Electric Avenue

  John Eichberger |  November 2019

I have been holding off using this song for this column for nearly two years, because it always seemed so obvious and cliché – the market is welcoming electric vehicles to the street, let’s go with Eddy Grant!  But today, it is time. Why? Because at the direction of its Board of Advisors, the Fuels Institute is launching an Electric Vehicle Council to better understand how the market can deliver electricity in a way that meets the drivers’ needs as well as the needs of those interested in delivering the electricity. Yep, we have said for years that “fuels” does not mean just liquid, it means all energy powering transportation. And now we are officially rocking on down to Electric Avenue!

We gonna rock down to Electric Avenue
And then we’ll take it higher
Oh, we gonna rock down to Electric Avenue
And then we’ll take it higher

Now, Eddy’s song from 1981 is clearly not about electric vehicles – in fact it is about a poor man who cannot afford the items for sale in a specific shopping area of London, named Electric Avenue because it was the first street to get electric lights. But the title and the chorus are still relevant. And if we think about it more broadly, the deployment of charging infrastructure is essentially seeking to deliver electricity to everyone – not only those able to shop under the lights.

Gut Check

“But John, you have continually warned us not to fall prey to the hype associated with electric vehicle adoption stories…what is going on?” 

My past commentary on the pace of market evolution has not changed – EVs will take longer to gain significant market share than a lot of forecasts would suggest, but that does not mean they will not play an increasingly important role in transportation. And as we look at the market to serve these consumers, there are lot of hurdles standing in the way of deploying sufficient infrastructure to keep pace with EV market expansion. Additionally, there are significant challenges to developing a sustainable business model that can survive after subsidies (government and industry) fade into the sunset.

This Electric Vehicle Council is consistent with the mission of the Fuels Institute to evaluate the energy needs of the traveling public, regardless of the type of vehicle used or the type of energy required to power it. By bringing together a diverse, collaborative group of stakeholders, we can more effectively evaluate market conditions and provide valuable insight to help decisionmakers make better choices.

Why now?

The EV market continues to expand and through September 2019, pure battery electric vehicle (BEV) sales were up 48.5% over 2018.  In addition, BEV share of total light vehicle sales stood at 1.5%, compared with just under 1% at end of September 2018. Given the strength of BEV sales in the fourth quarter of 2018 (accounting for about 40% of 2018 sales), I suspect end-of-year market share in 2019 will be higher than 1.5%. While this is not an earth-shattering, market disrupting figure, it is not something that should be overlooked.

Electric-Avenue.jpg

In addition, attention on infrastructure has grown because there is a significant need for it. With the number of market stakeholders now focusing on infrastructure deployment, there is an opportunity to aggregate their collective experience and knowledge. This type of collaboration will deliver new analyses to help answer questions the market may face and ultimately, enhance the ability of the market to move forward.

What will the Council do?

The actual work product of the Council is yet to be determined as it will be set by Council leadership once it is officially formed. In forming the foundation of the Council, however, the Fuels Institute is committed to learning from stakeholders about what research and education projects could be undertaken that would have real benefit to the market. The last thing the Institute wants to do is duplicate what others are already doing or publish information that the market does not need. So, we are actively soliciting advice and guidance from those actively engaged in infrastructure deployment.

That said, there are some things that have already been identified through our outreach that might fit within the purview of the Council These could include:

  • Site Host Education – Analyze the market and educate potential infrastructure hosts about the opportunities, challenges and realities of installing and operating EV chargers.
  • Regulatory Analysis – Evaluate regulations that facilitate or impede the siting, approval, installation and operation of EV charging stations and develop materials that stakeholders can use to more efficiently work with government agencies.
  • Consumer Insights – Develop a better understanding of today’s EV consumers relative to their charging and travel behavior and their preferred experiences at charging stations.
  • Method of Sale – Analyze existing, emerging or potential business strategies for EV charger operators to generate a return on investment from their operations.
  • Update Existing Resources – Identify which existing resources critical to market evolution are potentially outdated and provide refreshed, modern analyses. 

Collaboration is Key

Like so many other issues facing the transportation energy market, there is a tremendous lack of appreciation and understanding for what other stakeholders are facing, which leads to potential animosity in the market and can derail a collaborative approach to resolution. By bringing together disparate groups of stakeholders under one umbrella to deliver objective, fact-based resources, the Fuels Institute can help overcome some of those non market-based hurdles. This is one of the unique attributes of the Institute – we set aside preconceived notions, develop respect and trust among stakeholders and go forth to benefit the market.  Unlike Eddy Grant’s London, there is no violence in this market, but there is a lot of room to improve relationships:

Down in the street there is violence
And a lots of work to be done
No place to hang out our washing
And I can’t blame all on the sun, oh no

Next Steps

The Electric Vehicle Council has the potential to deliver real value to the market, but it will require careful coordination among the stakeholders to develop an approach that can be successful. The Fuels Institute is committed to doing this right and to being inclusive – it may take a little time to harvest the insight and participation of influential stakeholders.  But the work has already begun.

The electric vehicle market is not taking over the transportation sector tomorrow, but it is not going away either. It will continue to be an increasingly important segment of the market, and it is incumbent upon market participants to understand what consumers will need and figure out a way to satisfy that demand. The EV Council is a step towards helping stakeholders deliver value to consumers.  Stay tuned for more details…and keep on rocking! 

We gonna rock down to Electric Avenue
And then we’ll take it higher
Oh!