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Electric Vehicles Take Center Stage At Solar Power International 2019

At Solar Power International in Salt Lake City, Utah this year, one of the key themes was the integration of electric vehicle charging infrastructure into the fold of the solar-powered smart home.

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At Solar Power International in Salt Lake City, Utah this year, one of the key themes was the integration of electric vehicle charging infrastructure into the fold of the solar-powered smart home.

CleanTechnica kicked off SPI 2019 with a 5-hour session called EVs 101, hosted by Utah Clean Cities. The session covered everything from early EV adoption rates, an update on the state of battery recycling, EV charging programs with utilities, and updates from representatives from Tesla and Nissan.

Electric Vehicle Battery Recycling

EV battery recycling is one of those things many simply dismiss as a given due to the high concentration of valuable raw materials they contain, and with EV battery recycling at scale being a perpetual five to ten years out, it is easy to continue to push it down. Jarod C. Kelly Ph.D. from the Argonne National Lab presented an overview of the current state of lithium battery recycling.

It was a helpful, detailed analysis of the current options that gave the audience a nice primer on pyrometallurgical, hydrometallurgical, and direct physical recycling options. He talked through pros and cons for each and we will dive into his content specifically in a separate, more detailed piece shortly.

In short, his analysis made it clear that electric vehicle battery recycling is anything but a sure thing. Serious challenges remain in terms of being able to efficiently extract the constituents of batteries at a price that is still attractive to raw material buyers. Energy is a key challenge, as the energy input to the recycling process must stay below the energy required to process raw ore for the closed loop supply chain to have a net positive impact from a greenhouse gas perspective.

Nissan & Tesla

Francesca Wahl, Business Development & Policy at Tesla, provided a brief update on the current state of Tesla’s business. She kicked off her segment with a reminder that Tesla exists to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy. It is a message that can easily get lost in the hype about electric vehicles, Tesla’s stock price, or the latest rumors about Tesla’s next generation of vehicles.

 Tesla's Francesca Wahl shared the current state of Tesla with a focus on charging networks at Solar Power International 2019

Tesla’s Francesca Wahl shared the current state of Tesla with a focus on charging networks at Solar Power International 2019. Image credit: Kyle Field | CleanTechnica

The company is publicly targeting the production of 360,000 to 400,000 vehicles this year, shooting for a target combined production rate of 10,000 vehicles per week by the end of the year. That includes production at Tesla’s Fremont Automotive factory and the newly minted Shanghai Gigafactory, which will start pumping out the first Made in China Teslas by the end of this year. The Tesla Semi is also a part of the mix as it moves into early production by the end of this year, with the first units going into use in Tesla’s own shipping fleets.

The Supercharging network was originally planned simply to facilitate long distance travel in a Tesla, but has evolved over time into its current manifestation with multiple charging stations along arterial routes, charging in city centers, and more. Tesla currently has 14,000 Superchargers at 1,600 locations with 600 locations in North America alone. Tesla charges for the use of its Supercharging network at rates that are consistently below the cost of gasoline per mile.

Tesla Supercharger

Image courtesy: Tesla

This network is supplemented by a network of destination chargers at lucrative destinations like hotels, shopping malls, and restaurants. Today, there are more than 22,000 destination chargers around the world. For destination chargers, Tesla provides all of the equipment at no cost to station hosts. In turn, the host provides power to customers at no cost.

As the early leader in high volume electric vehicle sales with its LEAF, Brian Zelis, EV Business Development leader at Nissan, also shared an update on the current state of electric vehicles at the Japanese automaker. Nissan has sold more LEAFs than any other production EV in the world, Zelis noted. He followed the statement up quickly with a note that Tesla would likely change that very soon.

Brian gave a quick overview of the current LEAF, lauding its ability to beat just about any car off the line at a stoplight, making it a fun city car. The LEAF is currently offered in two configurations, with the standard LEAF sporting a 110 kW / 147 hp motor with 236 lb-ft of torque. The LEAF Plus steps it up a bit with a 160 kW / 214 hp motor boasting 250 lb-ft of torque.

