By Eric McDonald,
Director, Testing &
This May, Ford introduced its Lightning F-150—a 100 percent electric-powered pickup truck. With a range of 230 to 300 miles on a full charge, the ability to provide three days of backup power to a house, and a price of $40,000—lower than the price of the all-gasoline F-150—the words “game changer” find their way into automotive reviews. The F-150 is presently the top-selling light passenger vehicle in the U.S. F-150 sales in 2020 were 787,422 units (896,526 in 2019). Electric light vehicle (EV) sales were 296,000 units in 2020 (331,000 in 2019). If half of F-150 buyers switch to the all-electric Lightning F-150, electric light vehicle sales will double.
With this development, EV charging and electric grid infrastructure will be under more pressure to meet the increased demand. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory predicts a need to add 14,000 DC fast chargers and an additional 500,000 Level 2 chargers to meet the coming demand for 15 million electric vehicles by 2030.
Can that demand be met?
The U.S. electric grid is in major need of modernization. In 2015, The U.S. Department of Energy noted over 70 percent of power transformers and transmission lines are more than 25 years old and over 60 percent of circuit breakers are more than 30 years old. In addition to updates to cables, wires, conduits, and such, EV charging infrastructure and distributed generation resources will require power electronics and smart grid capabilities to properly and efficiently direct electricity. Utilities are struggling to delegate sufficient capital to maintain the basics of 20th century power transmission and distribution, let alone developing a smart grid.
If transmission and distribution does not react to increased demand, the addition of EV charging infrastructure will lead to higher peak load demand and reduced reserve. Increased EV charging may lead to change in voltage stability and could be detrimental to power quality and reliability. The resolution to these problems lies in increasing the grid’s smart capabilities. Power electronics—an inherent feature of Level 2 and DC fast chargers—can be used to manage charging times, sequence order of vehicles to be charged, regulate voltage, and so forth. Power electronics give the charger the capability to interact with the grid and conduct operations such as peak load shaving, load management frequency control, and grid voltage stabilization. The Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) notes that managed power distribution between vehicles to the grid (V2G) can actually serve to smooth grid operation.
While essential, modernizing the U.S. electric grid will not come cheaply. The Boston Consulting Group expects the need for infrastructure upgrades of between $1,700 and $5,800 per EV to meet the expected demand through 2030. Measuring up to the projected demand of 15 million EVs means an infrastructure investment of at least $25.5 billion. Such a major dollar amount is a much-needed infusion of capital. It is an overdue investment in the physical power infrastructure of the country. It is a major investment in clean transportation. And it is an investment in employment opportunities and skills needed for future technologies.