Published in Energy

Electric vehicle study maps optimal statewide charging network

BY Sunday, January 06, 2019 09:16pm

For about $21 million, Michigan can build a statewide network of electric vehicle fast-charging stations to meet anticipated demand by 2030.

That’s according to a study released last month by the Michigan Agency for Energy. The report maps out an optimal charging network from Kalamazoo and Ann Arbor to Houghton in the Upper Peninsula, which officials say is a key step in alleviating range anxiety among drivers and avoiding investments in stranded assets.

Researchers at Michigan State University modeled where to deploy the stations to minimize the overall investment and driver delay times at each stop, focusing on areas between the state’s major cities. The map is based on state highway-usage data and tourism and considers seasonal demand.

Resolving range anxiety — which is based on the ability of an electric vehicle driver to charge farther away from home — is a key driver of EV adoption, officials say. The study broadly maps how an EV driver could travel the state.

“The model would not only resolve range anxiety for drivers here, but also for folks coming into the state,” said Robert Jackson, director of the agency’s Michigan Energy Office. “It’s a bare-bones system. We didn’t want any stranded assets in 2030 and didn’t want to overbuild it. If you’re going between cities, you’re going to need fast charging.”

First of its kind

Researchers considered multiple scenarios based on a forecasted 6 percent market share for EVs by 2030, a relatively conservative projection of EV penetration from the Midcontinent Independent System Operator, which oversees the regional electric grid.

The low-tech scenario considers 70 kilowatt per hour batteries with a 50 kWh charger at more charging stations, while the high-tech scenario considers more powerful batteries and chargers at fewer charging stations.

The high-tech scenario would cost about $13.5 million less but have about half the number of charging stations.

Jackson said the most likely scenario would be a combination of the two, with higher charging capacity but lower battery capacity. This “hybrid” model results in 193 charging outlets at 35 stations for a total cost of $21.6 million, according to the study.

“We really took a mathematical approach to this in terms of how to do the placement,” Jackson said, adding that arbitrarily building EV charging stations could ultimately make them less useful and lead to them being stranded assets. “I haven’t seen states or national labs take this approach to thoughtfully planning an EV charging station network.”

Mehrnaz Ghamami agrees. A professor at MSU’s College of Engineering who co-authored the study, Ghamami has been “on the frontline of the research” modeling EV deployment for nearly 10 years.

“The modeling framework and algorithm is actually unique,” Ghamami said, adding that no other state has gone to this level of detail to map out an ideal EV charging network.

The second phase of the study will focus on urban areas and consider other station placement factors, the role of ridesharing and local regulations to encourage EV usage.

The findings are the result of a series of meetings with utilities, charging companies, automakers and clean energy advocates focused on how the state can build the infrastructure to support EV deployment.

“We think it’s being done the right way,” said Mike Alaimo, executive director of Clean Fuels Michigan, which has been involved with the planning process. “We hope to use that to further educate policymakers on what investments need to be made and why the study found what it did.”

‘Important crossroads’

The state also will use the study as it decides how to spend up to $9.9 million of funding over the next three years dedicated specifically for electric vehicles in the 2016 Volkswagen settlement. Michigan received a total of $64 million under the settlement for the automaker’s scandal involving cheating on emissions testing.

The state plans to open the grant application process for Volkswagen funding this year. Jackson said applicants will need to show that they’ve worked with utilities and charging companies.

“The assumption is that on the first round (of funding), site locations are picked based upon our model,” he said.

Jackson said the funding could make up roughly one-third of the total investment, with the rest coming from utilities and third-party site hosts. Ideally, some of the first chargers could be installed along the network this summer, he added.

DTE Energy and Consumers Energy have cases pending before the Michigan Public Service Commission that propose a total of $20.5 million in EV charging pilot programs.

Advocates also remain optimistic that the Whitmer administration will further support the EV work done so far.

“I think we’re at a really important crossroads right now with the work being done around strategy, planning and policy development and putting those things into action,” Alaimo said. “We’re highly confident these are policies the state of Michigan needs to put in place to support its auto sector and a cleaner environment.”

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