Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Barriers to the widescale adoption of Electric Vehicles

In my past blogs, I have discussed about the advantages of electric vehicles (EVs) to the grid and their owners. Not only that, electric vehicles reduces petroleum imports and also improve the air quality (in most cases) by emitting lesser Greenhouse gas emissions than their conventional counterparts. However, despite these advantages, sales of these cars have remained rather low. In this blog, I detail some of the factors that are behind the low adoption of electric cars.

1. Lack of awareness about new technology:  Electric cars and their usage are fairly new to most people. As with any new technology, this lack of knowledge presents a barrier to the purchase of EVs. In most localities, people hardly know of anyone who owns an EV and as such, do not have a easy source of information about the performance or maintenance of EVs compared to the vehicles they already know. Apart from the "network effect" other factors also contribute to the anxiousness of people to owning a EV. Being a relatively new technology, many dealers do not have sufficient technical personnel who can guide customers about EVs. Consumers also have fewer options in EVs to choose from. Furthermore, the dearth of shops/garages that can repair or provide maintenance support to EVs creates additional reluctance in the minds of potential buyers.

2. High Costs: The high costs of EVs present a major barrier to their adoption. The starting prices of EVs lie in the range of $25,000- $35000, which are much higher than that of conventional fuel vehicles. While the federal and state governments do offer tax subsidies up to $2500-$7500, the prices of EVs still remain significantly high. Moreover, these subsidies are not offered upfront during the time of purchase and as such, reduce the affordability of EVs to common people. This has limited the ownership of EVs to a few affluent people who may want to be seen as proponents of new and green technology.Furthermore, studies have proven that people tend to largely underestimate the fuel savings from an EV. As such, there persists a notion that the price of an EV cannot be recovered from the fuel savings during its lifetime. Put differently, people view the payback period of an EV to be much longer than the time span that they will own the vehicle for.

3. Short Range : Most EVs have a range (the distance a car can travel per fueling) of about 35-40 miles which is considerably lesser than conventional vehicles.Thus, the perception that the short range may leave the EV owners stranded instills a reluctance in the minds of people against the purchase of BEVs.While data has indicated that the average range of an EV suffices to fulfill most of the daily trips (which account for nearly 85 % of the annual travel of an average vehicle owner), the loss of freedom of making long distance journeys, even after a paying a fortune to purchase an EV makes potential buyers uncomfortable.

4. Barriers due to fueling infrastructure: There are two barriers that arise from fueling infrastructure:

  • The charging infrastructure for EVs is not as extensive as gasoline vehicles currently. The infrastructure and the sales of EVs present a classic chicken and egg problem - people are unwilling to buy EVs due to lack of charging infrastructure-manufacturers are unwilling to invest in infrastructure due to the low EV sales.Combined with the short range, this lack of infrastructure makes presents a strong impediment to the usage of EVs. 
  • The charging of EVs by Level 1 chargers takes around 6-8 hours with slow chargers and this charging time is much slower than that of a gasoline/petrol fueled vehicle (around 10-15 minutes). While slow charging can be easily accomplished at home during the night hours,a vehicle owner may not be willing to spend that amount of time at public charging places where there is hardly any alternate activity to engage in. Level 2 do considerably speed up the charging process, however, the require around $2000-$5000 of additional investment to be installed. DC fast chargers can recharge the EVs in a very short time of about 30 minutes, but the super-fast charging may damage the battery or reduce the length of its life in some cases. Moreover, the cost of DC fast chargers are extremely high to be installed by EV owners. As such, they can only be installed by large corporations or private entities at public places. 
EVs present a way to a sustainable future. As such, EV adoption is going to rise, sooner or later. But it remains to be seen when and how.
Which of these factors matters the most to you ? Leave your opinion in the poll at the end of the blog.

