Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Electric Vehicles and Highways – Major new FHWA report

FHWA has just published a major new report on electric vehicles and the future which should become a major resource for transportation policy makers.  Entitled “Feasibility and Implications of Electric Vehicle (EV) Deployment and Infrastructure Development” (available here), the report lays out eight “credible” scenarios for future deployment of electric vehicles and pursues all the implications of those scenarios.  This is important, because we really can’t predict with any certainity what the market penetration of EVs will be in 10 – let alone 50 – years.  What we can do is try to reason out what the likeliest outcomes are so we can better prepare for them.
For the record, I was a member of the consultant team that prepared this report so I am – not surprisingly – an enthusiastic supporter of the work done and the conclusions reached.
This is a big report (190 pages plus an extensive executive summary) covering a lot of ground, so I won’t attempt to summarize it.  What I will do is suggest what to me are some key takeaways:
·      For the foreseeable future we will need to cope with three incompatible standards for fast chargers (ugh),
·      Although most charging will happen at home, charging options away from home and work will be critical in encouraging the spread of pure battery (nonhybrid) EVs,
·      Proliferation of EVs will have a modest impact on loss of gas tax revenues, especially compared to the loss of revenues attributable to greatly improved gas mileage of standard vehicles (EV revenue loss is still a real political issue, however),
·      Better wayfinding signage (including an indication of “level” of charging) would be helpful,
·      The quantified “energy security benefit” of EVs could be more than $1,000 by 2025,
·      More than 80% of the U.S. population lives in areas where driving an EV produces significant GHG reductions over the average gas vehicle,
The report suggests three policy “pathways” that transportation agencies can pursue:
·      Market Response: “catching up to the PEV market activity so that transportation agencies do not become an impediment to the advancement of the technologies,”
·      Market Support: a “more active effort… to deliberately keep pace with the deployment of vehicles and charging stations,” and
·      Market Acceleration:  actively promoting the spread of EVs.
(Count me as a Market Accelerator.  I believe vigorous and focused government action now can get us to or beyond a tipping point for electrifying the transportation system, which I think is the key to sustainability for the next few decades.)
Should transportation agencies actively support implementing a network of fast chargers along the Interstate system?  Based on demand alone, the report says no.  However, there are strong (I think persuasive) arguments for promoting development on an intercity network:
·      “Reducing range anxiety to hasten the market transition between early adopters and the early majority, thereby accelerating PEV adoption,
·      Improving the practicality of BEVs, and therefore their market share, advancing both climate change and energy conservation goals,
·      Reducing the need for households to own a “backup” ICE vehicle, which is likely to reduce vehicle miles traveled (VMT) overall, and
·      Demonstrating the commitment of federal and state governments to vehicle electrification.”

Congratulations to FHWA for undertaking some real strategic planning about how to cope with the future of electric vehicles.  I’m confident the work will pay off in the future. 

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