EVs will go mainstream. But how fast?

Source: David Iaconangelo, E&E News reporter • Posted: Friday, April 6, 2018

Americans will turn increasingly to electrified forms of transportation over the coming decades, though how much they do may depend on whether internal-combustion competitors can outlast them on traditional metrics of appeal, according to the Electric Power Research Institute.

The EPRI report presented four scenarios to evaluate what electrification could mean for the energy sector over the next three decades.

Outcomes depend on factors that include technological change and policies like carbon-pricing regulations. But in all four scenarios, EPRI researchers saw electricity’s share of energy end-use rising considerably: from the current 21 percent to 32 percent, in the conservative case, and up to 47 percent in the most transformative.

The transportation sector would lead the change. Electric and hybrid vehicles, they wrote, would “quickly become cost-effective alternatives to conventional vehicles for most drivers” in every case.

The report from EPRI, which is the electric power industry’s research arm, presented two future trajectories for electric and hybrid vehicles.

Under the scenario that includes anticipated trends in vehicle cost and performance, light-duty EVs and hybrids would become the dominant source of new sales over the coming decades. By 2030, they would account for 40 percent, reaching 75 percent by 2050.

Owning an EV or hybrid would be especially cost-friendly for people who drive more than 18,000 miles per year — 50 percent higher than average. Purchase prices, meanwhile, would remain slightly higher than for internal combustion engines.

But that rosy picture came with a caveat from the authors. It was “not a forecast,” they said. Neither “the technological progress nor the consumer behavior underlying the modeling is a certainty.”

If internal combustion engines are able to make strides in cost and performance that outpace their electrified competitors, EVs would eat up less of the market share. Just 12 percent of all vehicle miles traveled would be electrified by 2030 and around 50 percent by 2050.

A similar scenario might come about if “behavioral factors” — lack of information about electric vehicles or anxiety over vehicle range — play a decisive role.

The report’s conclusions came a day after U.S. EPA declared that it would loosen fuel efficiency standards for passenger vehicles, posing the decision as a defense of consumer preferences (Climatewire, April 3).

“[C]onsumers’ preferences are not necessarily aligned to meet emission standards and there is uncertainty on this issue that merits further consideration,” EPA said in its determination, in an echo of arguments by automaker groups.

Other conclusions from the EPRI report concerned rising natural gas use — increasing 18 to 40 percent by 2050, from 2015 levels — and declining overall economywide emissions.

It also examined the effect on electric grids, finding that if properly managed, electrification could lead to “slow but steady” load growth.

In the most conservative case, electric loads would fall through 2050. In the most transformative, they would grow by 52 percent.

Averaged out by year, that would be a modest uptick from the present and still considerably less than the 2.7 percent growth seen in the 1990s.

“For electric companies, such slow but steady growth can moderate potential rate impacts of investments for environmental compliance or grid modernization,” wrote the researchers.