Friday, 17 April 2015

BMW i ChargeForward Program

The concept of V2G sounds interesting but it requires infrastructure that is currently not available at all places. So even if you want to participate in a V2G program, you may have to wait till the electric utility in your area launches a V2G initiative. However, if you are one of those few lucky ones who own a BMW i3 and live in the San Francisco Bay Area, you can volunteer to be a part of BMW i ChargeForward program which is an combined initiative of BMW and PG&E in which you can earn unto $1540.

What is the goal of the project ?
When there is a high demand for power and consequently, price of electricity is high, your utility (PG&E) in this case wants to purchase as less power as possible. Most of the times you don't realize this because it is the utility who purchases power on your behalf. You can help your utility to avoid purchasing some of the power by postponing the charging of your car. The utility, in turn, passes on some of the savings the incurred to you.

How it works ? 
The program will run for 18 months during which PG&E will request BMW a load drop at certain times. BMW, in turn, will send a signal to your BMW i3 app asking you to postpone the charging of your car. If you resppnd accordingly, you are given incentives based on your participation level.

What makes the program great for EV owners ?
1. Does not withdraw any energy from your battery : Means no worry of not having enough charge to make it back to your home or damaging your battery.
2. Great incentives : The program offers monetary incentives of upto $ 1540
3. No restrictions on mobility : Even if you volunteer to participate in the program, it is totally upto you to postpone your vehicle's charging or not. BMW has a back up battery bank to use in case no one volunteers to postpone the charging of their car. However, you are paid according to your participation.

Where can I find more information ?
While this article summarizes the crux of the program, you can visit BMW i ChargeForward for more information.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

V2G : The Cons

Well, now since you know about what V2G is and that you can make some extra bucks by providing the service, you should now also know about the drawbacks of using your electric vehicle (EV) to provide the service.

But first you need to about the aggregator

Like I wrote in my previous post, your vehicle does not have a battery large enough to impact the electricity grid significantly. To provide any service of value, a number of vehicles have to be aggregated. And this is precisely the responsibility of an aggregator (who is an entity just like your electric utility). The role of an aggregator is to collect a sufficient number of vehicles (say all the vehicles in a parking lot) and manage them most according to the needs of the grid, i.e, when the grid operator requires the vehicles to supply energy, the operator will send a signal to the aggregator and the aggregator will in turn decide which vehicles from the aggregation of vehicles will provide the energy needed.And he will do in a way that utilizes the fleet of the vehicles most efficiently.

So, where is the problem ?

To enroll in an aggregation, you might have to give up some freedom on mobility, i.e, you may have to get into a contract which binds you from using your EV in some specified hours. In most cases, this is not a problem, because V2G service is provided generally during office hours when the car is parked. But in cases of emergency, you may be unable to use your vehicle. In other cases, you may have to enter your driving patterns the day ahead, so that the aggregator can plan accordingly. You may not know your own schedule in advance sometimes, so dealing with such situations might be cumbersome.All such constraints depend totally on the aggregator and the kind of contract you have signed.

Is that the only drawback ? Unfortunately, NO.

You brought your electric vehicle for a huge amount, and that is because the batteries that power the EV are very expensive. Batteries are the most costly component of an EV and till the time improvements in technology come about, the prices of batteries are going to stay that high. The important thing for you to know as an EV owner is that these batteries have a specified lifetime, just like any other device, after which it is no longer considered suitable to be used in a EV. You may have noticed, laptop batteries are able to power your laptop for much longer times initially, but as they age, they are able to power your laptop for lesser and lesser time for the same charge. This is because the ability of any battery to hold charge (or energy) decreases with time. And for EVs, batteries are considered unusable when they can hold less than 80% of the charge that new batteries can hold. Battery life is also dependent on other factors such as depth of discharge and operating temperature. If you discharge your battery more, it wears out faster. Each battery also has a specified number of charge/discharge cycles, i.e, say you can charge and discharge your battery about 1000 times. So the faster you finish the cycle count, the sooner you will have to replace your battery.

