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There is no doubt in the minds of many, including yours truly, that electric vehicles are the future. The piece that we’re missing, especially here in West Virginia is fast charging for EV travelers. Tesla has the West Virginia interstates covered pretty well and is adding more chargers, but CCS fast charging is virtually non-existent. And when I say fast charging, I’m thinking at least 50kW, which really isn’t all that fast in this day and age. However, it’s vastly better than a level 2 plug when you just want to grab some charge while hitting the restroom, grabbing something to drink, and getting back on the road.
Recently though, we’ve started to see some movement. At the state level, the West Virginia Department of Transportation has committed to spending some of the Volkswagen “diesel gate” settlement funds on two DC fast chargers to be installed at the Capitol Complex in Charleston and Tamarack in Beckley. I have heard that they may be operational by the end of the year and am crossing my fingers.
On the municipal front, the cities of South Charleston and Nitro have also expressed interest in adding DC fast charging to attract travelers to their locations near interstate 64.
On the commercial fast charging front, Electrify America (EA) has announced an expansion to several new states including West Virginia by 2025. No specific timeframe was announced, but it is good to see West Virginia being added to the list of states served by EA!
Last, but certainly not least, Tesla is adding additional capacity to serve travelers in West Virginia. New V3 Superchargers (250kW of power per stall now going to 300kW in the future) are being installed in Morgantown and Wheeling, near existing 150kW V2 Superchargers. I have also heard that Ripley may be getting a new Supercharger, so more options and faster charging in store for Tesla owners. I travel from Martinsburg to Charleston periodically, so a 250kW+ charger in Morgantown is a nice addition!
It’s starting to feel like West Virginia is taking some positive steps toward our wild, wonderful, and electric future!
I sometimes hear complaints about EVs and how they'll never have this or be able to do that. It's as if some people believe that automotive technology isn't constantly improving and by large margins at times. Along this line of thinking, I thought it might be instructive to compare the first mass market EV that was available in quantity in 2011 to the 2021 version of the mass market EV exactly 10 years later. How far have we come in a decade? I'll let you judge the tech specs for yourself below. The LEAF was the best selling EV of all time until recently when the Model 3 took its place. This comparison doesn't even include other innovations from the past decade like the rapid growth of fast charging networks that enable practical cross country travel or new technologies like Autopilot, over-the-air software updates, etc. What do you think the mass market EV of 2031 will be like?
2011 Nissan LEAF SL
2021 Tesla Model 3 Standard Range Plus
The West Virginia Electric Auto Association (WVEAA) has released a position statement on West Virginia registration fees for hybrid and electric vehicles. In short, West Virginia’s existing per gallon fuel tax to support public roads is antiquated and does not work as designed with fuel efficient, hybrid, and non-combustion engine vehicles. It should be replaced with a road usage fee for all vehicles based on annual miles driven by class of vehicle. Creating new registration fees for modern vehicles that do not fit into a decades old road taxation scheme is neither equitable nor sustainable.
Taking off my WVEAA hat and providing a bit of personal opinion, I would like to touch on how we might handle the transition from the existing gas fuel tax and how out of state drivers support West Virginia roads. For now, my personal opinion is that West Virginia should continue collecting liquid fuel taxes. However, if a mileage-based annual usage fee by vehicle class were implemented, West Virginia drivers of gasoline powered and hybrid vehicles should be issued a credit for estimated fuel taxes paid based on miles driven. This would offset the usage fee for those vehicles based on taxes already paid at the pump while collecting the full amount from out of state travelers. Ideally, I would base this credit on the most efficient vehicle in the class to reward those drivers that choose efficient vehicles and disincentivize less efficient vehicles (i.e., less efficient vehicles would receive less of a credit toward their usage fee). Fully electric vehicles would receive no credit from fuel taxes, of course, and would pay the full usage fee for their miles driven. The key takeaway is this: every driver is paying for their actual usage by miles driven.
In the future, as vehicles become more connected with onboard GPS and connectivity, I could see more automated solutions. Just as Amazon collects state and local taxes to submit to authorities based on address, I believe automakers or some governing authority could collect usage data from vehicles that is submitted to local authorities to collect miles driven data by location. For example, if I live in the eastern panhandle and commute to DC every day, I drive very little in West Virginia and should be mostly supporting roads in Maryland, Virginia, and DC. This concept could be extended even further to handle tolls for road segments or congestion fees during different times of day for example (with proper driver notification of course). The natural response to this is privacy concerns although I believe these could be handled. Regardless, there isn't enough connected cars on the road today for this to become a reality anytime soon.
Feel free to opine in the comments!
Behold! The Lordstown Motors Endurance electric truck! I was able to get a firsthand look at a prototype of the new truck today in Montgomery Country, MD. And, before anyone asks, the event was completely outdoors, masks were required, sanitizer was provided, the truck cabin was being sanitized, and folks were keeping a respectful distance.
That's enough of the fine print. What was it like? Well, we didn't get to drive it unfortunately, but the exterior of the truck looked fairly complete and it was better looking in person than in photos, in my opinion. It looked and felt like a work truck. It wouldn't look out of place on a construction site or reading utility meters and that's a good thing since that's the market it is designed to serve. A very lite spec sheet was provided, but subject to change, yada, yada.
The reps onsite did note that there would be a front trunk (frunk), but that we couldn't see it as it's not in the prototype. The charging port was only Level 2 AC but the reps indicated that it will support CCS fast DC charging on the finished model so that will also be changing. There were a lot of items that will or could potentially change between this prototype and the production model which is expected in Q4 of 2021.
