Are Electric Vehicles Worth the Investment?
A massive shift in energy consumption is shaping infrastructure needs and market opportunities for various industries, one of the chief ones being the auto industry. While oil consumption per capita (workforce) trends downward, the electric energy consumption per worker has increased consistently since the 1950s, supported by more efficient energy consumption technology.
One of the most significant trends shaping the persistent future of this mass-energy transformation is the growth of the electric vehicle market. The global EV market offers a potential $30 trillion market opportunity. Virtually every vehicle manufacturer is offering or plans to offer EVs. Some such as VW and Volvo plan to phase out the internal combustion engine entirely with electric capacity.
Currently, EVs account for a small fraction of the 1.4 billion vehicles in the world, but the EV adoption trend is increasing. According to the International Energy Agency, the global base of vehicles is over 1.4 billion with EVs representing 8 million vehicles or less than 1% of the market. Forecasts suggest that by 2025, EVs will account for 2 million vehicles sold in the US representing approximately 12% of total vehicles sold each year. The most recent IEA report found that just shy of 10% of global car sales were electric in 2021, a market share increase of 400% since 2019.
So, what does this EV energy transformation mean for consumers? Let’s look at a few key factors in evaluating EVs: economics, driving range, charging time, and charging network.
Understanding the economics of EVs takes understanding their basic operational functionalities, like the difference in measuring the efficiency of MPG compared to miles per kilowatt-hour (kWh). Essentially, the question is: How far can you drive with a gallon of gas versus a kWh of electric energy? According to the EPA, the average vehicle fuel efficiency in 2020 was 25.7 MPG. The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration states the average person drives around 13,500 miles every year, suggesting an annual fuel cost of over $2,300 at $4.50 per gallon.
The average EV range is approximately 3.5 miles per kWh. One way to assess the economics between MPG and kWh efficiency is to compare the driving costs of traveling 100 miles. With the average fuel cost of $4.50 in the US, driving a traditional combustion engine vehicle at 25.7 MPG equates to $17.50. With an EV achieving 3.5 miles per kWh, the 100-mile traveling cost will depend on whether the EV was charged at home or on a charging network station. The average at-home cost is roughly $0.14 per kWh. So, the 100-mile EV travel cost equates to $3.91.
However, if the EV requires charging on a public charging network, the cost is significantly higher. The average kWh cost on public charging networks is approximately $0.42 per kWh ranging from $0.25 for Tesla’s charging infrastructure, to a range of $0.33 to $0.60 on other charging networks. At $0.42 per kWh, the 100-mile travel cost would amount to $12.00 for an EV, which is still a 30% savings over conventional vehicles.
The question then shifts to EV driving range which is dependent on battery size and EV efficiency. Most EVs have driving ranges between 250 to 350 miles on a fully charged battery. This range varies depending on speed, driving conditions, the use of AC or heating, and EV efficiency. Dashboard visuals try to remedy this multivariable influence; most EVs provide gauges to show miles/kWh, offering real-time feedback on efficiency.
Maintaining efficiency during long-distance travel involves planning, particularly with the limited availability of public network charging facilities. Fortunately, most charging networks offer apps with mapping capabilities for navigation to the nearest facility.
How does charging session time impact the economic viability of driving an EV? This can become particularly acute when time is of the essence. Charge time is dependent upon the type of charge system, ranging from slow speed Level 1 measured in hours to DC Fast Charge measured in minutes. When traveling long distances, Level 1 and Level 2 will not accommodate your travel plans. Trickle charging will take hours, and is not conducive nor comparable to filling your vehicle at a gas station. Charging networks offering fast charge can provide 20-to-30 minute charge time to a least make it comparable to filling your tank with gas. But even then, EV charging hasn’t reached the point to where you can fill up and hit the road in under 5 minutes.
Therefore, the selection of a charging network is paramount to getting the most out of an electric vehicle investment. Tesla provides its own charging network with a proprietary charging connection, which means you can only use Tesla chargers on a Tesla. Other public charging systems have gravitated towards the J1772 connection for charging EVs. Navigating a long-distance trip and making good time on the road requires locating fast charge systems.
For example, if you’re traveling from New York to Miami there are numerous fast-charging locations to accommodate your travel. However, on one of my recent road trips, I found only Level 1 and Level 2 facilities in the Richmond, VA area; my EV suggested it would take 14 hours to fully charge the battery.
While Tesla currently has a commanding lead with its first-mover advantage, including EV production, sales, fast charging infrastructure, vertically integrated battery production, and algorithms with sensor data for autonomous driving, other network charging players such as Electrify America and EVgo are gaining ground. Both utilize fast charging using the J1772 standard used by most new EV entrants which may, in turn, level the playing field for EV entrants.
Questions remain around ChargePoint and Blink Charging with respect to capturing sustained market share given their extensive reliance on Level 2 charging. Charging Facilities, both ChargePoint and Blink, have substantially more Level 2 charging than fast charging.
The EV market will emerge as a structural change to electric transmission architecture in extending the capacity for EV charging stations while opening a tremendous opportunity for energy storage in EVs. Moving forward, the industry’s focus will examine the transmission and distribution of the electric grid to expand the market for EV charging.
- Economics favor EVs over conventional vehicles with savings of 30% to 75% over gas
- Driving range and charging time are important considerations
- Selection of a public EV charging network is crucial for long-distance travel
- Install Level 2 EV charging system at home (40-to-50 amp), 240 volt
- Download EV charging apps from leading network providers
- Carry portable charging cable when traveling long distance
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