How does V2G impact your EV battery ?

V2G needs to draw energy from your battery and supply that energy to the grid, and this means it is using up some of the charge/discharge cycles of your battery. This will cause the battery to age faster. Also, if the aggregator discharges your battery completely or nearly completely, the chances are higher that your battery can suffer damage. Most of the car manufacturers don't cover V2G in their warranty which means you pay the cost of replacing the battery. However, on the positive side of things, aggregators ensure that they manage your batteries in such a way that it causes minimal or zero impact on the batteries. Some of the grid services may not even require energy to be drawn out of the battery, they just need you to postpone charging during times of high energy demand. Such services can give you benefits of V2G without impacting battery life.

So, moral of the story is to talk to your aggregator and car manufacturer before signing up for an aggregation. In this way you can ensure that you can make the most out of V2G without harming your EV. 

Monday, 13 April 2015

What is Vehicle-to-Grid ?

You might have come across this term vehicle to grid if you own an electric vehicle (EV) or not, but if you own one, I definitely recommend you understand this term to make the most out of your EV.

So, to start...

As an aware EV owner, you ought to know that your EV has a battery, which can store energy to power your EV. This battery is also probably the costliest part of your EV. But what you may not realize is that the battery can do a whole lot of things other than just powering your EV, like helping the electricity grid.

Wait wait... what is the electricity grid ? That sounds confusing...

Well... it is not as confusing at it sounds.Let me explain. Electricity is consumed at our houses, though it is generated at power plants, which are situated very far away from our homes. This electricity is delivered to our homes through a network of wires or cables, which make up the electricity grid.

Why does the grid need help from me ?

A peculiar thing about electricity is that storing it is pretty expensive. Therefore electricity is generated at the time of use and consumed immediately. The function of the grid operator to balance supply and demand at all times. So, during the day time, when everybody needs to use energy to power their laptops, phones or to cook or use the washing machines, the demand for electricity is higher and more power plants are needed to be operated to supply that demand.These power plants run on fossil fuels and emit greenhouse gases thereby, dirtying the air and the environment. On the contrary, the demand for energy is low during the night when the majority of the people are sleeping and therefore, most of the power plants can be shut down. Except that this is not possible because these power plants take a lot of time to start and hence, need to stay online to provide us energy whenever we need it. But when the demand is low and the generators are running, it can be hard to dissipate the extra energy.

So what can I do to help the grid and how does V2G come into the picture ?

You can supply a part of the energy stored in your EV battery to the grid during times of high demand (ensuring you have sufficient energy to reach home). This will lend the starting of fossil fuel fired power plants unnecessary. Your individual contribution may be insignificant, but when combined with the efforts of other EV owners, can make a huge difference to the grid and the cleanliness of the environment. This concept of EVs supplying energy back to the grid is called V2G.  Your utility which provides you electricity may even be willing to pay you for the service, since you helped them to supply a part of the electricity, which they would otherwise have bought for a higher price in the energy markets (yes, there is one for buying and selling electricity !)

The next thing you can do is charge your EVs at night. This will make it easier for the grid operator to dissipate the extra energy produced by the power plants that are online. Additionally, if you are on a time-of-use (TOU) rate, it will be cheaper for you to charge EVs during the night, thereby, leading to increased savings.

What is TOU rate ?

Time of use rate is a tariff structure, in which you are billed not only according to the electricity you use, but also according to the time you use it. So, if you use electricity during hours of high demand, you will be charged more than if you use it during the hours of low demand (such as night time). If you are on a flat tariff structure, you are charged the same at all times, the price being the approximately average of the high demand and low demand prices. You should contact your utility to gain detailed knowledge of the tariff structure you are on.

So long story short, V2G means charging your EV at times of low energy demand and providing energy to the grid when it needs it the most and getting paid for the services you provide, so that both you and the grid benefit from your EV.