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Published on January 7th, 2016 | by Guest Contributor

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EVs Are The New DeLorean In California’s “Back To The Future”

January 7th, 2016 by  

Originally published on EDF.
By Larissa Koehler

As any child of the ’80s knows, October 21, 2015 is “Back to the Future Day” – the day that the film’s protagonist, Marty McFly, travels to the future in his DeLorean. Though it would no doubt be useful to have access to flying cars (think of the traffic one could avoid), Californians are seeing increased access to something more practical: electric vehicles (EVs).

4756808765_d63b6077d4_zIn order to meet the state’s greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction goals, emissions from transportation – the sector most responsible for harmful pollution – need to be addressed. Enter Governor Brown’s zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) mandate, which aims to build enough infrastructure statewide to support one million clean vehicles by 2020, and put 1.5 million ZEVs on the road by 2025. With this executive order, we have a much better chance of ensuring a low-carbon future and effectively combatting climate change in California.

If we build it, they will come

To have a decent shot at meeting the governor’s goals, the state needs to start with charging infrastructure. Despite evolving battery technology, range anxiety is still one of the top deterrents for would-be EV buyers. So, putting more charging stations where drivers are likely to need them will help grow the market for these clean vehicles.

Thankfully, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) issued two proposed decisions on December 15th and December 23rd, giving Southern California Edison (SCE) and San Diego Gas and Electric (SDG&E) the opportunity to move forward with plans to increase charging infrastructure in their respective service territories. These decisions include modifications to the utilities’ original proposals – and SDG&E must still decide whether or not to accept the Commission’s modifications – but they nevertheless represent an important step in the journey to getting more EVs on the road.

Importantly, under these programs, SDG&E and SCE propose to grow the electric vehicles market in an intelligent way, by focusing on the following areas:

  • Charging stations at multi-unit dwellings and workplaces. Currently underserved in terms of charging infrastructure, it makes good sense for the utilities to focus on these areas. In addition, making workplaces a focal point helps to ensure EVs are charging at times when there is an abundance of solar on the electric grid (typically between the hours of 11 AM – 3 PM, when solar panels are most productive).
  • EVs as grid-balancing resources. Both SDG&E and SCE offer provisions in their programs that endeavor to discourage EV owners from charging at times of “peak,” or high energy demand, instead encouraging them to charge when renewable energy is plentiful. Of particular note, SDG&E includes a dynamic electricity tariff that, with the addition of a smartphone app, gives drivers an easy way to identify the cheapest – and most grid-beneficial – times to charge.
  • Disadvantaged communities. Both SDG&E and SCE specifically set aside a percentage of charging stations for disadvantaged communities. In doing so, they are including a key demographic that is all too often overlooked. By helping increase the reach of EVs in communities that consistently suffer disproportionate impacts from pollution, the utilities can ensure the benefits of EVs have a much broader reach than they otherwise might.

More EVs mean more benefits for California

More charging infrastructure will lead to a bigger EV market, which will in turn lead to cleaner transportation for many Californians. More specifically, broader EV adoption can do the following, if these vehicles are deployed properly:

  • Cut down on greenhouse gas emissions. Because EVs, unlike their fossil-fueled counterparts, do not produce combustion emissions, they can significantly cut down on harmful pollution. That being said, it is also critical to know how the electricity powering these cars is produced. Charging at times when there is an abundance of solar or wind available means EVs are powered by clean energy resources, and not by fossil fuel power plants.
  • Store renewable energy. Cars that charge in the middle of the day or late at night can store renewable energy. Therefore, even if people don’t use this clean power immediately, they can draw on it when the sun sets or the wind isn’t blowing. In this way, Californians avoid the need to rely on natural gas power plants that are often deployed at peak times – namely, in the early evening hours.
  • Enhance electric grid reliability. In order for the electrical grid to be stable, supply has to roughly equal demand. However, there are times when there is an over-generation of solar, which leads to a surplus of supply relative to demand. This creates the potential for reliability concerns, as well as the possibility of fossil fuel power plants to quickly ramp up electricity production. By acting as a storage device in times of renewable over-generation, EVs can soak up excess renewable energy and head off these concerns.