With an eye to the future, Brian told the audience about how the LEAF’s vehicle-to-grid (V2G) capabilities are able to feed power back to the grid, providing peak shaving functionality or backup power. The capability has been around on all CHAdeMO-equipped LEAFs for years, but none are actually doing this in the US due to the extreme complexity of regulations governing the feeding of power back into the grid or into a home. An automatic or manual transfer switch that isolates the home from the grid is needed to prevent power from flowing back to the grid when it is down, among other requirements.

V2G functionality has the potential to unlock the latent energy storage capacity in electric vehicles to power homes and to provide grid services. To date, they just haven’t taken off outside a few select pilots. Nissan continues to be bullish about the potential, though the reliance on the clunky CHAdeMO standard is clearly a weakness in the strategy.

Supporting EV Buyers

Most drivers in the world are still unfamiliar with electric vehicles. To help overcome the initial knowledge gap, the team at the Argonne National Lab built a new tool that helps buyers compare the cost of driving in an electric vehicle to the cost of driving an internal combustion vehicle. The tool translates the cost of driving an EV into the cost of an “eGallon.”

eGallon: compare the costs of driving with electricity

The theory is that by putting the cost of driving an electric vehicle into units that drivers are already familiar with, they can more easily compare how much they would save by switching to an EV. The tool also highlights the pricing instability that comes with internal combustion vehicles, while the price of electricity is much more highly regulated and thus less volatile. This translates to more stable energy bills for EV drivers than ICE vehicle drivers and is a real, tangible benefit that many may otherwise fail to realize.

Is DC-Only Charging The Future?

ABB’s Jonathan Oakley presented the company’s newest charging systems and how they are seeing demand increase for its 50kW and 350kW DC fast charging units.

As a supplier of DC-only charging solutions, ABB is also exploring the option of removing the onboard EV charger that lives inside all existing EVs in favor of converting all external charging to DC-only. The switch would lower the cost of EVs along with their weight, while allowing EV charging companies to switch to focusing on just DC charging solutions.

Charging Load Management

Solar Power International is jointly put on by the Smart Electric Power Alliance (SEPA) and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). SEPA’s Erika Meyers took the stage to really bring the EV conversation home, tying it back to having EVs at SPI in the first place. She talked about how the current electrical grid and the incentive models that fuel it result in the curtailment of renewables, posing the question: Can EVs drive higher utilization of renewables on the grid?

SEPA has already been hard at work probing the question, and Meyers presented a summary of its findings to get our gears spinning. As it relates to EVs, the question really boils down charging load management. Can we devise new methods of aligning the electricity needs of electric vehicles with the intermittent electrical production coming from renewables?

EV fast charging

Can you handle the fast charging? Image courtesy: Fastned

Erika said that there are two broad categories into which controls that shape charging loads are placed: active and passive.

A passive control is a fixed control that is put in place to change the charging behavior of drivers. Time of use rates, peak rates, and EV specific rates are examples of these and set up a financial framework to shape charging loads. Drivers are offered lower electricity rates when it is better for the utility to send power their way or be charged steep rates if charging happens during peak demand on the grid. These controls are put in place and do not change regularly.

Active controls, on the other hand, dynamically assess the state of the grid and the demand from EV chargers and react in realtime to keep them in balance. Demand response programs that pool actively managed chargers together into a pool of demand that the utility can then pay to throttle down if needed are one example of active controls.

EV charging

Image courtesy: Greenlots

Active Controls are by far the most dynamic and exciting realm of charging demand response, as automotive OEMs, regulators, grid operators, electricity generators, EVSE manufacturers, and solutioneers building creative intelligence to solve for the imbalance partner, vie, and struggle to define the next generation of grid solutions in realtime.

The solutions continue to evolve as the rate of adoption of electric vehicles continues to increase. It is an exciting opportunity to revolutionize not only the way the world moves around, but the way it powers everything on the planet at the same time.

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Written By

I'm a tech geek passionately in search of actionable ways to reduce the negative impact my life has on the planet, save money and reduce stress. Live intentionally, make conscious decisions, love more, act responsibly, play. The more you know, the less you need. As an activist investor, Kyle owns long term holdings in Tesla, Lightning eMotors, Arcimoto, and SolarEdge.


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