Power Grid Sufficiency for Electric Vehicles
For the last 100 years, automobiles, trucks, busses and most other motorized vehicles that have traveled our roadways have primarily used petroleum-based fuels. This is not likely to change dramatically in the foreseeable future, although the Federal government and many state governments are promoting alternative-fuel vehicles to reduce the use of gasoline and diesel fuels as well as limit pollution. Alternative fuels include ethanol, biodiesel, compressed natural gas, propane, hydrogen, and even compressed air. Currently, fully-electric vehicles such as the Nissan Leaf or partial-electric vehicles such as the Chevrolet Volt represent some of the most common alternative-fuel vehicles on the road. Electric vehicles (EVs) may become more commonplace as drivers, fleet managers, municipalities and others take advantage of preferential tax rules and other subsidies that encourage their use.
While fully-electric EVs can reduce non-point air pollution levels, decrease our reliance on imported oil and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, they still must be fueled (i.e., recharged) through the local and regional electric distribution system. If EVs significantly grow in popularity, these vehicles will impose increased demands on our electrical system. Local municipalities have limited abilities to influence the generation and distribution of electricity, but they can help create local conditions that will make recharging EVs more convenient and reliable. This tool discusses some of the actions that local municipalities can take to plan for the potential increase in EV use and the resultant demand for recharging facilities.
Planning for Power Grid Sufficiency for Electric Vehicles provides the following advantages:
- Energy Conservation: The use of municipal EVs can conserve energy and reduce pressure on municipal budgets;
- Plans for the Future: Anticipates future demands for recharging facilities can make their installation less costly;
- Encourages Market Acceptance: Planning for EV charging can help create an infrastructure that can encourage wider use of EVs, and
- Lowers Pollution: The eventual expansion of EVs can reduce non-point air pollution.
Municipalities that want to plan for power grid sufficiency for electric vehicles must understand that this technology has unique limitations. Municipalities can influence the provision of adequate charging facilities by first understanding the barriers confronting EVs:
- Vehicle Price: High battery costs make EVs significantly more expensive than comparable traditional fuel vehicles. The costs for disposing the battery packs, which typically contain hazardous materials, can be high. High initial purchase costs may be reduced by tax incentives and rebates from utilities, but the future of these incentives cannot be predicted.
- "Range Anxiety": Consumers are hesitant to adopt fully-electric vehicles due to concerns about being stranded without access to charging stations. The relatively-short range of EVs contributes to this problem.
- Lack of Recharge Stations: Most recharging is conducted at individual homes. Public recharging stations and their facilities (known as Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment) are not commonplace, which limits the potential usability of EVs
- Long Recharge Times: One of the most significant limitations to the use of EVs is their long recharge time. Common charging technologies use a standard 120 volt, three-prong wall outlet (delivering 1.4 kilowatts). For comparison, this "Level 1" technology may require up to 21 hours to fully recharge the electric-only Nissan Leaf's battery. Faster charging is possible with 240 volt service delivering 6.1 kilowatts, but this service requires the professional installation of a dedicated circuit, additional grounding, and other safety features. This "Level 2" service can fully recharge the Nissan Leaf in approximately 6-8 hours but requires a dedicated 40-amp circuit.
- Funding Limitations: Initial funding for EV recharging facilities may not be available. If municipalities fund the installation of EV charging facilities, they must be aware that those who would benefit from these public facilities may have a higher level of wealth than those who cannot afford an expensive EV.
- Location of EV Charging Facilities: Charging facilities may result in EV owners being given preferential parking locations, because of the proximity needed between charging stations and electricity supply locations.
- Market Resistance: EVs are generally more expensive than similar gasoline-powered vehicles and the market may resist buying them. The long-term status of tax credits that narrow the cost difference between EVs and conventional vehicles is not known.
Advanced technologies include direct-current "fast chargers" that are much faster than their alternating-current counterparts but are much more expensive and are not typically used in residential applications. For comparison, the fastest charging technology can fully recharge the Nissan Leaf in approximately one and one-half hours (and in four minutes for a half-charge).
How to Use This Tool
Municipalities can encourage the use of EVs by helping to reduce the barriers to their widespread use. The following actions can be taken by municipalities:
- Encourage builders to provide enhanced electric charging capabilities. If homes and businesses are fitted with 240 volt or "fast-charge" DC charging circuits at the time of initial construction, there will be more opportunities for EV owners to charge their vehicles. The Pennsylvania Construction Code does not currently require the initial provision of these charging facilities, but municipalities can encourage their installation by discounting part of the application fee for building permits.
- Encourage the installation of charging facilities in commercial and office developments. Municipalities can offer incentives for the provision of these facilities, such as density bonuses or relief from other land development requirements.
- Municipalities can create joint training opportunities for building inspectors who inspect and approve EV charging facilities, and can discount permit fees to encourage their installation.
- Municipalities can consider buying EVs to replace conventional vehicles in their fleets.
- New types of land use categories may need to be considered in municipal zoning ordinances. Just as there are hybrid electric-gas engine vehicles, hybrid recharging stations may be necessary in our municipalities. Consumers may need a type of facility where their vehicles can remain for a period of time while they recharge, and drivers can participate in other activities on the site such as shop, visit a coffee shop, participate in a recreational activity, etc.
The City of Philadelphia allows EV owners to obtain a dedicated parking spot, and applicants can also apply to the City's Department of Licenses and Inspections for a curb site electric outlet. However, this parking space is not for the exclusive use of the applicant; anyone with an EV can park in the spot. The City's EV parking program can be accessed online.
nrg® — a Fortune 300 and S&P 500 Company is one of the country's largest power generation and retail electricity businesses, and promotes energy efficiency, including EV usage, through its website.
ECOtotality — The United States Department of Energy partly funded the installation of EV chargers through The EV Project, and chose ECOtality as the project manager. ECOtality will oversee the installation of 15,000 commercial and residential Blink charging stations in 16 cities and major metropolitan areas in six states and the District of Columbia. This program can be accessed online.