EDF is excited that the Commission has left the door open for SDG&E and SCE to move forward with modified versions of these critical and well-thought-out programs. This green light will go a long way towards building a more sustainable and cleaner California. Now if only Tesla would help fulfill the fantasy of Millennials everywhere and come out with that flying car.

Photo source: Flickr/Birmingham News Room

Reprinted with permission.


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  • One-Of-A-Kind

    Does this mean EV companies will begin selling cocaine to stay in business?

    • Wayne Williamson

      only if they’re johnny z. and the feds offer you a deal to good to be true…

  • MarTams

    Then there are these people that declare EV’s are a total failure and a waste of time. Please rebuke these fossil hogs.

    Media Admit It: Electric Cars Are Not Such A Good Idea – Investor’s Business Daily https://apple.news/Amw5yxiXNPHK-tzlCUYKadg

    • Dragon

      Oh look, it’s the big “ALL MEDIA HAS LIBERAL BIAS!” lie again. Repeating that lie over and over and over again is what helps convince republican voters that the 6 giant conglomerates that own 90% of mainstream media aren’t, in fact, enormously biased towards the conservative viewpoint.

  • Kyle Field

    It seems awkward and almost opposed that the state is looking to store excess renewables (in california, this is typically solar with some wind and very little hydro) using EVs. Solar peak generation, as we often discuss on CT, overlaps with peak usage which is fantastic. This creates an awkward balance and a confusing message. Are we asking users to charge off-peak? Do we want them to store excess renewables? Are users willing to wait and be patient to get their charge? I don’t see this happening.
    We are seeing more technologies that enable/allow/encourage queueing of chargers – especially multi-unit and workplace which will create a more stable demand (during peak) but less flexibility for ev drivers to wait for charging.
    as charging times decrease (a la supercharging), usage spikes only increase. As users get used to this, they will be less willing to leave EVs plugged in for longer durations (with overnight likely being the only exception).
    Americans are greedy meaning they don’t care about the greater good (for the most part) and would rather just get what they want (perceived as a need).
    It’s an awkward intersection. I’m leaning towards more research into Vehicle to Grid by universities as research done by utilities is likely to be self serving. I also think discounts for ev owners who install solar or other renewables should be rewarded as that directly, locally offsets any peaks or usage.

    • Dragon

      Remember that wind generation has peaks during the night when cars are likely to be plugged in. If you can predict the wind (which can be done pretty accurately a few hours ahead of time) and instruct cars to wait to charge until wind is stronger, then fewer turbines have to be turned off due to producing more power than the grid is asking for.

      Solar has also flattened the peak so much that as we install more solar, it’s going to start getting turned off due to producing too much power as well (maybe that’s already happened?). And again, there’s an opportunity to tell the EV fleet to hold back until closer to peak solar production. EVs basically stand in for other forms of energy storage without costing the utility extra (well, the system to communicate with EVs costs at least a bit extra, but nothing like the cost of batteries).

      Hydro in California used to be a big part of the energy mix until this drought hit. If the drought ends for a little while, we can use that too.

      • Bob_Wallace

        ” then fewer turbines have to be turned off due to producing more power than the grid is asking for.”

        More importantly, EVs charging at night will mean wind farms will be able to sell product at a higher price. More revenue/more profits means more investment money will flow into the industry and more wind farms will be built. This will help bring down the cost of electricity during the rest of the day.

        Later on we should see the same thing happening with solar. Dispatchable demand helps maintain a higher price floor.

        • Otis11

          “Dispatchable demand helps maintain a higher price floor.”

          I realize you said this as well, but to be very explicit:

          This actually levelised the cost more throughout the day, bringing the overall average cost of power down.

      • Kyle Field

        I see solar driving a need for daytime charging. That’s a huge win and drives a major shift in how we think about power, efficiency and evs.

    • ROBwithaB

      I’d certainly be patient if I were plugged in at work all day. As long as I wasn’t being asked to move my car all the time. If I could just stay plugged in, I’d be happy to let the car wait for the cheapest electricity and then charge during those times..
      What’s the rush. Most people aren’t going anywhere for at least eight hours.

