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Ask a Scientist: How to Get a Charge Out of Your EV

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By Elliott Negin

The Biden administration’s vision of an electric vehicle (EV) charging station network across the country came closer to becoming a reality last month when President Biden signed the $1.2-trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act into law. The bill included $7.5 billion for EV charging infrastructure, which could get us close to reaching the president’s goal of a half a million chargers. Over time, more chargers should help alleviate potential EV buyers’ worries about where they can get their next electron fill up.

Even without that network yet in place, US EV sales this year were on track to set a record, boosting the number of EVs on the road to an estimated 400,000, and industry forecasters predict sales will double over the next two years.

Despite this rapid growth, EV sales likely will amount to less than 4 percent of overall US vehicle sales this year, so there is a long way to go to fulfill President Biden’s executive order calling for zero-emissions vehicles to comprise half of all new passenger vehicles sold by 2030, let alone UCS’s goal of 100 percent EV sales by 2035.

We recently received a query from a UCS member from Toledo, Ohio, who is thinking about buying an EV. “I currently own a hybrid (Prius),” Debbie P. wrote, “and would consider getting an EV for my next vehicle, but am concerned about sufficient access to charging places when traveling and also about how long it takes to charge such a vehicle.”

I turned to Samantha Houston, a UCS senior vehicles analyst, to address Debbie P.’s question. Among other things, Ms. Houston pays close attention to EV infrastructure issues, and earlier this year, she posted a fact sheet titled Federal Support for EV Charging: Policies for Rapid, Equitable Investments. Before joining the UCS staff in 2018, she was an independent consultant working on vehicle emissions standards, climate policy modeling, and other issues for a range of clients, including Climate Interactive, a nonprofit think tank. She holds a master’s degree in technology and policy from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Below is an abridged version of our conversation.

EN: Right after the good news about the infrastructure bill, we got Debbie P.’s very relevant question about charging EVs. Where are we now with charging infrastructure and how fast can the country ramp up to meet the Biden administration’s goal?

SH: Before we get to long-distance travel, let’s talk about routine, day-to-day driving. Most people drive less than 50 miles per day, so charging a car that is going to be parked anyway is more than sufficient to fill up for day-to-day driving. For many people, that kind of opportunistic charging can be done very conveniently with relatively low-cost, low-powered chargers at home. Workplaces can provide another great opportunity to charge EVs for a number of hours at a time.

Of course, people who can’t install a charger at home or at work because their workplaces don’t provide charging can rely on public chargers in their community — if they’re available. I have a couple of friends dealing with this situation. One relies primarily on charging at his local grocery store while he does his weekly shopping. The other charges at a Tesla Supercharger for half an hour every few weeks.

That said, we obviously need more chargers, particularly for multi-unit housing and rental units. That’s why federal, state and local funding, including what Congress provided in the bipartisan infrastructure bill for public charging, is so critical. With that kind of money in hand, the question of how fast we can ramp up will really come down to how quickly state and federal programs can dedicate funds for charging sites and how much municipalities, utilities and installers can streamline the engineering, design, permitting, inspections, and grid connection process.

EN: Debbie P. asked about how long it would take to charge an EV. It gets a bit complicated, because there are at least three kinds of chargers, right?

SH: Right. The most basic way to charge an EV would be to plug its power cord into a regular outlet. That’s called Level 1. Level 2 chargers provide more power, using the same kind of plug used for a clothes dryer. Level 3, or DC fast charging, has two-and-half to 20 times more power than Level 2, depending on the kilowatt (kW) rating, and would add miles to the vehicle’s driving range much faster, although that speed often comes at a cost.

How long it takes to charge at any of those levels depends on how big the battery is, how much “fuel” in kilowatt hours (kWh) you need, and the power rating of the charger.

Let’s say you’re looking at an EV of pretty average efficiency that takes 34 kWh to drive 100 miles. For day-to-day driving, imagine you typically drive 25 miles per day and you want to start each day with your EV’s battery at 100 percent. You could charge the battery in 4.5 hours with a Level 1 charger or a little more than an hour with a residential Level 2 charger.

For occasional road trips, imagine you want to add 150 miles of range when your EV battery is getting low. If you only have access to a commercial Level 2 charger, it could take anywhere from 3 to 7 hours to charge depending on the charger’s power output. But with a 50 kW Level 3 fast charger it would take about an hour. And if you had access to a 150 kW it would take only about 20 minutes.

EN: So it sounds like charging for daily driving isn’t a big challenge. But what if Debbie P. wants to take a road trip?

