Tom Still: The road to widespread use of electric vehicles is long, but the difficulties can be ironed out | Economic news

Judging from commercial advertisements and gospel reviews from proud owners, almost everyone will be driving an electric vehicle within a few years.

The real time frame for EV adoption is a bit longer than that – hopefully 50% US penetration by 2030 – but not as long as being a mirage on a hot desert highway.

That consensus emerged during a March 29 roundtable in Madison, where three speakers with differing perspectives on the rise of electric vehicles highlighted both the promise and the perils of society‘s upcoming transition from electric motors to electric vehicles. internal combustion.

Charging station availability, laws governing who can build and operate those stations, battery technology, supply chain issues, manufacturing conversion rates, tax policy and more will likely combine to lengthen the adoption rate.

At the same time, consumer choices for electric vehicles are rapidly increasing, vehicle production is ramping up, and early adopters such as delivery fleets, the U.S. Postal Service, and trucking companies are leading the way.

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Spearheading electricity will be charging stations, the availability of which determines how far EVs can go before their drivers’ “range anxiety” kicks in.

“So how are we going to decide where to put these charging stations? The way I think about it and the way we look at it, at least from a research perspective, has to do with something (which we call) an origins and destination study,” David Noyce said. , a professor at the UW-Madison College of Engineering specializing in transportation planning and the future of road vehicles.

Noyce said building charging networks in high-use areas should come first, followed by an effort to address what he calls the “in-between charging needs” that many vehicle owners are most concerned about. electrical.

Part of the answer, Noyce said, lies in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passed by Congress late last year. It calls for spending $79 million over five years in Wisconsin alone for charging stations.

This assumes that the state government can agree on the rules for how to put those dollars to work.

“There’s a really big legal problem,” said Art Harrington, a seasoned attorney whose practice centers on energy and sustainability issues. “The question is whether providing charging stations to the public, or indirectly, is a regulated public service” under a state law that has remained virtually unchanged for a century.

The Wisconsin legislature grappled with the issue in its last session, but a bill failed to pass both houses. At the heart of the debate was whether large utilities are best placed to reliably provide such charging stations, or whether a decentralized model involving smaller, private charging stations makes more sense.

Godfrey Kahn’s Harrington said the large utility model could be more cost-effective and provide an advantage in terms of supply availability, price regulation and consumer protection. It could also be more vulnerable to hacking, less likely to quickly use renewable energy sources, and likely to face challenges balancing peak hours with demand.

The decentralized model would be more likely to immediately rely on renewable energy and would not offer an easy target for mass piracy disruption, Harrington said. However, smaller stations would not find it easy to connect consistently and could be more expensive for long-term consumers.

A long-term answer could be “on-road” charging systems, Noyce told about 90 people at the Wisconsin Technology Council forum, but they are still being tested and remain very expensive per mile of installation.

Sean Baxter, president of Kayser Automotive Group based in Madison, has a recurring view of consumer interest. Electric vehicle sales now make up about 5% of his business, and he expects that to grow as cars and trucks become more available. For many people, he added, cost is also a factor.

“It’s still an expensive proposition for a lot of people,” Baxter said. “The average price of an electric vehicle is probably between $50,000 and $60,000. That’s still out of reach for much of the buying public.

Electric vehicles are poised to be a bigger part of the mix, but existing gas and diesel cars and trucks are generally built to last and make up the vast majority of what’s on the road today. The tipping point can occur when the running costs of electric vehicles and traditional vehicles approach each other.

Tom Still is the president of the Wisconsin Technology Council. Email:

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