Energy usage in the United States has been flat over the past years. But electric vehicles (EVs) could represent a revival for utility companies. Rising demand for fueling these cars could be the reason for energy usage growth of 80 terawatt-hours per year.
In 2016, there were 567,000 electric vehicles in the United States. By 2025, that number is projected to grow to 7,000,000. The number of charging stations needed to power these vehicles will need to grow accordingly.
Utilities are adopting an “if you build it, they will come” philosophy, banking on the hope that the barriers to electric vehicles will fall and more of these cars will hit the road. Some of the barriers that have kept people from buying these cars include:
- Limited range. At the high end, the Tesla Roadster can go 300 miles on a charge. The Nissan Leaf is closer to 130. So, while electric vehicles are perfect for running errands and taking short trips, their usefulness is more limited than gas-powered vehicles.
- Glitches in new technology—as an example, the Chevy Volt was experiencing fires shortly after being released.
- Popular and versatile hybrid vehicles that still rely heavily on gasoline.
- Charge time. Some electric vehicles can take up to 20 hours to charge a depleted battery on a 120-volt outlet. Even fast-charge stations require 30 minutes or more for a full charge. Compared to the average time it takes to fill a car with gasoline, that feels like an eternity in an eternally rushed society like ours.
- The lack of infrastructure and charging stations.
If this last barrier is conquered, a number of the other barriers will be easier to overcome. Right now, there are approximately 150,000 gas stations and 16,000 public charging stations with about 43,000 connectors/plugs. While it’s true that there are a lot fewer electric vehicles in the United States than gas vehicles, EV drivers still need the convenience of charging that gas-powered drivers enjoy so that they can feel confident about driving as far and as long as they want without fear of being stranded. If they can drive without this fear, the sales of cars like the Prius, which also rely on gas, will slow and electric vehicles will surge in popularity and use.
And that’s where utilities come in. The benefits of EVs go beyond kilowatt hours. Fully electrifying the transportation sector will require a six trillion-dollar investment. Utilities will benefit from building and owning their own charging stations. If drivers can charge their electric vehicles quickly and cheaply with access to conveniences such as dining and shopping, they’ll be loyal adopters.
Utilities can work towards mainstream EV adoption by incentivizing the cost of chargers, convincing regulators to invest in infrastructure efforts, learning about the infrastructure investment (cost-benefit analysis) and making the technology available to all areas (rather than concentrating charging stations solely in wealthier areas).
Electric vehicles are here to stay, and utilities need to grow the charging infrastructure to cash in on the growth of energy use.
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Greg Wassel understands that grid optimization is key to our industry’s future. He is responsible for identifying new and innovative approaches to integrated demand side management programs, forging partnerships with industry-leading companies to enhance operations and developing new products and services for clients. Greg also leads our grid optimization product line and monitors demand response and other distributed resources program performance, ensuring quality every time. Greg supports our existing clients and business development teams by conducting regular best practice and innovation meetings to ensure that each client is kept up to date regarding the rapidly changing demand side management industry. He has a master’s degree in geography from the University of Georgia and is a certified energy manager (CEM).