EVs and Charging – Where Does Your Electricity Come From?

Kevin Parmenter, Director, Applications Engineering. TSC, America



Kevin Parmenter, Director, Applications Engineering. TSC, America

­The transition to the electrification of transportation is inevitable; however, it is my belief that the current electric vehicle market is not living up to its potential and that we need a radical technological revolution in some key areas.

Unless you’ve missed the news, you’ve heard how billions of dollars are being spent on both EV battery production facilities, as well as R&D in battery chemistries and construction methods. For all the discussion about the “green” advantages of using batteries, lots of fossil fuels are still being burned to obtain all the raw materials that the batteries use. And lots of big yellow construction machines are burning up fuel to turn dirt and build the manufacturing facilities; though, of course, the hope is that one day these machines themselves will be electric.  Also keep in mind that the batteries are made of materials using nasty chemicals and plastics (including petroleum products), and recycling these toxic materials is another concern.

Electrical vehicles themselves face challenges. Today’s purely electric EVs have a comparatively high price tag relative to ICEVs (internal combustion engine vehicles) and HEVs (hybrid electric vehicles). They also cause range anxiety for drivers. Imagine being stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic in a Chicago snowstorm for hours and having no idea when you’ll reach a charging station. Consumers are still wishing for EV charging times that emulate gas refueling times, not to mention access to significantly more charging stations outside the home.

But the biggest area that needs to be addressed is the electrical infrastructure needed to charge EVs. Many people -- even those who should know -- never consider that most electricity is generated using fossil fuels. In an infamous video, a politician demonstrating an EV charger is asked where the electricity feeding it is coming from. Becoming increasingly agitated and frustrated, the politician insists that it comes from the building itself. But aside from needing a “green’ electrical infrastructure being fed by renewable sources like solar or wind, our present electrical grid is insufficient for the task of deploying EVs on a mass scale. 

There is talk about creating self-charging EVs with solar panels built into the physical makeup of the vehicle. These self-charging cars would be able to augment the grid, assuming the vehicle is not parked in covered parking or a garage, but we need technology breakthroughs to make this happen. Short term, even with massive R&D dollars trying to solve technical and business hurdles, we face the main environmental issue: creating a truly sustainable charging infrastructure. Solar is the most viable alternative, but we will need batteries and bidirectional chargers that allow the grid to store and retrieve energy on demand. Progress is being made and monies are being spent on an EV future. Meanwhile, as we develop new technology options, let’s use common sense and not make more pollution along the way.