SH: Charging along travel corridors has come a long way, and I’m not just talking about the Tesla charging network. Electrify America, for example, has opened an average of four stations every week since 2018, mainly along interstate highways. In fact, we already have roughly 20 percent of the Biden administration’s goal of a 500,000-charger network in place, with more than 100,000 public EV chargers as of the first quarter of this year, according to the Energy Department.

So charging stations may be already in place to accommodate the long trips Debbie plans to take. For people like Debbie who are on the market for a new (or new-to-them) car, I recommend mapping out longer trips they think they might take, say from Toledo to Washington, D.C., to confirm charging availability, given the EV’s particular battery range. Some automakers have tools to automatically calculate such a route. You can also use a resource such as PlugShare.com to identify charging locations, power level, port type, and cost.

EN: Besides charging issues, according to a recent public opinion survey, price and range are obstacles for potential EV buyers. Younger shoppers — Gen Z and Millennials — are not as concerned about range, but they have less disposable income than older folks. What should the federal and state governments do to make it easier for people to choose an EV next time they buy a car?

SH: Certainly, charging deployment alone, as critical as it is, cannot guarantee US drivers will adopt EVs as rapidly as necessary to reach our carbon reduction goals. We also have to address the very real obstacles to buying the vehicles. EV incentives, such as the federal tax credit, can help bridge the gap on upfront cost as long as EVs are more expensive than their equivalent gasoline counterparts.

But incentive programs can’t only focus on helping people who can afford to buy a new car. As it turns out, most people buy used cars. Used-car purchases outnumber new car purchases by more than two to one, and the gap is even more pronounced for people of color and low-income families. Some states now have incentives in place for used EVs and UCS is advocating for a federal used EV credit as well. These incentives would provide more choices for potential car buyers no matter what their economic status is. Incentive programs also must be designed so that all car buyers can access them and they don’t drive up the price of EVs on the new or used market. And keep in mind, EV sticker prices are bound to fall as batteries improve and more EVs are manufactured and sold. It is all about economies of scale.

As the survey you mentioned points out, range anxiety is becoming less of an issue, given the current generation of EVs are meeting or exceeding the range of their gasoline counterparts. And when more charging stations are installed in cities and along highways, range anxiety will dissipate even more.

The main point is that federal, state and local policies have to address all aspects of the EV driving system to make EVs accessible for anyone who needs a personal vehicle. EVs are the future — hopefully the near future — and no one should be left behind.

Originally published by Union of Concerned Scientists, The Equation.


 

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Tesla’s Policy Lead Testifies at PUCT Open Meeting As Tesla Focuses on Supporting the Texas Grid

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Tesla’s US Energy Markets Policy Lead, Arushi Sharma Frank, was recently asked to testify at a Public Utility Commission of Texas Open Meeting. A photo of Frank wearing an LFDECARB tee shirt popped up on Twitter. The tee shirt itself is a message focused on decarbonization by the group Bros for Decarbonization. You can learn more about the group here.

Frank confirmed that it was an impromptu request to testify. She also shared exactly what she talked about.

The document Frank shared was a filing receipt for supplemental comments from Tesla signed by Frank. There’s also a video of her testimony which you can watch here. In the document, Tesla said that it appreciated the opportunity to share its comments regarding PUCT’s discussions that were held on June 16, 2022 — the open meeting regarding Tesla’s proposal OBDRR041 as well as its prior work demonstrating how virtual power plants (VPPs) work.

I recently published an article about Tesla’s VPP workshop, which was related to OBDRR041. Tesla also said that it appreciated the Commission’s comments related to its Distributed Energy Resource (DER) pilot projects. Tesla especially supported the conversation between Commission representatives and the staff at the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), as well as with the market participants. The conversation covered the real implementation of the system through a pilot as opposed to a task force approach. The latter, Frank noted, could unnecessarily create delays in implementing a grid service solution for DERs.

Looking At The Document & Tesla’s Statements

The Commission’s decision to encourage ERCOT to get stakeholders together and develop a pilot project allowing the market solution of exports from VPPs to be tested is also something Tesla expressed its appreciation for. This allowed for addressing issues raised by utilities and other market participants that have concerns about the potential impacts of site-exporting DERs on distribution facilities. It also allowed for a discussion of the net impact and benefits to the transmission grid.

Tesla also clarified and provided information as a response to a few discussion topics and questions that were raised at the open meeting. These topics included the OBDRR041 status, the ERCOT Pilot Proposal, and a question posed to Tesla by Chairman Lake at the open meeting.

OBDRR041 status

Tesla noted that since the OBDRR041 is currently tabled at the ERCOT Technical Advisory Committee, it would not seek a vote until there was further development of issues and positions from ERCOT and the potential members of the committee.

