More and more nations, states and cities are announcing plans for the ramping up of EV adoption. Jim Conca takes a look at his home, Washington State in the U.S., where all new vehicles sold must be electric by 2030. He says the new rules imply his state will have 4 million EVs on the road by 2045, up from 52,000 today. He carefully crunches the numbers to see if this target is realistic. The good news is that grid capacity will only need to rise 10%, though the usual challenges of investment, integration and smart charging will apply. EV take-up will be helped by their low running costs which, at 8¢/kWh, are one third that of a gasoline car, with maintenance being half. An estimated 2 million charge points (home, commercial, public) will be needed by 2045, but passing the cost of the units to the consumer won’t add more than 10¢/kWh. Another added cost will be a tax to replace declining revenues from gasoline taxes. Conca sees one big sticking point: battery production. Washington State alone will need 55,000 tonnes of Lithium (for the EV batteries) by 2045, so the current global production of 98,000 tonnes will clearly need a miracle or radical new battery chemistries and innovations to supply the world.
On January 15, the Washington State Senate voted 26-23 to pass SB 5811, that essentially mandates that automakers dedicate a certain portion of their vehicle sales in the state to fully electric vehicles (EVs) by 2022, and that all new vehicles sold in the state must be electric by 2030.
At the same time, our House passed HB1110, a Low Carbon Fuel Standard that pushes us to get rid of petroleum fuels in cars and trucks. Washington State also passed the Clean Energy Transformation Act (CETA) which commits Washington State to an electricity supply free of greenhouse gas emissions by 2045.
So, the state is pretty committed to decarbonising by mid-century. But while Washington State already has the lowest carbon footprint of any state with 86% hydro, nuclear and wind as our electricity generation, transportation has not changed at all, and is the biggest problem from the standpoint of carbon emissions. And is even harder to address.
So some utilities are scrambling to adjust while others are leading the electrification transition. But they all need help.
EV grid integration
A good example of help is Enel X, a company that operates over 60,000 electric vehicle smart charging stations. They’ve partnered with Washington State utilities, Puget Sound Energy and Seattle City Light to help EV adoption and integration into the state grid, to demonstrate to customers the benefits of going electric, and to figure out how EV owners charge and fit EVs into their everyday lives.
This is critical. Going electric better be a smooth transition without a lot of hassle, or we won’t do it. And that takes some new grid infrastructure. And some fancy software that analyses how we behave with it. Bloomberg NEF gives a good overview.
EV range is extending: 200 to 300 miles
The range issue isn’t the big deal it used to be. The driving range of typical new EVs from Audi, Jaguar, Chevy, Nissan and Hyundai, is now well over 200 miles on a full charge, 300 miles for Teslas. Still, there better be sufficient charging stations along the roadways so we don’t ever get stranded or, again, we won’t do it.
A recent report showed that EV charging times incentivise off-peak charging, and that customers are interested in using them. This is important. Without encouraging off-peak residential charging, a rapid growth in EVs could lead to costly grid impacts and infrastructure upgrades for utilities.
Crunching the numbers: EV uptake…
So how many EVs and charging stations do we need in Washington State?
Washington State has a population of 7.5 million. By 2045, that population will grow to at least 9 million. There are about 52,000 electric vehicles in Washington State right now. But there are also about 3 million internal combustion private and commercial automobiles.
By 2045, the total number of vehicles will grow to at least 4 million. If we are to meet the requirements of both SB 5811 and CETA, then almost all of these will be electric.
Going to 4 million EVs in just 25 years is a huge lift.
The amount of Li alone, needed for 4 million EVs by 2045, is almost 50 million kg (~12 kg/EV), which is about 110 million lbs, or 55,000 tons. The global production of Li is only about 94,000 tons, mostly from China, so obtaining 55,000 tons of Li just for Washington State might be tricky. The same goes for Co.
The cost is certainly a major benefit of going electric. Electricity is the most efficient vehicle fuel, about three times more efficient than gasoline or diesel. Assuming a traditional internal combustion engine gets 40 miles per gallon, an equivalent EV gets 40 miles per 10 kWhs, a gallon of gasoline costs about $3 and a kWh costs 8¢ in Washington State, the 10,000 miles that the average driver drives in a year costs about $750 in gasoline but only $200 in electricity.
Coupled with less maintenance costs for EVs because there are fewer moving parts, the average cost to operate an EV in the United States is $485 per year, while the average for a gasoline-powered vehicle is $1,117.
So, if you buy a Nissan Leaf for about $25,000 or a Chevy Bolt for $30,000, the difference in the upfront cost of the vehicle becomes unimportant after a few years. A Tesla is a different story. But since battery and EV costs continue to go down each year, cost should not be an excuse for not making this change.
What about the electricity to charge all these EVs?
Using the 40 miles per 10 kWhs, 10,000 annual miles of driving will require about 2,500 kWhs per year per vehicle. The 4 million EVs needed in WA State by 2045 would need 10 billion kWhs per year extra by 2045. This actually isn’t as much power as it sounds, only about 10% more than we produce today.
10 billion kWhs per year is close to the annual output of Energy Northwest’s single nuclear power plant, the Columbia Generation Station. Or the equivalent of the output of the four Lower Snake River Hydroelectric Dams. Or about 20,000 new MW-wind turbines. Or just two NuScale SMR plants.
On the other hand, a new study warned that Washington State better get some new low-carbon generation just to maintain what we have as we retire coal plants, and much of that should be nuclear if we want it to be reliable in the face of this new low-carbon future.
But this whole plan only works if charging an EV becomes easy.
About 80% of EV charging occurs at home. The rest occurs at work and at fast-charging stations along the roadways. A full charge in a typical EV is between 50 and 80 kWhs, depending on the make and battery configuration of the EV, so it will take about an hour to fill up with a typical 50 kW charging station.
Enel X predicts at least 2 million charging stations will be needed for Washington State to be fully electric by 2045, about 1,600,000 home chargers and 500,000 commercial and public charging stations.
The cost of home charging installation varies greatly depending on location because of local permitting fees, cost of labour, state of the local grid, etc., and on installation requirements that depend on the existing home wiring, proximity of charger to electrical panels, etc.
Most installation ranges between $200-$600, but it can be zero if people already have a 220V plug in their garages and their utility company or EV retailer has an infrastructure program.
Fast chargers along the roadway are about $23,000 on average for 50kW DCFC (DC Fast Charging) and $350,000 for up to 350 kW DCFC installation, which will also depend on where it is located, e.g., how remote. The price to the customer is about 10¢/kWh, but depends on the state and on the charger. Also, many utilities cover thousands of dollars of “make ready” installation costs to incentivise EVSE infrastructure.
Replacing gas taxes
And then there are the taxes and fees that states will have to charge for maintaining their transportation infrastructure like roads, bridges and charging stations. Without gas, there’ll be no gas tax anymore, so there will have to be some kind of mileage tax or an electricity surcharge at the charging station, even if it’s at home. And these fees will be structured to incentivise good practices like off-peak charging.
OK….so this will be difficult.
But we can prepare for it starting now. And that’s just what companies like Enel X are doing.
James Conca is an earth and environmental scientist and a regular contributor to Forbes magazine