How Fast Can We Transition to Electric Transportation?

Kevin Parmenter, Director, Applications Engineering. TSC, America



An estimated 5.5 million electric vehicles were in service in 2020, and by 2025 the expectation is that over 24 million EVs will be on the road. The quest to electrify transportation and have complete zero emission vehicles will need to overcome critical obstacles that will push the limits of how fast it can really happen.

In 2019, only 7.3 million chargers existed worldwide – with less than a million available for public access. For public charging, we need to build enough charging stations to replicate the infrastructure of the gas stations. As for home charging, imagine everyone on your street with a 240 V single-phase outlet in their garage. The capacity of the utility feed in your area would be exceeded if everyone needed to charge the one if not 2 EVs in the garage at the same time. How do we solve this?

In 2020, about 60% of U.S. utility electricity generation was still produced by coal, natural gas, and petroleum. Nuclear power, our best bet for replacing fossil fuels, faces public perception problems. Pluggable hybrid electrical vehicles offer the most viable bridge technology until we fix the issues with infrastructure and convenience to emulate internal combustion power.

Meanwhile, the traditional automotive manufacturers were kicking the can down the road for full electrification of their products until Tesla issued a challenge and they had to respond. This made them spend money and accelerate their EV programs much faster than they planned. So now the growth in EVs, HEVs – and both on-board and off-board chargers – is astounding. And these technologies will consume massive amounts of power semiconductors and electronic components.

As I write this we are in another boom or bust cycle in the electronic components industry. Automotive manufacturers are responding to the long lead times by announcing they are entering the semiconductor and electronics market to have more control. Although major companies, at least the Big Three, tried this before they lost a fortune and ended up exiting the industry. Does this mean they plan to their own build fabs? Or will they use outside foundries and design parts and secure fabless capacity? I wish them success this time.

It could be that the EV, HEV and charging makers are fed up with the semiconductor industry and are going to emulate what the large phone, consumer electronics companies, and such, have done: decided that they do not need an outside semiconductor company for many categories. They figure they have smart designers and can get their own parts fabricated with the top fabs around the world. We will see how the traditional automotive OEMs do with this approach.

The power electronics industry and anyone are still at the mercy of global fab capacity. There are interesting innovations needed in on- and off-board charging technologies. The question for us is, how are we going to manage an EV or two in every garage needing to be charged? If we are going to stop using fossil fuels for transportation, there are manifold problems to solve – and opportunities – for us technologists.