Infrastructure for Battery-Powered Vehicles

Infrastructure for Battery-Powered Vehicles

There has not been, to my knowledge, a comprehensive study detailing the required investments in infrastructure to support battery-powered vehicles (BEVs).

Any such study must address three infrastructure components:

  1. Power generation requirements
  2. Distribution system requirements
  3. Charging station requirements, quantity, location and type
Photo by D. Dears

Additional power generation

The Pacific Northwest Laboratory did a study several years ago in which it established that existing power generation capacity could provide needed electricity if as many as 60% of all light vehicles, i.e., passenger cars, were BEVs.

This was a broad brush approach that merely filled in the valleys below peak demand and didn’t account for charging batteries during the day when capacity was already being fully utilized. Obviously, charging couldn’t be restricted to when there was low demand, i.e., at night, so this study merely provided a best-case scenario.

If all light vehicles in 2040, as Exxon has assumed in its projections, are BEVs, additional power generation capacity will be needed.

Adequacy of distribution

Adding BEVs will require the replacement of large numbers of distribution and substation transformers with larger transformers.

The typical distribution transformer found in residential areas is rated 50KVA and serves four homes. Most are already operating at close to rated capacity, with most homes having increased their loads since the original transformers were installed, by buying larger TVs, more cellphones and computers, and other electronic devices.

Many substation transformers, such as those feeding distribution lines, are probably also near rated capacity and will need to be replaced with larger units.

Charging stations

An analysis of charging station infrastructure is complicated by there being, basically, slow chargers and fast chargers. It’s also complicated by automobile brands requiring unique chargers only suitable for that brand.

Slow chargers, that are inexpensive, can take several hours to fully recharge a BEV’s battery, while fast chargers, that are very expensive, can take twenty minutes to recharge a BEV’s battery.

In addition, there are four different situational needs for charging stations:

  1. Individual homes
  2. Apartment buildings
  3. Commercial locations
  4. Highways
  1. People in suburbs who own their homes will likely opt for inexpensive, slow chargers where their BEV can be recharged overnight. They will see commercial locations as a place for topping off during the day. 
  • Charging will mostly be done at night during off peak hours.
  1. People who live in apartments are probably parking their BEVs on the street, which would mean cities have to provide a multitude of charging stations, probably slow chargers to keep costs down. 
  • Cities will find this an expensive proposition since streets and sidewalks must be dug up to lay the necessary electric cables. NY City is talking about $10,000 per station, compared to $1,000 for a home charging station. 
  • Autonomous vehicles may become important in cities, but if they are BEVs they will need charging stations.
  • Charging will be done both at night and during the day, which will increase the load on the grid.
  1. Commercial building owners and commercial properties such as stores, are likely to install charging stations to maintain competitiveness and could use a mixture of slow and fast charging stations. 
  • Almost all charging will be done during daytime hours, which will increase the load on the grid.
  1. The highways system, such as Interstates, will require expensive high-speed charging stations to allow people traveling long distances to recharge quickly.
  • Fast charging station can cost $25,000 to $150,000

Conclusion

It’s important that a reputable organization do a study of the infrastructure requirements for BEVs, especially if BEVs are to become the dominant light vehicle.

Proponents of BEVs are blithely overlooking infrastructure requirements and their costs.

. . .

10 Replies to “Infrastructure for Battery-Powered Vehicles”

  1. Black & Veatch might have objectively looked at the total cost of weaning consumers off engine powered automobiles in California that can be extrapolated for the U.S.. In an article dated May 15th, 2018, by Bret Lane (President & CEO for Southern California Gas Co.) titled “Californians Deserve Balanced Climate Policies That People Can Actually Afford,” it stated:

    “A recent Black and Veatch analysis showed 100 percent renewable electricity could cost California $3 trillion and require 900 square miles of solar panels and another 900 square miles of depletable and unrenewable battery storage.”

    Here are some NREL (dubious) studies that may have addressed costs:

    • Electrification and Decarbonization: Exploring U.S. Energy Use and Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Scenarios with Widespread Electrification and Power Sector Decarbonization
    • National Economic Value Assessment of Plug-in Electric Vehicles
    • Emissions Associated with Electric Vehicle Charging: Impact of Electricity Generation Mix, Charging Infrastructure Availability, and Vehicle Type
    • Generation and Use of Thermal Energy in the U.S. Industrial Sector and Opportunities to Reduce its Carbon Emissions
    • Impact of Uncoordinated Plug-in Electric Vehicle Charging on Residential Power Demand

    If you send me an email address, I can send you hyperlinks.

    • I am a licensed professional engineer. As such, I have long felt that all of the discussions about BEVs ignored the engineering of an infrastructure needed to support charging stations. The lay public and politicians seem to have forgotten that batteries by themselves do not create electricity – they need to be charged from some other source. Today, that other source is most likely to be from a fossil fueled power plant. Mr. Dears is quite correct in noting the need for an engineering analysis of the necessary infrastructure to support BEVs.

  2. Assuming that the trend toward solar power accelerates in some places and power storage lags far behind (as is likely), then power may be cheaper and/or more available in the afternoon than at night. This would increase PM charging and further complicate power distribution.

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