Several Challenges for Electrified Transportation
Today, GE and Nissan are announcing a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to jointly research the impact of electric vehicle integration with the grid. The purpose of this program will be to quantify the impact through both modeling/simulation and actual experimental data. As part of the research team from GE, I’m truly excited about this opportunity.
How to efficiently and robustly connect vehicles to the electrical grid has many challenges. Initially the small numbers of electric vehicles will not strain the grid. However, I would argue that providing a good customer experience will be critical for these early adopters. In today’s social-media connected environment, the communication of their perception may impact the overall adoption curve. Here are some of the challenges that I see:
- Home wiring. Will the vehicle owner’s house have the proper wiring already installed to support vehicle charging? Will it only be adequate for slower Level 1 (120V) charging? Will they need to upgrade? If an electrical upgrade is required, how long will it take to get a permit? How much will it cost? What about people that don’t have a garage? Where will they locate the charger and the wiring?
- Charging programs available. There is discussion about the possibility of offering discounted electrical charging rates for vehicle owners. How do they find out about these rates? How do they sign up for the programs? Do they have the right metering infrastructure in their house to permit the separate measurement of electrical energy delivered to the vehicle?
- Vehicle cost. The vehicle OEMs are working hard to offer an attractive product and an affordable cost. The battery systems for these vehicles are still expensive. How will this impact the overall vehicle cost? What is the true pathway to lower cost battery systems and at what rate will this happen?
- Cable management. The cord that connects the vehicle to the charging station could pose tripping hazards. I know that my own garage is not always clean and tidy (the case most of the time). I could easily see a cord left on the floor.
On a broader level, there are a couple of issues or challenges that we need to face.
- Lack of charging stations outside the home. Initially, there will be few charging stations outside the home. Will this cause range anxiety?
- Clustering of electric vehicles. Even with the relatively small numbers initially for electric vehicles, if they are “clustered” in certain neighborhoods, will this tax the local electrical distribution system, including transformers?
Some of these challenges are quite real, and a few may only be perceptions. However, the good news is that the electrified transportation community has recognized these issues and is proactively developing solutions. Many of the utilities that I have spoken with have active programs to make sure their networks and systems are ready for electric vehicles and that they can provide a great experience for the customer.
The MOU announced today by GE and Nissan will also look to help develop a more quantitative understanding for several of these potential issues. We will also look to investigate methods to connect vehicles to local buildings or homes in a manner that is synergistic with the existing loads, such as appliances and heating/cooling systems. The joint team will also look to understand the synergistic role that an aggregated number of vehicles can play with the electrical grid system.
While there are several challenges to overcome to make electrified transportation a reality, much progress is already being made. The entire community from vehicle OEMs, utilities, electrical equipment suppliers, and government/municipal agencies are working hard to make sure that this change is truly transformational and sustainable. Exciting times ahead!
You can read more about today’s announcement with Nissan at GE Reports.