Supercharging Renewables

It can be no coincidence that in October 2009 European electricity company trade group Eurelectric launched an initiative to push forward the standardization of electric vehicle (EV) infrastructure just as the world’s major motor manufacturers announced a wave of second generation pure electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles. This, taking place against a backdrop of carbon emissions limitations legislation such as Europe’s 20% by 2020 directive, sets the scene for a major roll-out of new technology.

TESLAIndeed, in a Declaration on Charging Infrastructure for Electric Vehicles, presented to European Commission vice-president for transport, Antonio Tajani, the Eurelectric signatories confirmed their plans to co-operate towards the ‘development and application of industry pre-standards until standards have been set by the official standards bodies ISO/IEC’. Their representative, Padraig McManus, chief executive of Irish energy group ESB and a Eurelectric board member, said that electricity generated from low carbon energy sources can ‘revolutionise the transport sector, making a real contribution towards reducing the carbon output of cars and also improving local air and reducing noise pollution.’ McManus claimed that electrifying road transport will also ‘boost EU energy security by reducing dependence on imported energy’, highlighting another key European energy policy goal.

However, McManus pointed out that to achieve this, a cross-industry agreement on standards for both the hardware – the connector and cables – for recharging plug-in vehicles and the communication software ‘is an indispensable step to facilitate broad market penetration and avoid problems with incompatibility, dead-ends and stranded investment.’

He concluded: ‘Setting standards for plug-in vehicle charging infrastructure will provide benefits to all stakeholders – the automotive industry, equipment manufacturers, electricity companies and above all the customer, who will thus enjoy real choice and genuine Europe-wide electric mobility.’

Presentation of the declaration took place at a Eurelectric event which also showcased some dozen electric vehicles and charging post designs from more than 10 utility companies. Vehicles ranging from the performance Tesla provided by RWE and a Lotus Elite from Essent/Enexis, to family vehicles including a Fiat Fiorino from CEZ, and the Piaggio Porter van brought by Enel, showed the versatility of an all-electric drive train. More importantly, it also demonstrated significant interest among Europe’s major utility players.

TESLAPolicymakers Spark Utility Interest

Sparking utility interest in the roll-out of EV technology is a swath of policy moves, designed to encourage just such a development. More recently, the charge has been taken up by urban authorities.

Even as delegates were failing to deliver a substantial climate deal at Copenhagen in December 2009, 14 of the world’s largest cities agreed to take steps during 2010 to become more EV-friendly. The announcement was made at the ‘Climate Summit for Mayors’, held alongside the UN Climate Change Conference.

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The cities – Bogota, Buenos Aires, Chicago, Copenhagen, Delhi, Hong Kong, Houston, London, Los Angeles, Mexico City, Toronto, Sao Paulo, Seoul and Sydney – have formed the ‘C40 Electric Vehicle Network’. Collectively they plan to work in four areas seen as critical to the successful introduction of electric vehicles. The measures include facilitating the planning and deployment of charging infrastructure and related supply systems; streamlining permitting processes for charging installations in customer premises and elsewhere; coordinating incentives; and developing a plan to mobilize demand in city fleets for 2010–2013.

The C40 programme includes car manufacturers, BYD, Mitsubishi Motors Corp, Nissan and Renault, as private sector partners. And, as if to drive home the message on the opportunities for renewables, the development came as C-40 member Chicago unveiled its first networked solar plug-in station for electric vehicles. Richard Lowenthal, CEO of developers Coulomb Technologies, commented: ‘Solar energy and electric vehicles are an inevitable partnership that is one more step to reducing our dependence on foreign oil.’

With most city journeys at most no more than a few tens of miles, densely populated urban areas are an obvious low-hanging fruit, but it’s not just at city scale that policy developments are underway.

