The Fuse

EPRI’s Dan Bowermaster on EV Adoption and the Importance of Alternative Fuels

by Matt Piotrowski | July 13, 2018

Dan Bowermaster is a program manager for Electric Transportation with the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI). EPRI will host Electrification 2018, focused on efficient electrification across industry, including transportation, this August in Long Beach, Calif., USA. For more information, please visit www.electrification2018.com.

Tell us about your organization—how it started and what its mission is.

In November of 1965, the Great Northeastern Blackout left 30 million people in the United States without electricity. The loss demonstrated the nation’s growing dependence on electricity and vulnerability. This was a pivotal moment for the U.S. electricity sector, and it triggered the creation of the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI).

Today, EPRI conducts research and development relating to the generation, delivery, and use of electricity for the benefit of the public. As an independent, nonprofit organization, EPRI brings together scientists and engineers as well as industry and academic experts to help address challenges in electricityincluding reliability, efficiency, health, safety, and the environment. EPRI’s members represent more than 90 percent of the electricity generated and delivered in the U.S., and international participation extends to 40 countries.

What policy recommendations do you have regarding EV adoption and infrastructure build-out, at both the state and federal level?

While EPRI does not comment on non-technical aspects of energy policy, we do see the proposed $3.6 billion in utility EV charging programs, including infrastructure, support, and customer education, as important developments in this space.

Could you explain the importance of alternative fuel vehicles and diversity of the fleet? How do society and the economy benefit? What are the drawbacks?

Transportation electrification improves air quality and the health of people in society. There are also economic benefits for utility customers due to downward pressure on rates, saving to household budgets, and local economic benefits thanks to significant infrastructure investment. By electrifying the transportation sector, greenhouse gas emissions can be reduced by 57 percent by 2050, relative to 2015 levels.

What is your outlook for electric vehicles and the industry as a whole? Do you side on the optimistic scenarios, or the more sober forecasts?

Interest continues to increase around electric vehiclesmanufacturing costs have dropped significantly and adoption rates are growing as new production facilities are established all over the world. Automakers are also putting forth large EVs, investments beyond what has been done in the past. Additionally, with continuing advances in technology, there is massive continued potential for the EV industry.

As we continue to see a greater shift toward electric transportation, more innovations, and new cross-industry collaborations, we believe that the EV sector will further expand, leading to between 70 to 90 percent of vehicle fueling being done at home or at work by 2050.

What are some misconceptions about electric vehicles? Explain.

One misconception is that there are not enough charging stations for EVs. While we do need smart growth of our current charging infrastructure, there are actually more plugs than gas stations at this point in time.

Another misconception is in relation to range anxiety. It is a common fear among some consumers that electric vehicles cannot sustain long distances without recharging. However, some hybrid plug-ins can drive for hundreds of miles. Further, if we assume similar improvements in range as we’ve seen over the past few years; ranges may become even better than current internal combustion fueled systems.

A final misconception is the length of time needed to charge. Some 81 percent of EV owners charge their cars at home or work, where these vehicles are parked for extended periods. This is just like charging your smart phone. A smart phone charges while you eat or sleep and an electric car does the same. Unlike filling a car with gasoline, a driver does not have to watch it charge. For road trips, you can pull into a public fast-charging station and the car can fast charge in 20 or 30 minutes, while you stop for a snack and stretch your legs. These kinds of fast chargers are the exact kinds of investments that will fuel the projected growth noted above.

Why are consumers hesitant to embrace EVs in larger numbers? Costs? Cultural preferences? Lack of education about the benefits?

There has actually been significant growth and adoption of electric vehicles around the world, and increased sales in the U.S., in part due to consumer demand for sustainable and cleaner transportation fuel options.

EV sales increased 26 percent in 2017 over 2016, and as of June 2018, there were more than 880,000 EVs on the road in the U.S. Looking ahead, more than 101 plug-in electric vehicles have been announced by the world’s automotive manufactures. Of these, more than a third will be a plug-in SUV or crossover, one of the fastest growing market segments in only the US, but also the world.

While these numbers do show significant growth and interest in electrification of transportation, there are still challenges to address. We keep these question central to our research in this area and much of it will be discussed at our Electrification 2018 conference in August.

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