“At this time, Tesla believes that OBDRR041 may remain tabled at the Technical Advisory Committee pending consideration of the feasibility of a Virtual Power Plant pilot as the Commission proposed at the Open Meeting.”

ERCOT Pilot Proposal

Tesla expressed its views on the formal ERCOT Pilot Proposal that was introduced at the Open Meeting. Tesla noted that for a formal ERCOT pilot approach to be a feasible alternative to OBDRR041, a pilot should :

Have ERCOT’s support and the market’s acceptance and approval from ERCOT’s governing board.
Be amenable to commercialization in that sufficient participants could be aggregated across sufficient distribution service areas (more than one, but in capped quantities, in each service area as described in a proposed pilot framework).
Adequately capture data addressing clearly identified distribution utility concerns, in parallel to or as part of the pilot’s scope.
Have provisions to ensure market services compensation commensurate with grid services provided by pilot participants
Have an identified “start date” and “end date” which are technically feasible for involved parties.

In addition to that last point, Tesla added that the following are requirements in Section 25.361 (k) regarding pilot development and approval:

“ERCOT may conduct a pilot project upon approval of the scope and purposes of the pilot project by the governing board of ERCOT. Proposals for approval of pilot projects shall be made to the governing board only by ERCOT staff, after consultation with affected market participants and commission staff designated by the executive director.

“The ERCOT governing board shall ensure that there is an opportunity for adequate stakeholder review and comment on any proposed pilot project.”

Tesla noted that pilot  project proposals approved by the ERCOT governing board should include the following:

The scope and purposes of the pilot project;
The designation of temporary exceptions from ERCOT rules that ERCOT expects to authorize as part of the pilot project;
Criteria and reporting mechanisms to determine whether and when ERCOT should propose changes to ERCOT rules based on the results of a pilot project.
An estimate of costs ERCOT will incur attributable to the pilot project.
An estimated date of completion of the pilot project.

Tesla’s Response To Chairman Lake

Tesla expressed its appreciation for Chairman Lake, who stated that “nothing teaches like experience, so the sooner you get something in the field, the more you learn faster.”

Tesla also responded to a question posed by the chairman and said that it’s concerned that it will not be able to scope a pilot program in a Non-Opt-in-Entity (NOIE) area. Currently, Texas homeowners are unable to participate in VPPs due to the law. Tesla said:

“Primarily, this approach may not be economically rational as it could mean a substantial resource investment in a pilot that is not scalable to a commercial retail offer where Tesla could continue to directly serve those customers and grow the program’s strength and viability.

“The customers in a pilot should be able to continue to benefit from the value for their systems beyond the end-date of the pilot, in a commercially viable solution – but with a NOIE-only pilot, Tesla would have no control, legally or otherwise, over the continued participation of such customers once the pilot closes, even if a viable market participation framework is implemented following that pilot’ s conclusion.

“Any formal program participation of those customers would be solely at the option of the NOIE serving those customers. More simply, the purpose of a pilot is to study a solution that can be scaled following adoption of market rules based on pilot learnings. To build a program off the learnings of a pilot, the customer base involved in the pilot should be able to continue service under that formalized program, so that parties involved are not running the risk of raising a wholly new set of unstudied issues in a new distribution system type that was not part of the pilot.”

Frank also shared a link to over 60 pages of data from Tesla. Deep dive coming soon.

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Coalition Calls for EU Hydrogen Quota for Shipping

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Energy providers, shipping companies and NGOs call on the EU to introduce a minimum quota of 6% sustainable and scalable hydrogen fuels by 2030

A broad coalition of energy providers, shipping companies and NGOs — including Siemens Energy, Viking Cruises, Green Power Denmark and Brussels-based organisations Hydrogen Europe and Transport & Environment (T&E) — has called on the EU to introduce a minimum quota of 6% sustainable and scalable hydrogen fuels by 2030.

Last year the European Commission, the EU’s executive body, proposed a shipping fuel law (FuelEU Maritime Regulation) aimed at increasing the uptake of alternative marine fuels. Unfortunately, the law fails to guarantee the competitiveness of sustainable and scalable e-fuels, and risks promoting cheaper, unsustainable fuels. The coalition therefore calls on the European Parliament and EU Council to improve the proposal by including a dedicated e-fuels sub quota in the proposed regulation.