      • Bob_Wallace

        That’s the idea. A large number of cars plugged in all day long. A large number of cars plugged in all night long. Let the utility company determine the exact time of charging either directly via smart chargers or via a pricing signal.

        • ROBwithaB

          With all due respect, screw the utility (as far as “let the utility company determine…”).
          I’m not trusting them to decide anything on my behalf. The only way to do it is to oblige the utility to send out pricing signals. And make sure that all cars are able to interact with such pricing signals. I could then instruct my car to “start charging whenever price falls below 8 cents” or whatever.
          But I can certainly foresee a lot of workplace charging happening directly from solar on the company roof, bypassing the utility completely.

          • Bob_Wallace

            What if the utility offered to make sure your car was charged by an hour of your choosing, that it would be charged to your minimum “emergency” level ASAP, and your rate would be half the best price signal rate?

      • Maloo

        i have been looking at EV’s ( hopefully a full sized suv/crossover will be available soon )for my daughter who works at a northern Michigan hospital and it looks like she would have to charge at home for at least the next few years as the infrastructure in northern Michigan is virtually non existent, though she isnt keen on a power cord running through the front yard to the car.. at the moment she would need an EV that would have at the least 200 mile range under the very worst of conditions.

        • ROBwithaB

          Maybe the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV ??
          I seem to recall that those are about to be launched into the US market soon. (Not sure, I’m very far away on the other side of the world. Our choices are VERY limited.)
          Although Mitsubishi was having some problems in the US market, with factories and dealerships closing, so caveat emptor…

          I suspect that northern Michigan generally is not an ideal market for pure electric vehicles. Especially if you have a daily commute of at least 200 miles.

          Perhaps a plug in hybrid would be the best compromise for the next few years? A lot of people commenting here tend to be disparaging of hybrids, but they are a very practical solution to a specific problem. They offer most of the benefits of an electric vehicle, (most notably the regen braking) with none of the “range anxiety” that would come with the specific usage situation you describe. I’m guessing northern Michigan gets pretty cold? That’s going to sap the batteries big time.
          Difficult to imagine that there’s going to be an affordable, super-long-range SUV pure electric on the market anytime soon.

          It seems that there would be a very big demand for a decent PHEV SUV and I don’t quite understand why none of the automakers is trying to exploit this demand.

          If your daughter is working at a hospital, parking in the same spot every day, there’s a pretty good case for requesting a charger at work. Relatively cheap to install, especially if they’re doing a few at a time.
          And hospitals usually have qualified people on staff or on standby who could do an installation like this. Hospitals usually also have back up power.
          Maybe the way to do it would be to get together with some other current or prospective EV owners amongst the hospital staff and put in a request.
          A lot of HR people don’t even know about EVs. It’s not on their radar. All they would need is a bit of education and a bit of prodding. (And maybe a quote from an electrician showing how cheap it is).

          But I’m not an expert by any means. Just my two cents’ worth. I’m sure there are others on here, especially those who actually own EVs already, who could give you more insight into real-world situations.

          • Maloo

            thanks very much for the information. generally we deal with freezing temps low enough that lake Huron freezes over, snowfall measured in feet and many roads not plowed at all. pickup trucks are cheap and plentiful.
            i have seen a few prius’ around but i have never noticed a charging station anywhere, unfortunately US hospitals dont spend money on anything that is not going to generate a profit so it’s a catch 22 sort of thing. i will look into hybrids as a possible solution for her, i was shocked when she told me she averages 900 miles per week commuting.

          • Otis11

            You might be surprised… I know of an oil company that installed a few ‘charging ports’ for their employees…

            (They did the analysis and found the electricity was so cheap at industrial/commercial rates that they just installed 240V plugs and wrote-off the cost as an employee benefit… but same effect!)

      • Kyle Field

        Right now the rush is based on limited availability of chargers. Fix that and the issue goes away. Govts should be subsidizing workplace charging to pull people in to EVs vs subsidizing EVs. Pay for the initial install/charger and let the businesses pay out the electricity over many years.

