What does the trend towards electric transportation mean for load management?
image credit: Photo 57910175 © Sergiy Palamarchuk -
“To meet the climate crisis, we must put millions of new electric vehicles on America’s roads. It's time to build public charging infrastructure powered by clean energy and make it available in all parts of this country.”
That’s a recent tweet from Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, presidential candidate, and Biden’s new nominee for Secretary of Transportation. It should come as no surprise that Buttigieg wants to prioritize electric vehicles, after all, EV’s are a big part of his future boss’s platform:
“[Biden] will ensure the tax credit is designed to target middle class consumers and, to the greatest extent possible, to prioritize the purchase of vehicles made in America. And, he will work to develop a new fuel economy standard that goes beyond what the Obama-Biden administration put in place.”
But how much of an impact can a Biden presidency have on EV adoption given the current state of partisanship in the nation, you may be asking yourself. While it’s true our government has been mostly gridlocked for sometime, and Trump’s administration would be vehemently opposed to any sort of policy intended to facilitate EV use, more moderate republicans have recently shown a willingness to cooperate on progressive energy initiatives. For example, the second COVID stimulus package extends production tax credits for solar and wind, and promises development enhancements for clean energy tech. The package also includes provisions to the senate’s American Energy Innovation Act.
Even if the federal government can’t move the needle much when it comes to electric transportation, states can and they’re already trying. Recently, a handful of North Eastern states and the District of Columbia signed an MOU to start the Transportation and Climate Initiative Program (TCI-P), a policy initiative to reduce transportation emissions. More states are expected to sign on in the coming months and years. Basically, TCI-P requires large gasoline and diesel suppliers to purchase allowances for the pollution they cause. Revenue generated by the allowances, expected to be around $300 million annually, will be invested in transportation modernization and other related global warming mitigation efforts.
As the government ramps up efforts to promote electric transportation, market forces are already pushing our society in that direction. According to recent statements coming out of the Electric Power Research Institute, it’s possible that costs for battery packs will drop from about $120-200/kWh to $80kWh by 2030. If that happens, EVs may boast cheaper cost of ownership ratings than their fossil fueled counterparts.
A significantly more electrified national transportation fleet spells trouble for our utility operators, especially as they’re tasked with pulling from an ever larger portfolio of pesky renewable sources. As we saw this past summer in California, renewables simply aren’t as easy to scale as traditional power sources, unfortunately. Better and cheaper batteries will help, but they are no silver bullet. In the near term, utilities will have to improve both residential and commercial response programs, while also pushing energy efficiency technologies to customers.
Operating wizardry can only do so much, however. We will simply need more generation. Obviously, new coal or gas generation would defeat the purpose of going electric, but an over reliance on renewables is unwise. Nuclear makes the most sense: Totally scalable and clean, with an almost perfect record environmentally. Yes, I know about Chernobyl and the 3-mile island, but those were relatively minor instances in the long history of nuclear.
While I’m confident better EE and response programs and generation will improve over the next decade, it is possible the coming EV revolution will be less strenuous on our grid than we think. Stephen Baker, a co-author of the book Hop Skip Go: How the Mobility Revolution is Transforming our Lives (Harper Collins, 2019), warned that we shouldn’t assume electric transportation will be used in exactly the same way:
“...people tend to assume that new technologies will simply follow the patterns of the old. For example, today you drive around in a gasoline-powered machine, tomorrow it will be electric, and a decade from now autonomous. But you’ll keep following the same itineraries.
This isn’t this case. In the next stage of networked mobility, transportation should be far more efficient. Most of us have cars that are only in service 5% of the time. The rest of the time they’re parked. The idea for networked (and eventually autonomous) cars is to squeeze much more production out of them, most likely as a shared resource. This could dramatically reduce our consumption of energy. Then again, if transportation is cheap and efficient, we might use it much more capriciously, perhaps sending an autonomous car across town for tacos or croissants.”
Let’s hope Stephen is right.