Energy Transition

This new policy will help push the electric vehicle revolution into overdrive

Electric car and charger parked up: Electric vehicles and charging infrastructure production are ramping up.

Electric vehicles and charging infrastructure production are ramping up. Image: TAE

Jim McNiel
Chief Marketing Officer, TAE Technologies, Inc.
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  • Electric vehicles are rising in popularity, with new models and incentives enticing drivers away from gasoline-dependent transportation.
  • The “Big Three” American car manufacturers are revving up electric vehicle production with orders at the ready while charging facilities are scaling in number and quality.
  • The forthcoming boon in electric vehicle use could mean unprecedented demands on the power grid, so responsible usage in lieu of innovation to utilize electric vehicles to feed back into the grid.

For years, electric vehicles in the US have served as little more than a curiosity for most, the early adopters hailing from a few coastal states and vehicle options available from a limited pool of models and manufacturers.

While total US auto sales were only slightly up in 2021 – 3.4% over the previous year – in comparison, electric vehicle sales soared by 85%. That trend has continued into 2022, with first-quarter sales increasing 60% over the same period in 2021, even as sales of internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles (vehicles that don't need a plug) dipped 18%. Introducing more models, especially pick-ups and SUVs, will only accelerate the trajectory, with dozens of new models expected in every category in the next few years.

How we power personal transportation is also set to change via federal support for national charging infrastructure, American manufacturing and buyer tax credits, and increasing commitments from carmakers to deliver more electric vehicles.

Cleaner electric vehicles

Battery electric vehicles produce the highest production emissions, so if you already drive a fuel-efficient, late-model car, switching to an electric vehicle today might not help you reduce your carbon footprint in the short term. That is until your current vehicle is declining in performance. Overall, however, electric vehicles produce less pollution – up to 73% and 89% less, respectively, compared to diesel and petrol vehicles.

The exact level of reduction depends on the carbon intensity of the local power grid’s underlying generating resources. Still, even an electric vehicle in West Virginia – the United States’ most coal-dependent state – produces fewer carbon emissions than equivalent gas or diesel-fueled vehicles.

As part of the Biden administration’s plan to install 500,000 electric vehicle fast chargers across the country’s highways by 2030, the Federal Highway Administration recently announced that all 50 states, plus Puerto Rico and Washington, DC, have submitted electric vehicle infrastructure deployment plans. It will allow states to access an initial five-year tranche of $5 billion to build the necessary charging infrastructure if approved.

To spur Americans’ electric vehicle purchases and investment in national carmakers, the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act mandates a $7,500 tax credit for new purchases of American-made electric cars for qualifying buyers, with more minor credits for used cars. It has also earmarked $20 billion for constructing clean vehicle manufacturing facilities in the United States to support car manufacturers racing to meet demand. Environmental and consumer advocacy groups insist that despite high sticker prices, such credits and savings make electric vehicles cheaper to drive.

With charging infrastructure in sight and massive investment underway, the path is now clear for rapid growth, accelerated by car companies’ readiness to deliver vehicles seemingly in demand.

Jim McNiel, Chief Marketing Officer, TAE Technologies

Scaling up

The “Big Three” American carmakers have now vowed to rev up production, although they will need to ensure that battery materials are sourced domestically to access tax credits.

General Motors (GM), Ford Motor Company and Stellantis (which last year absorbed Chrysler) have already announced how they will secure sufficient battery materials. Each will supply enough materials to build between 600,000 and five million electric vehicles by 2023 to 2030.

GM has already announced that an electric Sierra pick-up would be coming out while its Chevy Silverado, due for launch in 2024, has so far received 150,000 orders for the new electric vehicle. Meanwhile, Ford unveiled its F-150 Lightning containing a “Frunk” – a trunk in place of the engine that includes four electrical outlets and two USB charging ports. It accounted for just over 725,000 of the roughly 15 million cars and light trucks sold in the United States in 2021.

In addition, Volkswagen celebrated its first electric ID.4 rolling off its assembly line in Chattanooga, Tennessee. South Korea’s Hyundai, Sweden’s Volvo and Vietnam’s VinFast all have plans to build multi-billion-dollar plants, allowing them access to North American markets. And Tesla will also be expanding its Texas gigafactory.

High anxieties

With charging infrastructure in sight and massive investment underway, the path is now clear for rapid growth, accelerated by car companies’ readiness to deliver vehicles seemingly in demand.

That said, scepticism remains due to cost, choice and so-called “range anxiety,” especially in areas with few electric chargers as battery packs have previously failed to offer good driving range while drivers were also concerned about charging times. The fastest vehicle and charger – the Lucid Air with fast charger – delivers about 300 miles of range in 20 minutes; 100-200 miles per charging hour is typical.

Such fears are being assuaged through the rapid building of fast charging networks nationwide, with supportive utilities looking to sell more electricity. Over 60 utilities have formed the National Electric Highway Coalition to develop a national fast charging network along major US thoroughfares. The number of fast chargers available is already rising exponentially, numbering 6,500 today, 500 more than since late June and more commitments are building fast.

Chargers are also evolving to support faster charging, the largest for passenger vehicles up to 350 kW, the same power draw as an average grocery store. In addition, car battery packs are becoming more powerful, offering continuously more range, stretching from a median range of 234 miles (60% of gasoline vehicles) in 2021 to more than 500 miles in 2022 and even a record-breaking 746 miles on a single charge.

TAE Technologies also tackle range by working on a power management platform for use in any electric vehicle through its fusion technology. First, TAE resolved power deficit challenges brought by its fifth-generation fusion reactor Norman, which requires 750 MW to operate at peak power, yet only gets 2 MW from the grid. It did this by developing a highly specialized, modular architecture that is more scalable, versatile and efficient than existing technologies and can allow electric vehicles to be and go faster and further. TAE is currently engaged in a pilot programme with tier-one automotive supplier Marelli.

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System overload

With millions of vehicles potentially hitting the roads soon, a surge in demand could further tax an already stressed power grid. It will also unnecessarily increase infrastructure costs for energy delivery during periods of the highest usage.

The next challenge is, therefore, how to manage this burden: if electric vehicles could be interconnected to the grid as distributed energy resources (DERS), for example, and feed power back to it, they could help support the grid during times of high usage. While many auto manufacturers are gearing up to make their vehicles capable of sending energy to the grid, it’s not ubiquitous yet. Currently, DERS are helping the grid ad hoc – in school buses in Massachusetts and cars in New Hampshire and Rhode Island.

In the meantime, drivers should be conscious of when they charge and take advantage of off-peak periods.

The electric vehicle game is just getting started but with clear potential and a trajectory, electric vehicles may well form a fundamental building block in our future energy systems and transform mobility and energy as we know it.

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