In August 2009, Germany’s Federal government adopted a National Development Plan for Electric Mobility (NEPE) – developed jointly by the ministries for the Environment (BMU), Economics (BMWi), Transport (BMVBS) and Research (BMBF) and designed to promote research and development, market preparation and the market introduction of battery-powered vehicles in Germany. Market development up to 2020 is to take place in three phases with market preparation up to 2011, market development up to 2016 and a high-volume market from 2017.

There are plans to increase the number of electric vehicles in Germany to 1 million by 2020, by 2030 the figure may be more than 5 million and by 2050 most urban transport ‘will do without fossil fuels’, simultaneously turning Germany into a leading market for electric mobility.

Meanwhile, Germany’s power grids will be made more efficient through the use of modern information technology and the integration of electric vehicles. According to the BMU, using renewable energy to meet the energy demand of electric vehicles will also improve the integration of fluctuating producers into the grid. ‘The additional demand for electric energy in this sector must be covered by power from renewable energy sources. As a priority unused power from fluctuating renewable energy sources is to be used for electric mobility based on load management. Excess demand must be met by tapping further renewable potential’, the ministry says in a statement.

Within the framework of the National Development Plan for Electric Mobility, the Federal government will contribute over the next 10 years. In addition to regulatory measures to support battery technology, grid integration and market preparation and introduction, the launch of a market incentive programme and its form are currently being reviewed.

However, the government does acknowledge some challenges, saying it must be considered that EVs will only succeed if the total costs, including the associated infrastructure costs, develop in such a way as to ensure that no permanent subsidies will be required for these vehicles to be competitive.

Over in the US, meanwhile, the Waxman/Markey Bill, introduced in May 2009 and still finding its way through the legislature, also contains a number of provisions for accelerating the deployment of a vehicle charging infrastructure and the manufacturing of plug-in EVs.

If signed into law the bill will amend the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act of 1978 (PURPA), mandating utility companies to support the use of plug-in electric drive vehicles, including heavy-duty hybrids. The plan may also include deployment of charging stations, battery exchange and fast charging infrastructure as well as other similar elements determined necessary by each state to support plug-in electric drive vehicles. The House of Representatives passed the bill in June 2009, though it is currently stalled in the upper chamber. Under the terms of the bill, state regulatory authorities and independent utilities are to establish protocols and standards for integrating plug-in EVs into the distribution system, including the development of smart grid technology as well as considering cost recovery plans.

Other central support measures have included direct grants to EV manufacturers. For example, in January 2010, US energy secretary Steven Chu announced the Department of Energy has closed its US $465 million loan with Tesla Motors, Inc. for construction of a manufacturing facility in southern California on the Model S electric car and a power-train manufacturing facility in Palo Alto, California.

The Palo Alto facility will assemble electric vehicle battery packs, electric motors, and related electric vehicle control equipment, both for Tesla’s own electric vehicles and for sale to other automobile manufacturers.

Chu said the investment ‘will help build a customer base and begin laying the foundation for American leadership in the growing electric vehicles industry. This is part of a sustained effort to develop and commercialize technologies that will be broadly deployed throughout the American auto industry.’

The deal follows a similar $5.9 billion arrangement with the Ford Motor Company agreed to in September 2009.  The Department of Energy has also signed conditional commitments with Nissan North America, Inc. and Fisker Automotive.

Nissan plans to build electric cars and battery packs at the company’s Smyrna, Tennessee manufacturing complex, while Fisker recently announced plans to build plug-in hybrid electric vehicles by reopening a shuttered GM plant in Wilmington, Delaware.

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The Department of Energy was appropriated $7.5 billion by Congress to support up to $25 billion in loans to companies making cars and components in US factories that increase fuel economy at least 25% above 2005 fuel economy levels and some $2 billion under the 2009 Investment and Recovery Act for EV development.

Furthermore, since 2009 certain qualifying EVs have benefited from a federal tax break, worth up to $15,000 in 2010. The credit amount will vary based on the capacity of the battery used to fuel the vehicle.

