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EVs: time to focus on the infrastructure

With rising oil prices and growing concern regarding the environmental impact of the use of fossil fuels for transportation, EVs (all-electric or plug-in hybrid vehicles) are gradually seen as an attractive addition to cars powered by internal combustion engines. EVs contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and dependence on diminishing oil resources and oil import costs. They also offer vehicle manufacturers a solution to halt or even reverse stagnating production and are increasingly seen by consumers as a cost-effective solution for personal transport. Yet their global introduction presents a number of challenges.

Standardisation is essential to allow interoperability, so as to avoid market fragmentation, achieve economies of scale and to develop a durable infrastructure that will make possible a global EV roll-out.

So far public interest has focused mainly on the vehicles themselves: on their performance in terms of range, speed, cost and convenience. Until recently, little international consultation had taken place between EV manufacturers and suppliers, and power utility companies regarding the infrastructure, equipment and standards required to support the mass introduction and adoption of such vehicles. A major step in that direction was taken in January this year in Washington DC, when the IEC (International Electrotechnical Commission) and e8, a global organisation of 10 world leading electricity companies, brought together major EV sector stakeholders to exchange views. All participants confirmed that the IEC’s existing and proposed International Standards for charging EVs satisfied their global needs. Standardisation is essential to allow interoperability, so as to avoid market fragmentation, achieve economies of scale and to develop a durable infrastructure that will make possible a global EV roll-out.

Still missing is the very last link in the chain, needed to deliver electricity to the vehicle.

One of the major constraints on the market penetration of new types of vehicles is the infrastructure required to ‘refuel’ them. In that respect, electricity presents a major advantage as an alternative ‘fuel’ for vehicles, since a large part of the infrastructure – the electricity grid – is already available almost everywhere in developed economies. However, still missing is the very last link in the chain, needed to deliver electricity to the vehicle. This missing link requires standards, additional installations and significant investment in grid infrastructure. Furthermore, a significant benefit regarding the introduction of EVs is their possible integration in so-called ‘smart grids’ being planned in some regions of the world, notably Europe.

‘Smart grids’…will also ease the integration in the networks of the steadily growing share of renewable and, by nature, intermittent energy sources such as water, wind or sun.

Large parts of the existing electricity infrastructure in many countries date back to the 1960s or even earlier, and modernisation is required to enable better management of power generation and demand through two-way communication within networks. The IEC, as the world’s leading standardisation body for all electrotechnology, is directly involved in the development of these ‘smart grids’. These will also ease the integration in the networks of the steadily growing share of renewable and, by nature, intermittent energy sources such as water, wind or sun. EVs have a role to play in the development of this system: if charging these vehicles means new loads to manage, EVs can also adjust the input from intermittent sources and act as stationary electricity storage devices in smart grids. They can hold or give back power, if required, as their charging can be suspended, delayed or reversed when electricity is needed in the home, the grid or elsewhere, for example at peak time.

The widespread introduction of EVs is a win-win solution for all, ultimately benefitting consumers, power utility companies, vehicle manufacturers, the economy and the environment.

The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Automotive World Ltd.

Morand Fachot is a journalist and writer for the IEC.

The IEC (International Electrotechnical Commission) is a not-for-profit organisation that brings together 162 countries. It provides a platform for close to 10,000 experts to prepare the safety and interoperability standards for all devices that use, produce or store electricity and contain electronics. More information on the IEC is available at www.iec.ch