The Endurance is unique in that it uses electric hub motors on each wheel. There is no central motor or motors driving the wheels through shafts - the electric motors are embedded into the wheel hub itself. You'll see a couple photos trying to get a peek at those hub motors. You can see a glimpse of high voltage cabling in one photo, but really, the uniqueness of this design doesn't jump out at you from the photos.
The interior was the most pre-production aspect. If you look at the photos closely, you can see gaps, electrical tape and other unpolished bits and pieces as you'd expect to find on a prototype, but overall, I thought the look of the interior lined up well with other work trucks. I had plenty of room inside and it appeared functional from an admittedly non-work truck guy's perspective.
Because the event was hosted by the Montgomery County Division of Fleet Management Equipment Maintenance & Transit Operation Center, transit buses were coming and going during the event. I was surprised to look over and see a Proterra electric bus charger and asked one of the Montgomery County folks about it. Mr. Calvin Jones was exceedingly knowledgeable and gracious enough to speak at length about the efforts Montgomery County is undertaking to test not only Proterra buses, but other alternative fuel vehicles as well. They may also be testing a Ford Mach E with the local police department. West Virginia could learn a few things from Montgomery County!
All in all, a great visit and discussion! There wasn't a large crowd at any one time, but there seemed to be steady flow of visitors pulling up in Teslas and LEAFs. Let me know what you think in the comments below.
Yes, that may sound a little geeky, but Gallium Nitride (GaN) is gaining ground in multiple industries. I first ran across GaN devices in the newest crop of high powered chargers for electronics like cell phones and USB-C laptops/tablets. These new chargers can deliver a lot of power to even large devices and still be kept small and lightweight. They also run cooler and should last longer.
When I first encountered them, I wondered when GaN might make the jump to EVs and it looks like Texas Instruments, the company of calculator fame, is heading in that direction. By using GaN to make EV inverters/converters smaller, lighter, and more efficient, it will improve the one thing we all want more of - EV range! The cost may not be at parity with older silicon or silicon carbide (SiC) tech at the moment, but with scale and the other advantages above, GaN sounds like it will eventually be in all EVs. It could also play a part in shrinking and making fast DC charging equipment more efficient.
Driving the electric vehicle evolution with GaN
What an impactful electric vehicle! We talked about electric transit buses a while back, but electrified school buses can make an difference in every community whether rural or urban. I can remember school buses idling in the winter while waiting for children to assemble and load/unload. And, I can vividly remember the unpleasant smell of diesel exhaust and you can just imagine the particulates and other emissions being breathed. I believe that has changed somewhat with rules about bus idling, but regardless, we need to see more electrified school buses everywhere. To that end, I'm excited to see Proterra working with Thomas Built to provide these clean, efficient alternatives to those old, smelly diesel buses!
As an added bonus, the large battery packs in these buses can be used for energy storage by local utilities to further reduce pollution and electricity costs for consumers during periods of peak demand. Read about the work that Dominion Energy is doing in Virginia. If Appalachian Power and First Energy are listening, we need more of this type of innovation in West Virginia!
A common concern about EVs is what happens to that large battery pack once it can no longer deliver adequate range for the EV after 8-12 years of use. Fortunately, for many EV batteries, they can have a second useful life in stationary energy storage. A new blog by the Union of Concerned Scientists talks more about this second life and provides more detail around the residual value of a degraded EV battery that may have another 5-8 years of useful life in an energy storage capacity.
As industry gains more experience with this concept, it will be able to more accurately forecast the value of these second life batteries. This could potentially impact the cost of batteries when new if a large enough market exists for the batteries at the end of their first life.
Give the article a read!
Great to see the University of Georgia adopting electric transit buses designed and built right here in the USA! Keep an eye on Proterra - they are the Tesla of the transit world. We need additional electric transit options here in West Virginia! Ask your local transit system about adopting electric buses. There may even be grant opportunities available for such purchases.
Electric Buses Transform UGA’s Transit System
I hope everyone is doing well in your new social distancing/work from home routines! Although these restrictions may seem burdensome, they are in the best interest of everyone so please do observe all hygiene and social distancing guidelines.
While doing that, however, don't forget about your EV! I recently wrote about the importance of the standard 12V battery and ensuring that it is replaced before it fails, but this public service announcement is to not forget to charge your EV while it is parked. All EVs typically discharge the traction battery slowly over time to keep electronics running, topping up the 12V, battery heating if it's cold, etc. Tesla EVs use battery power to keep the internet connection and computer running and possibly the Sentry security cameras. Other EVs with connectivity features will behave similarly.
This is a reminder to keep an eye on your EV if you're not driving and plug it in occasionally. I wouldn't recommend keeping it plugged in at a high state of charge, but if you can set the maximum charge to a reasonable number (60-70%) then you could leave it plugged in and let it top up as needed. On most newer EVs, the owner can generally set the maximum charge percentage. Refer to your owner's manual for recommendations on extended parking.
Just wanted to share a brief word about the Feb 29, 2020 Coffee and EVs event in the eastern panhandle. We talked about charging, the state of the EV industry, the various manufacturers, what we could to improve charging locally, etc., but I would like to share one specific story from this event. One of the attendees had purchased a Hyundai Kona EV not too long ago based on his experience riding in a Kona EV at last September's NDEW event. The gentleman who gave rides in his Kona EV at NDEW was also present and the new owner thanked him for putting him on the path to an EV. Although we don't always see the results of our efforts, it's great when we do!