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Tipping Point

Industry giants start the EV revolution.

Fortnightly Magazine - June 2010

schedule. It’s a win-win, and I don’t foresee any dollar transactions. I think it’s the near- to mid-term solution because it offers the most value to the customer and it solves a lot of the issues the utilities are concerned about.”

Hot Spots for Early Adopters

For utilities, among the most pressing concerns is predicting the pockets of early adopters. While a plug-in hybrid might be the load equivalent of clothes dryer or plasma-screen TV, even a small concentration of EVs could overwhelm local transformers.

Southern California Edison modeled its EV hot-spots by looking at hybrid ownership in its service area on zip-code basis. It also created a Web site for prospective EV owners providing information they need on things like connection requirements and rate options. The site encourages customers who are ready to buy EVs to “raise their hands early” to help the utility refine its infrastructure preparation.

“We want to make sure we’re ready for customers who really want to own electric vehicles,” Craver says. “We expect Southern California to be one of the largest early adopter areas, so we have to make sure the neighborhood circuits and all the equipment really can absorb the increased load.”

Duke Energy expects EV concentrations in central Indiana, the Triangle region of North Carolina and the Charlotte area. The company expects EVs numbering in the hundreds next year, and thousands in 2012.

“Beyond that we’ll have to see what the market does,” Rowand says. “We’ve done our models based on different adoption rate estimates that are out there. In five years 2 percent to 5 percent of vehicles sold nationally are going to be electric. We’re getting a lot of interest from our customers.”

Rowand says he’d like to see more vehicles faster, and insists it’s essential to make smart charging a part of the mix as early as possible, even if the number of EVs remains low in the next couple of years ( see “Mobile Load” ).

“Our entire system was built around stationary, predictable loads,” he says. “You tell me the day of the week, the temperature, the relative humidity, size of your home and location, and we do a pretty good job of predicting your load. But with vehicles you have a mobile premise: overnight at home, at work during the day or in a Wal-Mart parking lot for an hour or two. It’s also a variable load. Are you charging at 120 volts? 240? Or potentially even faster than that? We need to make sure the ability to smart charge the vehicle is an expectation from the beginning.”

Stop and Swap

How quickly EVs penetrate the transportation market seems to depend most keenly on a single technology: battery storage. The average motorist drives about 40 miles each day. This accounts for the most common excursions; going to work, running errands, picking up the kids and so on. But longer trips are problematic. A weekend getaway or family road trip requires some method of covering longer distances between charges.

The plug-in hybrid provides an intermediary buffer to this problem.