Electric vehicle revolution is coming fast – and North Carolina isn't ready – WRAL Tech Wire


“There is no long-term future for cars with an internal combustion engine.” – Henrik Green, Volvo’s chief technology officer

RALEIGH – A revolution of electric vehicles is coming to the nation’s highways, but so-called “range anxiety” – the worry your car won’t make it to the next EV charging station – remains a real threat to people in North Carolina wanting to go electric.

Consumers may be seeing more electric vehicles on the road than ever before, and 2021 may still be the year of the EV, yet a new report finds that the infrastructure for electric vehicle ownership for residents of and commuters to Raleigh, Durham, Charlotte and other North Carolina cities ranks well outside of the top cities in the country for consumer convenience.

The report ranked the top 200 most populous cities in the country based on 11 key factors relating to electric vehicles—from the number of state EV laws and incentives to the average insurance premium for an EV to the number of publicly accessible charging stations per capita.

Of all the considered cities in North Carolina, Durham ranked highest at 36th. Raleigh and Cary ranked 61st and 64th, respectively, with Fayetteville (70th), Greensboro (#80), and Charlotte (#83) not far behind.  Winston-Salem ranked at 107th, and no other North Carolina city appears in the study from Lawnstarter.

Not that charging sites are exactly scarce in the Triangle. According to website ChargeHub, there are 178 charging stations in Raleigh, 156 in Durham and 124 in Cary.

“Buyers need to look beyond the initial sticker price and make their purchasing decision based on the lifecycle costs of an electric vehicle (which are much lower than internal combustion engine engines) and the available charging network in their area,” said Ralph Hall, associate director of the school of public and international affairs and the director of the school of public and international affairs undergraduate programs at Virginia Tech, in responding to the LawnStarter study.

“There’s also the question of what the vehicle will be used for. With around three-quarters of all urban trips being less than 10 miles, electric vehicles (EVs) present an attractive way to travel around town,” he added. “Cross-country trips are possible, but they will take some careful planning.”

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Still, Hall anticipates the continued growth of the electric vehicle market throughout the next 5 to 10 years, and along with that growth in sales, the expansion of electric vehicle charging stations.

Duke Energy responds

In some good news for EV buyers, Duke Energy is stepping up EV charging efforts.

According to Duke Energy, regulatory action taken in 2020 led both North and South Carolina to approve pilot programs that will lead to full, fast charging for all types of EVs in about 20 to 30 minutes.

A $25 million pilot program in North Carolina will allow Duke Energy to install 200 public Level 2 and fast-charging stations, as well as additional stations at multifamily buildings and a school bus electrification pilot that will allow school districts to change out diesel buses with electric ones, the company disclosed recently.

Electric vehicles in NC to get a boost from $25M Duke Energy plan

And six major utilities, including Duke Energy, recently announced a plan to give drivers of electric vehicles access to a seamless network of charging stations that will connect the major highways across the south, midwest, gulf coast and central plains regions. This group, the Electric Highway Coalition, includes Duke Energy, American Electric Power, Dominion Energy, Entergy Corporation, Southern Co. and the Tennessee Valley Authority.

“The path to cleaner transportation is a robust charging infrastructure along the nation’s major highways,” said Lang Reynolds, director of electrification strategy for Duke Energy in the announcement. “Range anxiety is a barrier to more EV adoption. This coalition can erase those obstacles and help deliver the benefits of EV ownership to consumers.”

The EV industry itself also is eyeing North Carolina.

Despite the ranking of 83rd, the Charlotte metro area recently saw U.K. electric vehicle startup Arrival come out of stealth mode in 2020 and announce the selection of the Arrival North American headquarters in Charlotte, and a microplant just across the state line in York County, South Carolina.

NCSU targets faster EV charging

Researchers at North Carolina State University also have built an electric vehicle fast charger “that is at least 10 times smaller than existing systems and wastes 60 percent less power during the charging process, without sacrificing the charging time,” according to the university’s news service.

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Taking a new approach, the charger “offers four times more power from the same system footprint, reducing the system installation costs at the same time,” according to Srdjan Srdic, a research professor at NC State who worked on developing the technology.

No guarantees of growth

But the expansion of the electric vehicle market isn’t guaranteed, even as Tesla and Nio stock has soared in recent months and reported record sales.  The U.S. market for plug-in electric vehicles (PEV), which includes some hybrid models, actually peaked in 2018 with 361,315, according to data from the United States Department of Energy’s Alternative Fuels Data Center and research from the Transportation Research Center at Argonne National Laboratory.  Though their data set doesn’t include 2020, data studied and aggregated by Cleantechnia estimate total sales volume of approximately 328,000 plug-in electric vehicles in the United States.

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“There is no definitive EV sales report for the United States,” wrote Zachary Shahan of Cleantechnia.  “US electric vehicle sales have been left nearly untouched. The problems are: 1) there is no unified reporting agency for the country that reports out vehicle registrations, 2) there aren’t even state reports on this that we could collect and add up, and 3) many automakers do not break out sales of EV models in their monthly or quarterly sales reports.”

Alternative Fuels Data Center chart

The Edison Electric Institute estimates that 18 million electric vehicles will be on roadways in the United States by 2030. That’s roughly 7 percent of the 259 million vehicles, including both cars and light trucks, that are expected to be on U.S. roads in 2030, the research firm estimated.

That doesn’t mean there hasn’t been much significant movement within the market, nor does it mean that there won’t be new entrants to the United States PEV market in the decade to come, as Tesla’s market cap grew larger than the nine largest global automakers combined in December 2020.  Automakers like Volvo—which pledged in 2017 to launch its first fully electric vehicle in 2019, and kept its promise, and now is pledging that 50 percent of all sales by 2025 will be fully electric vehicles—and GM—which recently announced its “Exhibit Zero” campaign and is pledging to be carbon neutral by 2040—have already announced plans for new models of electric vehicles, as have other major manufacturers.

Volvo going all electric: ‘There is no long-term future for cars with an internal combustion engine’

In fact, the market research firm AutoPacific estimates 90 to 100 new electric vehicle models will enter the market before 2030, despite the firm expecting market share to only grow to roughly five percent in the United States. That’s an anticipated tripling of the market share based on the latest data from 2019 from the U.S. Department of Energy, which found that the market share for electric vehicles was just 1.9 percent.

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“How quickly EVs can assume a mainstream position in the U.S. market depends on state and federal policy choices, the availability of charging infrastructure, gasoline prices and whether and how quickly battery prices continue to fall (they declined by about 80% between 2013 and 2020),” said Don MacKenzie, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Washington, in responding to the LawnStarter study.

“The U.S. Department of Energy’s Alternative Fuels Data Center has a searchable database of incentives and laws related to all sorts of alternative fuels and vehicles, including EVs. You can enter a state, the technology you’re interested in, and the type of policy, and search,” added MacKenzie.

EVs drawing investment dollars

According to CNN Business reporting, electric vehicle companies raised more than $10 billion in 2020, including private fundraising rounds, initial public offerings, and through mergers with special purpose acquisition companies (SPACs).  Tesla stock—despite taking a beating on Tuesday—still sits at approximately $686/share and a market cap of $658.6 billion.

Will consumers continue to purchase EVs, despite lingering concerns over the accessibility of charging stations and perceived inconvenience in coordinating long-distance travel?

“I would expect significant investments will be made in expanding the U.S. EV charging infrastructure,” said Hall.  “We may also see the 200,000 EV cap on the $7,500 tax credit being relaxed to something like 600,000, which would make Tesla and GM vehicles more cost-competitive.  If these public investments happen, the future for EVs looks very promising.”

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