorities in the U.S. have started to phase out their diesel and natural gas powered buses for battery electric buses which are projected to obtain 200 miles per full charge. Charging of these larger vehicles will take place with Level 3 charging stations at night along with some supplemental on-route charging. Similar advancements are coming for school buses. Developments are also moving forward to include EVs for waste collection vehicles and other public works vehicles.
Are there funding programs?
Municipal and private entities alike will be able to find funding available to assist in offsetting the cost of purchasing all levels of electrified vehicles, as well as charging station infrastructure. The new Federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act allocates $7.5 billion to expand electric vehicle charging infrastructure alone, with monies anticipated to be appropriated by States for expansion of EV charging networks. EV charging funding estimates from the White House Fact Sheets include $53 million for Connecticut, $19 million for Maine, $63 million for Maryland, $63 million for Massachusetts, $104 million for New Jersey, $175 million for New York and $171 million for Pennsylvania. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act also establishes $5 billion of federal funding for EV school buses and establishes $3 billion over 5 years for states for battery processing.
Specific links to state funding programs related to EVs includes:
There is no doubt that electric vehicles of all types are here to stay. The environmental benefits, even when accounting for battery development and recycling, stand out. Batteries will need to be recycled; however, studies continue on post vehicle use of batteries, including the use of the batteries in energy storage facilities. In the future, the energy stored in vehicles can be utilized in emergencies with vehicle-to-grid or vehicle-to-home technologies. Future technologies also include advancements in hydrogen FCEVs, which in the long term are predicted to be the most efficient and even more beneficial for the environment.
Barton & Loguidice (B&L) has successfully aided public and private entities with grant applications, infrastructure improvements, and downtown revitalization efforts focused on various levels of EV charging. Our team of community planners and energy experts stand ready to guide your organization to a successful EV program including public education, planning, site layout, electrical service upgrades and utility coordination, equipment selection and implementation. B&L is committed to supporting EV programs and is currently implementing EV charging stations for company and employee use at select B&L office locations.
For more information, please contact:
Timothy W. Bolan, P.E., Practice Area Leader – Electrical
Kenneth M. Knutsen, P.E., Practice Area Leader – Sustainable Planning & Design
1. International Energy Agency, Global EV Outlook 2021.
2. California Electrical Commission Website – Electric vehicles include hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.