        • ROBwithaB

          Indeed, that does sound like a much better “bang for buck” solution.
          Assuming an installation cots of $300 per charger, going down to perhaps $200 per if they are done in bulk, you could subsidise the installation in FULL of about 36 chargers for the same price as a single vehicle subsidy of $7,500. Or better yet, put together a “package” of 5 chargers, some solar panels, inverter, etc. You wouldn’t even need to give a big upfront subsidy, just allow the business to get the tax benefits of accelerated depreciation.
          And it’s likely to be a lot less politically contentious than the current system, that is perceived as “handouts to the 1%”.
          Of course, first prize would be to have both systems in place, especially now that we have the prospect of affordable long-range EVs in sight. With a subsidy equivalent to about 20% of purchase price, and free fuel forever thanks to the boss and Uncle Sam, it starts to make a lot of sense for budget conscious families to go electric. Especially once the first “almost -new” Bolts, 3s etc hit the market at around $20-30k.

    • ROBwithaB

      How much would a low-level charger cost? The sort of thing that would top up perhaps 50km of travel in around 5-8 hours?
      Especially if I could do ten or twenty of them next to each other?
      Basically, when you design your employee parking, just include charging for EVs and build it in from the beginning.
      How ling would this infrastructure be expected to last? Maybe twenty years?
      So a few grand up front, amortised over twenty years. Costs me maybe ten dollars a month, or thereabout, per employee. Peanuts
      And I can attract a more progressive, well-informed, concerned, and empathetic employee.
      It really is a no brainer. Free workplace charging is going to become a standard benefit for any kind of mid-level job. Anyone who drives to work. People are basically going to demand it, I suspect. “If you want me to travel into work on my dime, the least you can do is charge up my car while I’m there.”
      If you DON”T offer it soon, you just won’t be able to attract employees.

      It ‘s an obvious benefit that employers can offer, that costs them LESS than the value it provides to the employee.
      In other words, I can pay you less as a salary, because I’ve just saved you X thousand a year in transport costs. But it only cost me X MINUS something to provide that benefit, because A) I get the electricity at wholesale rates or even B) I generate the electricity on the roof of my building, with a solar array that I got at near Utility-scale rates C) I buy the individual chargers in bulk and get a bulk rate from the electrician connecting it all up D) there are significant economies of scale with shared cabling, etc E) I can write all of this off against my tax bill at an accelerated depreciation rate, even though it is actually a capital improvement that will likely increase in value
      Especially if the employee transitions from an ICEV to a BEV, the savings will be very significant. If you were simultaneously considering an EV purchase and a new job, the provision of free workplace charging would be a deal clincher. And if the company also provides a company car, your transport costs drop to basically zero. I can see a lot of companies making the move to EV fleets soon, to take advantage of incentives, tax write-offs, low maintenance costs, etc etc.

      For all sorts of reasons, I see workplace charging being a very very big thing.
      Especially in areas with strong solar potential.

      • Bob_Wallace

        How much does it cost to install an outside outlet on a building?

        During construction we’re talking small money.

        • ROBwithaB

          Yeah. I’m in the property game. Fairly common for tenants to request all-weather 3 phase plugs outside, to run the refrigeration units on their delivery trucks. Even for an 80 amp installation, including new breakers etc, the cost is insignificant. Biggest cost is usually new cabling, if that is required.
          But I don’t know exactly what a typical car charging outlet would look like. I’m guessing it’s not much different.
          As long as there’s a suitable electrical point nearby to connect into, not much cost, even as a retrofit.
          And if designed from the get go to be included in a new build, you’d need to be an eagle eyed QS to even notice that in the total construction budget.

      • Kyle Field

        As an employee, this could fit into a total benefits package but is not something I see many employees being willing to give up pay for. I like the approach though. Should be able to get cheap chargers for $2-300 for low cost, durable units in bulk.

  • MarTams

    And you can hypermile an EV such as the 2016 Chevy Volt.

    It’s possible to go 111 miles on electricity in the new Chevy Volt – Autoblog https://apple.news/Al3SqqfjNNLmPm01J4dcamQ

    • sault

      Does that mean hypermilers can expect 200 miles out of a LEAF?

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