PORSCHEManufacturers Step-Up Their EV efforts

With memories of previous electric car launches ending in commercial disaster still smarting, auto manufacturers have perhaps understandably been cautious. But, with the success of Toyota’s Prius hybrid vehicle pointing the way (notwithstanding the Japanese car giant’s current high-profile setbacks), rivals spotted an emerging market and have been quick to follow up with initiatives of their own.

In January 2010 Toyota’s great rival Honda, for example, began operation of a solar hydrogen station prototype at its Los Angeles Center of Honda R&D Americas, Inc., intended for ultimate use as a home refueling appliance capable of an overnight refill of fuel cell-based electric vehicles.

Although the solar component is designed to export power back to the grid rather than generate hydrogen for the vehicle, the association between electric vehicles and renewable energy — shown in the picture below — is clear.

Nissan, meanwhile, has already started taking preorders for its new electric offering, the ‘Leaf’ with Nissan saying it expects to have ‘at least 20,000 reservations for Nissan Leaf by the time we deliver the world’s first mass-market zero-emission car in late 2010.’ Nissan also benefited from a DoE loan in June 2009 and is set to begin US production of its plug-in vehicles in late 2012.

HONDAThe Renault-Nissan Alliance has also pushed into the European EV market. And, in a move hinting at a trend for closer ties between EV manufacturers and infrastructure developers, in March 2009 the company forged a collaboration with zero emission transport infrastructure group Elektromotive. A Memorandum of Understanding has been signed by the two companies ahead of what they forecast will be a dramatic rise in the number of EVs on Europe’s roads. Renault-Nissan plans to start sales of EVs in Japan and the US in 2010, moving globally by 2012, and the so-called ‘Partnership for Zero-Emission-Mobility’, has the aim of accelerating the installation of charging networks for EVs in cities, the companies say.

Elektromotive installed its first Elektrobay charging post in London in 2006 and has now installed over 250 more across the UK ahead of a deal with Vinci Energies United Kingdom to install the world’s first fully-connected national recharging infrastructure for electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles.

Auto manufacturers and infrastructure players are not the only groups to have spotted the vast scale of the potential market. In a new 2010 report on the EV market from 2010–2020, analysis company IDTechEx forecasts that 29 million EVs are expected to be sold in 2010 and this figure will rise 69% to 49 million EVs in 2020. However, the company also suggests that the value of the market will grow by far more because larger and more expensive vehicles are now rapidly adopting the technology, with motorcycles, military vehicles, buses and earthmovers among them. Hybrids, meanwhile, will rise from about 50% to about 60% of the market value through the decade, the report says.

Utilities Move Into the Transport Business

Auto manufacturers are also forging tie-ins with utility groups too. For instance, the Renault-Nissan Alliance has partnered with the French utility company Electrcite de France (EdF) and the Swiss electric utility company Energie Ouest Suisse (EOS).

More recently, in January 2010, Italy’s Enel announced a deal with scooter manufacturer Piaggio Group. The two partners will work together to study the mobility and electric recharging needs of corporate fleets and hybrid scooters and plan to carry out joint pilot projects in selected cities with differing mobility styles and needs.

Specifically, Piaggio will provide know-how, information and technical data on electric and hybrid engines, their performance and use and recharging requirements. Enel will contribute its electric recharging infrastructure, ensuring compatibility with the technical characteristics and layout of Piaggio vehicles.

Meanwhile, Spanish utility group Endesa, which is majority owned by Enel, is participating in the G4V project (Grid for Vehicles) scheme aimed at evaluating the large-scale impact of the integration of the EV into the electricity grid infrastructure. The programme aims to establish recommendations for introduction from 2020 onwards. It is also looking at mass use of EVs, societal impact, the services and communications required and possible challenges and opportunities. The European G4V project has a budget of around €3.7 million over 18 months and involves other major European utilities players such as RWE, EdF, EdP and Vattenfall.

