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Creating a tipping point for electric vehicle adoption

Estimates of electric vehicle (EV) share of the automobile market by 2020 vary widely, with projections as low as 2% and as high as 15% (Goldman Sachs, NRDC, BCG, IHS, Deutsche, IEA).  While 40% of consumers are “extremely interested” in purchasing an EV, according to Pike Research, without a convergence of technologies, services, and infrastructure this interest will not translate to actual sales.  This convergence is dependent on thoughtful collaboration between car companies, electric vehicle supply equipment (EVSE) companies, network solution providers, policy makers, and customers.

Recently, I had the pleasure of moderating a session at the GreenBiz VERGE DC Conference with representatives from some these sectors to discuss what it will take to create a national network of EVs.  My panel included: Arun Banskota, President of EV Services at NRG Energy, John Wirtz Business Unit manager at Eaton Corporation, and Ron Mahabir, CEO of Greenlots.  Just looking at our panel, one could say the building blocks of a basic EV network are already in place.  However, in order to get EVs past the tipping point for mainstream adoption, further convergence is needed in three key areas: 1) EV technology integration, 2) comprehensive energy solutions, and 3) customer outreach.

EV technology integration

At GreenOrder, we believe it is important to create products not simply for their environmental benefits, but because they are better products. In fact, the labeling of electric vehicles as “alternative” does not send the right message; EVs represent the next generation of personal mobility. Wirtz mentioned that at Eaton Corporation they are integrating existing technologies from other industries in which they operate into EV technology in order to create more advanced vehicles. 

Like apps on a smart phone, platforms and technologies integrating EVs with their ecosystem will make the vehicles that much more useful to the driver. Developing these technologies requires further collaboration on key issues such as product standardization and creating open platforms that encourage innovation, all while maintaining interoperability with the electrical grid and network systems. 

Comprehensive energy solution

The value of EVs to customers is also highly dependent on the overall growth and use of smarter electricity distribution systems.  For instance, EVs provide more value to the customer when they are integrated with smart meters, energy storage, and customer engagement platforms.

During the panel, Banskota spoke about how eVgo is taking advantage of energy stored in an EV’s batteries by selling it back into the grid at times of high demand, generating $100 or $200 a month for car owners.  According to Basnskota, “this group of grid services could be a $1 billion market by 2020, [providing] a revenue source for [EV owners].”

At GreenOrder we are currently working with another leading U.S. utility to deploy grid modernization solutions, integrated with EV infrastructure, tailored specifically for their large customers.

Customer outreach

Making EVs mainstream and attractive for all types of customers remains the most difficult challenge to adoption.  Changing customer attitudes about EVs remains the most important area for convergence and collaboration.  All of the key players must make it clear that EVs are here to stay.  This point is illustrated by the fact that manynew EV models are entering the market this year.  However, for major automakers to come closer to meeting their ambitious sales goals (like GM’s aim to sell 60,000 Volts in 2012), there must be more collaboration and business partnerships on highly visible, “cool” projects.  Multi-stakeholder working groups representing key sectors should come together on simple, compelling public awareness campaigns.    For example, Banskota mentioned that as a result of engaging customers in eVgo’s awareness campaign in Texas, willingness to buy an EV as a next vehicle increased from 10-15% to 50-60%.  Unique partnerships with EVSE providers’ key commercial customers can also help convince the general public to buy EVs.  For instance, ECOtality, who was named Bloomberg’s 2012 New Energy Pioneer, has formed unique partnerships with Regency Centers, Kohls, Walmart, IKEA, Sears, and Macy’s to put EVs more in the public eye. To be successful, EV ecosystem participants must work together to deliver an “EV package” that is simple, flexible, and financially beneficial for the customer. As Wirtz said during our discussion, “If you incentivize the owners to buy the vehicles, the infrastructure will come.”

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Thoughts about inspiring principled performance.

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