Evolution of All-Electric

Recently I had the opportunity to attend the Electric Drive Transportation Association (EDTA) conference. It was held at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C.

The Electric Drive Transportation Association represents battery, hybrid, plug-in hybrid and fuel cell electric drive technologies and infrastructure. EDTA conducts public policy advocacy, education, industry networking and international conferences. Aside from the fun of getting to test drive some of the latest all-electric cars, it was a great opportunity to talk to the people developing this technology.

A number of reoccurring themes came through loud and clear. They are looking at fleet conversion as large-scale implementation will help lower costs, and battery technology is quickly evolving but needs to continue to improve in charge time and weight to make this a success.

Scott Carson, national sales director with Smith Electric Vehicles, said that what needs to happen is that there needs to be a tip in the supply chain to bring costs down; large fleet operators buying in will bring cost down. Incentives will remain a significant part of the value story until the volume gets up and the price comes down said Gerard Devito, EDTA fleet applications, Eaton Truck Companies.

Mike Staran with Enova Systems said government incentives are great, but that we need to get there without the incentives. Don Karner, president of Ecotality, a provider of clean electric transportation and storage technologies said a focus of theirs is educating the fleet managers to help them understand what’s best for the vehicles they are running. Karner says they look at the runs, how the vehicles are driven and from there determine where electric would be a smart, cost-savings option.

Vice president, market development with Johnson Controls, John Schaaf said you have to drive the vehicle enough to offset savings of fuel savings and you have to not drive it too much where electric isn’t viable. They need to work with the fleets to determine what is the best alternative for their patterns.

Karner also talked about the fact that to ensure a successful deployment, that includes control of the use of the vehicle, meaning it is run how it was expected to be run. He says that is no big deal, as fleets generally have some type of program in place as to who can run which vehicles where or when; this piece just needs to be incorporated into that plan to ensure the best performance.

Ron Iacobelli with Azure Dynamics stressed that the range and infrastructure limit widespread adoption. “We need battery advancement and fast-charging infrastructure.” More than one billion dollars a year is spent on battery research, said Gitanjali DasGupta, program manager, electric vehicles, with Electrovaya. “Battery technology is slow to change.”

Of course, bottom-line is the big concern for fleet managers Karner says. There are some other things the industry has to work at changing to make this work. One thing he mentioned was that in some places it’s up to $400 for a building permit for installing the charger.

Not only expensive, the permitting process is too involved, said James Bianco with CMI EVSI. “Inspectors don’t even know what we’re talking about.” Working with fleets to determine the best process for infrastructure is also a part of the equation. Karner likens the process to that of cell phones. “We used to have to think about it. Now, many people automatically charge their phone every night; it’s not something you think about, you just do it. “The car gets charged every night and then you’re ready to go in the morning.”

There is a lot of exciting research being done with EVs in regards to remote charing, solar power and fast charging. One such project we will be looking at further is the research being done with wireless charging through the road in Utah. With charging being continuously coming from beneath the road, you would never have to stop to charge or fuel up.