In Spain, Endesa is also involved in the development of the government’s so-called Movele electric mobility plan, involving the introduction of electric vehicles in various cities by the end of 2010 and which envisages the installation of a total of 546 recharging points in Madrid, Barcelona and Seville. And, in January 2010, Endesa became part of the ‘Verde’ project, the main objective of which is to research technologies that will permit EVs to be integrated into the power grid and introduced into the Spanish market. Spearheaded by auto manufacturer Seat, the Verde project already enjoys the backing of the Ministry of Science and Innovation, and is financed by the Cenit (the National Strategic Consortia for Technical Research) programme with a budget of around €40 million. Endesa is involved in a number of areas, chiefly relating to the integration of charging infrastructure in the electricity system.

Meanwhile, in November 2009, the municipality of Amsterdam, in partnership with energy company Nuon and network company Alliander, put a charging network into operation. Anyone with an electric car, motorcycle or scooter can park and charge free at charging stations located within the city. There will be 200 within the next two years under the Amsterdam Elektrisch programme. The aim is that in 2015 there will be 10,000 electric vehicles and a wide network of charging stations.

Perhaps the best example of this confluence of stakeholders comes from a January 2010 deal in which Renault, EDF, Groupe Bernard Hayot (GBH), Total Réunion, GE Money and the Grenelle Environment Forum in Reunion (GERRI) agency signed a letter of intent to trial 50 electric vehicles in La Reunion island, together with battery charging infrastructure powered mainly by renewable energies, notably photovoltaics.

RICARDOBarriers and Prospects for Roll-Out

Despite the recent advances and optimism among policy-makers, manufacturers and utilities, there are still a number of fundamental issues to be overcome, not least the necessary leap of faith by consumers, who will be asked to make substantial investments in the technology.

Addressing the issues of maximum vehicle range and the extended charging times — up to eight hours charging currently typically delivers around a 40 km range — proponents of EVs argue that the vast majority of Europeans travel less than 40 km a day and cars spend around 95% of the time inactive. Considerable research is being applied to smart grid systems for vehicle-grid interconnection which could optimise battery charging and enable utilities to more effectively manage the grid, and consequently greater integration of variable output renewable energy.

Furthermore, manufacturers are inevitably working on improved batteries and quick charging technologies. For example, the Renault-Nissan Alliance, the French Atomic Energy Commission (CEA) and the French Strategic Investment Fund (FSI) have set up a joint venture company to develop and manufacture batteries for electric vehicles. The alliance plans to produce batteries from mid-2012 at the Renault Flins plant near Paris, with a capacity of 100,000 batteries a year. Investment value of the project’s first phase is estimated at €600 million and batteries produced would be available for sale to any manufacturer.

Another indication of the growing optimism surrounding the EV sector from comes from California-based Better Place, which also has a tie-up with the Renault-Nissan Alliance and recently secured $350 million from an investor consortium led by HSBC Group and including Morgan Stanley Investment Management, and Lazard Asset Management. According to the company, the deal marks one of the largest clean-tech investments ever, valuing Better Place at $1.25 billion.

Shai Agassi, Better Place founder and CEO said the deal ‘marks the end of an extensive process with the outcome being a decision by one of the world’s largest, most conservative banks, HSBC, to take the validating step of investing.’ Stuart Gulliver, executive director, HSBC Holdings added, ‘We believe the switch from internal combustion engine vehicles to electric vehicles will create future growth opportunities in the auto and utility industries.’

Given the rapidly accelerating push to develop EV technology, infrastructure and markets, it seems likely that those opportunities will arrive sooner rather than later.

David Appleyard is associate editor of Renewable Energy World magazine. e-mail: rew@pennwell.com

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Renewable Energy World's content team members help deliver the most comprehensive news coverage of the renewable energy industries. Based in the U.S., the UK, and South Africa, the team is comprised of editors from Clarion Energy's myriad of publications that cover the global energy industry.

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