Delphine Gozillon, sustainable shipping officer at T&E, said:

“An ambitious shipping fuels law will be key to set the shipping sector on course for full decarbonisation. Sustainable e-fuels are currently too expensive compared to other alternatives such as fossil LNG and biofuels, holding back investments in production facilities, refuelling infrastructure in ports and zero-emission ships. However, with a bit of a push e-fuels produced from renewable hydrogen can be scalable. That’s why we need a quota to get the ball rolling and encourage companies to start investing in clean shipping fuels. Shipping does not need to be a dirty industry forever.”

A list of all the coalition’s demands can be found here.

Download the letter.

Courtesy of Transport & Environment.

Featured image courtesy of Maersk.

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Diving Into Tesla’s 60+ Pages of PUCT Filings (Mostly Data)

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Tesla has over 60 pages of Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUCT) filings that have recently been shared publicly, and we’re about to dive into them. Grab some water and a coffee and let’s go.

Tesla and its team, including its US Energy Markets Policy Lead, Arushi Sharma Frank, have been working hard to help Texan Powerwall customers be able to take part in virtual power plant (VPP) pilot programs. In May, Tesla held a VPP workshop for the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) and Frank was one of the key leaders hosting the meeting.

Recently, Frank was asked to testify at an open meeting of the PUCT, and there she shared Tesla’s comments and statements addressing questions and other concerns relating to VPPs.

Frank tweeted a thank you to the PUCT for the opportunity of allowing Tesla to provide comments. In addition, she followed up with two more tweets, with one mentioning her favorite part of the filings — Tesla describing a phenomenon called “clumping.” Clumping is a reference to capturing the full value of distributed energy renewables capacity in an aggregate load resource (ALR).

63 Pages Of Data For PUCT

In total, there were 63 pages. I’m only going to go over some of the data briefly. I think it’s important to highlight Tesla’s hard work because if Texas allows its residents who own Powerwall batteries systems to participate in VPPs, this opens the door for other states in the Deep South to at least consider clean energy solutions for various problems, especially grid-related. Texas is well known for its grid instability, and if it allows Tesla Powerwall customers to take part in VPPs, this could mean saving lives during disasters.

Included in the filings were comments from Tesla, a request from Tesla that the Commission direct ERCOT to prioritize several actions such as allowing ALRs (Aggregated Load Resources) to provide injection capacity from individual sites in a framework by December 2022, an informal narrative of Tesla’s VPP demonstration in ERCOT, and 47 slide pages detailing the ERCOT/Tesla ancillary service demonstration.

I think the most important part for us outsiders observing here is the 47 slides, because they highlighted a lot of data that shows just how the Texas grid will benefit from VPPs. The 47 slides showed several key meetings between Tesla and ERCOT about the demo program.

Key Meeting Between Tesla & ERCOT Shows Tesla Has Been Working Hard Trying To Convince Texas To Allow VPPs

In March, there were four meetings in which Tesla defined clumping, Frank’s favorite part, as well as two telemetry signal approaches. Following that were weekly meetings around the demo results with the last demo result being April 15, 2022. On April 9, Tesla and ERCOT revisited clumping and the two telemetry signals approach.

This tells me and anyone paying close attention that Tesla has been quietly working with ERCOT to help the Texas grid for quite some time. This, I think, is a good thing, especially for Texas.

Tesla Seeks To Register The First ALR In ERCOT

According to the documents, Tesla wants to register the first ALR in ERCOT and participate in services that are currently unavailable. These services include non-spin and sCED load reduction dispatch. Tesla wants to do this with the full value of grid services that injecting devices can provide in an ALR.

Tesla said that it will lead efforts to modify the utility’s ALR Policy Other Binding Document to make it fit with practical operational, registration, and qualification issues. It clarified that ERCOT can exchange two telemetry points with an aggregation-qualified scheduling entity (QSE).

Tesla ERCOT Demo Tests

Tesla’s first demo looked at the comparison of battery and premise-level telemetry. Below is a chart showing the initial conditions, test steps, data collected, and pass criteria.

Table courtesy of Tesla

This first test results show that VPPs work beautifully in Texas. According to the results, the load decreased during the evening while in the morning it decreased while exporting to the grid. And during the daytime, the exporting of energy to the grid only increased. Tesla explained further:

“Discharging from the customer’s battery using a step function can clearly be identified in the premise-level data.

“At different times of day, premise-level data will look differently, depending on the current load:

1. Evening time: during the evening peak, user load is typically high, and discharging the battery will show up as a decrease in premise-level load.

2. Morning time: during the night/morning time, user load is typically lower, and discharging the battery will both decrease load, and export energy to the grid.

3. Daytime: during the daytime, solar is exporting to the grid, and discharging the battery will increase the export.”

You can view the full demo, test results, and all of Tesla’s comments here.

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