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WHAT THE WORLD NEEDS IS AN ELECTRIC MODEL T

Posted to Esri in the Digital Utility Group
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Bill Meehan's picture
Director, Utility Solutions Esri

William (Bill) Meehan is the Director of Utility Solutions for Esri. He is responsible for business development and marketing Esri’s geospatial technology to global electric and gas utilities.A...

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  • Jul 25, 2022
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I built my first model car at the age of seven - a Ford Model T. I fantasized about buying a real one someday. But I never did. Ford introduced the Model T in 1908. The US was in the early stages of a major transition from horse-powered to motor-powered vehicles. Up until that time, motor vehicles were pricy. Less than three people per thousand owned one. So while the T had many advances in its design and engineering, the biggest innovation came from the manufacturing process itself. Ford pioneered mass production, which drove the cost of the Ts cheapest model to under 300 dollars or about $9500 in today’s dollars.

The enormous demand for this simple, inexpensive car greatly accelerated the transition to motorization. It created a huge demand for gas. Fueling stations were rare. According to author David A. Fryxell, in his piece on the history of gas stations, it wasn’t until 1913 that the first filling station opened. After that, the number of filling stations mushroomed.

The EV Market Similarities

Today less than two people per thousand own an EV. EVs are pricy. There are very few high-capacity charging stations. Seems like1908 all over again.

Someone needs to create an Electric Model T, devoid of expensive options and frills, to get the EV ball really rolling. Then, it needs to perform innovative marketing to attract the millions of people who only use cars for getting from point a to b without fuss at a low cost. This effort will take innovative manufacturing and creative packaging. With today’s inflation, high fuel prices, and the looming climate disaster just around the corner, the market certainly is poised for another Model T.

EVs Must Compete on Cost and Convenience

Just as the Model T created a huge demand for gas stations, the EV Model T will create a rapid demand for places to go for a quick bolt of electrons.

The benchmark for people with gas-powered cars is that it takes them no longer than 10 or 15 minutes to fill up. Once fueled, they can drive about 300 miles. If we are going to see widespread adoption of EVs, they must be able compete on fuel and first cost. Let’s assume our new Electric Model T will do that. But the EV must also compete on convenience as well.

The only way to reach a 10-to-15-minute charge time and a 300 range is through the widespread deployment of high-capacity DC charging stations. These monster devices can deliver up to 350kW of power.

The Infrastructure and Jobs Act recently funded 7.5 billion dollars for 500,000 charging stations over the next five years. While that seems like a lot of money, it’s just a start. 7.5 billion dollars divided by 500,000 chargers results in $15,000 per charging station. The cost of a single fast charger is more than ten times that cost, not including installation and utility costs. The best that funding can do is to create a network of level 2 chargers. This will not get us to the convenience we have come to expect with gas cars.

Utilities, entrepreneurs, energy companies, states and municipalities will have to step up to fill the gap.

The Good News/Bad News – GIS Will Map the Way

The good news for utilities is that sales of electricity will skyrocket. The bad news is that such a rollout of EVs will severely stretch the limits of the grid, both for the in-home charging and high-capacity stations.

Location technology in the form of GIS is key to figuring out where to site chargers and what upgrades to the grid the utilities will have to perform while balancing the needs of society. And keeping costs reasonable. The IIJA demands that any new infrastructure investment be equitable. GIS also provides demographic insights into where and when the new cheaper EVs will arrive.

The Grid Impact?

In-home chargers, even though they are limited in their ability to charge quickly, still demand a substantial load on the local grid. For example, a charger might demand a continuous power use of 10kW. That’s the same as a 100 100-watt light bulbs! This much power might double a home’s normal electric usage. If every house on the block were to charge their EVs simultaneously, this could greatly exceed the local grid’s ability. Fortunately, the GIS accurately models all elements of the grid. The GIS helps determine in advance the potential impact on local transformers and wires. GIS models present and future demands and can predict what actions will be required and when on a block-by-block level.

The just as tricky problem will be the rollout of high-capacity chargers. There are about 120,000 gas stations nationwide. Assuming five gas pumps per station translates into 600,000 pumps. We will need that many charging ports. Here is the math. Say an average EV battery is rated at 60kW hours. That would take 60kW to charge it fully in one hour or 240kW for 15 minutes. So with five ports per station, that’s a big 1250 kW demand per location. Adding this demand in these many locations will require significant planning, electrical network analysis, engineering, design, and construction for the utility supply alone. GIS advanced network modeling along with data about land use, equity, zoning, rights of ways, the environment, and a host of other factors will guide utilities in this massive undertaking.

We’ve done this before with the introduction of the horseless carriage. Now we have to do it again. But, at least now we have the tools such as GIS to guide us.

So maybe I’ll finally get a brand-new electric model T to fulfill my childhood dream.

Learn how GIS can help utilities plan for future network impacts here.

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Mark Allen's picture
Mark Allen on Aug 15, 2022

I really like this concept. The trick, of course, is to get the initial cost of the car or small truck down to about $10,000 to $15,000. To do this, I see a manual transmission, no air conditioning, but a heater is necessary, no navigation tools or advanced electronics beyond tracking battery health and similar, simple seating designs, advanced body design to account for safety and weight, simple suspension system, and so on. The biggest problem will be meeting the current road safety requirements in the US. It also has to be able to stand up to the poor state of the road systems in many parts of the nation. That said, I believe strongly that there is a nacent market for a rugged, simple car or small truck that does one thing - get you there and back. I would buy a supremely dumbed down small truck in this price range. Especially if it is of a modular body design I can tweak, such as changing it from a truck to a sedan, different doors or none at all, etc. Mass producing a basic model the customer can buy accessories for would mean that the core model could almost be sold at cost, the money can be made on the accessories. If it's electric, when on the road, if I can charge it in less than 20 minutes I'm all in. Finally, it does not need to be able to travel at speeds much greater than 70 mph, in my day to day I rarely am on the highway. 

Bill Meehan's picture
Bill Meehan on Aug 16, 2022

You and I are on the same wavelength. Even if we get to just under 20 grand, that will still spur EV growth and universal acceptance. People will argue that Americans love their big SUV's and pickup trucks and that they will never embrace a small, simple car. Recall that in the mid 60's when cars were getting bigger and more powerful,  the VW bug came along, and people bought them in droves. They created a sort of anti-big car cult. If marketed properly, these new generations of configurable T-like EVs could be very popular. I love your idea of a vehicle that you can configure. Recall that the model T used the same body for a roadster, a sedan, and a pickup truck. I'm seeing some companies building these small city cars with removable batteries you can charge in your house.  We'll see.  Thanks, Mark, for your thoughtful comments.

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