Those who watched the royal wedding on May 19 may not have noticed the stylish and sustainable conclusion to the ceremony: an electric Jaguar. The Jaguar Concept Zero, a classic 1968 E-Type convertible priced at approximately $470,000, transported Prince Harry and Meghan Markle to a private celebration — a true, and expensive, royal electric vehicle (EV).  

EVs are not solely for the elite or royal, though. From the Tesla Model 3 and the Chevy Bolt to the Ford Fusion Energi and the Nissan Leaf, mass market EVs are becoming increasingly accessible.

Innovation for the Masses

Boasting longer-life batteries with ranges up to 300 miles, EVs are poised to dominate the stop-and-go, midrange driving that city commuters experience every day. Add in the minimal maintenance, latest safety features and advanced sync technology for user experience — all often standard within base electric models — and it’s no surprise that interest in EVs is growing among consumers. With federal and state tax credits and reimbursements, mass market EVs are rapidly becoming an affordable option.

According to a study by HybridCars.com, sales of pure EVs were up 24 percent in 2017. Though that represents less than 1 percent of vehicle sales that year, a 2018 survey by AAA showed 20 percent of people in the U.S. — about 50 million Americans — will likely choose an EV for their next vehicle. So, what would this potential spike in widespread adoption mean for utilities and charging infrastructure?

Creating Capacity

Range anxiety has been a major concern among consumers, hampering the mass market adoption of EVs. But that concern has decreased by 10 percent since 2017, according to the AAA study. In addition to battery improvements, research points to increased availability of public charging stations. The availability and increased visibility will both add to the public's confidence in electric fueling.

The Electric Vehicle Charging Association reported more than 50,000 public and private charging points in operation in the U.S. in 2017, an increase of 5,000 from 2016. And while third-party charging companies such as ChargePoint, LilyPad EV and Greenlots are leading the pack in stations, the weight lies on utilities to create a system robust enough to handle the increased load.

Much like a cellphone provider must provide a strong network signal through physical antennas, utilities must have enough infrastructure in place to support the growing mass market EV charging demand. This will mean utility evaluation and planning to establish the proper conductors, cabling and protective elements on the system to maintain a vehicle-to-grid connection and level the grid’s load. Utilities will also need to remain involved in ongoing regulations, rate basing and charging rates to determine how to pay for infrastructure updates as demand creeps higher.

But utilities will be able to benefit as well. EVs on the system mean load balancing during times of low-load while generating systems are still pumping out power, providing flexibility regionally for utilities. This energy-saving opportunity increases as the volume of energy capacity rises with the number of EVs balancing out the system — an invaluable possibility as EVs speed to the mass market.

 

America and the world are driving toward an electrified future.

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Jordan Donner specializes in substation design at Burns & McDonnell, with specialized interest in smart grid technology and the incorporation of distributed energy resources by utilities and their customers.