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Electric Vehicle Myopia – Society & Systems

By: Bill Lydon

  • Electric Vehicle Frenzy – Disaster waiting to happen?
  • Lack of system design
  • Societal Impact – Burdening Low Income People

One of the hottest media topics is Electric Vehicles (EVs), with each vocal group typically myopically focused on one area without considering societal impacts and the entire system dynamics of generation, transmission, vehicle charging and environmental impacts. The average person, particularly in developed countries, takes for granted the instant availability of electric power without understanding the engineering and systems needed to generate and deliver reliable power. The average electric vehicle requires 30 kilowatt-hours to travel 100 miles, the same amount of electricity an average American home uses each day to run appliances, computers, lights, and heating and air conditioning. This is putting the cart before the horse.

System Design Required

Electric Vehicle and infrastructure investments must be coupled with knowledgeable system design throughout the ecosystem in order to meet the goals of lower global CO2 emission and energy efficiency.  Successful implementation requires a systems approach rather than designing, selling and promoting each of the pieces independently. Automation professionals are an important contributor to architecting, designing and deploying systems for effective reliability, availability and quality of electric vehicle initiatives throughout the world.

Today, fewer than 1% of vehicles on America’s roads are electric. The rapid growth of EVs is expected to accelerate. For example, Deloitte forecasts global electric vehicle sales will jump from 2.5 million in 2020 to 31.1 million in 2030 market. Many believe and promote the idea that it is entirely feasible to power many millions of new cars with electricity without understanding the system’s dynamics.

Societal Impact – Burdening Low Income People

It is troubling that the United States government electric vehicle tax subsidies are giving money to upper income people encouraging more personal vehicles to be on the road rather than focusing on mass transportation solutions. This compounds the impact on lower income people in a number of ways including increased income tax coupled with higher automobile registration and gas taxes.   Electric vehicles are not paying gas taxes and pay a small token cost in vehicle registration fees.

Electricity Generation GAP

In the United States drivers log about 3 trillion miles per year consuming more than 170 billion gallons of gasoline and diesel in the process. Converting all those road miles to electricity will place new demands on the nation’s system for producing and delivering electricity. An exponential increase in the use of electric vehicles will have dramatic impacts on utilities that produce and sell electricity. Additionally, in parallel, the addition of alternative energy sources including solar, and wind requires further system analysis and power grid management. There’s a great focus on building charging stations that are widely accessible and convenient without concrete plans to ramp up electric power generation to serve demand, modernizing electric distribution and increasing capacity.

If every American switched over to an electric passenger vehicle, analysts have estimated, the United States could end up using over 25 percent more electricity than it does today. Utilities will need to build new power plants and upgrade their transmission networks which contribute to power losses from generation to point of use. The U.S. Department of Energy found that 70% of U.S. transmission lines are more than 25 years old in its last network-infrastructure review in 2015. Lines typically have a 50-year lifespan. The average age of large power transformers, which handle 90% of U.S. electricity flow, is more than 40 years old. Transformer malfunctions tend to escalate at about 40 years, according to research by reinsurance provider Swiss Re.

A model utility with two to three million customers would need to invest between $1,700 and $5,800 in grid upgrades per electric vehicle through 2030, according to the Boston Consulting Group. Assuming 40 million EVs on the road, that investment could reach $200 billion.

Electric Energy Storage Challenges

Battery energy storage is challenging with the degradation of storage over time dependent on use, lifecycle temperature conditions, and frequency of rapid charging. Due to degradation energy storage capacity is a changing amount that has to be factored into system management.  At the end of the life cycle of approximately 10 years battery energy storage will need to be recycled which today is a difficult and environmentally dirty process.

Electric energy storage particularly for intermittent alternative energy sources such as wind and solar will need to be integrated into the entire electrical infrastructure systems and dynamically managed. This includes fixed storage battery banks and concepts for utilizing vehicle batteries when not in use for transportation which is a uniquely dynamic distributed control challenge.

Nuclear Power

Nuclear energy is sometimes referred to as a clean energy technology as it produces nearly zero carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gas emissions. Nuclear energy also avoids producing air pollutants that are often associated with burning fossil fuels for energy.   Unlike renewable energy sources power from nuclear energy can be generated 24 hours a day and isn’t dependent on the weather, like wind and solar power. 

More than half of the electric vehicles (EVs) on roads worldwide are found in China.   Nuclear power plants in China have been increasing with about 55 nuclear power plants in China, and more than 20 under construction.  The impetus for nuclear power in China is increasingly due to air pollution from coal-fired plants.  

Reliability and availability

It is important to consider the distinction between reliability and availability as it relates to electric vehicles. Availability is measured as the percentage of time power at the electric vehicle point of charging is available. This is dependent on the total availability of the system including electric power generation sources, transmission, and point of use charging station equipment. Reliability is consistent quality electric power delivered at electric vehicle charging stations which is dependent on the system from point of energy generation to the EV batteries. Overall system architecture and design needs to be done to availability & reliability targets. People expect high reliability and availability from their vehicles. Poor quality at the worst-case has the potential to be a liability problem for electric vehicle manufactures with issues such as an arc-flash when connecting or disconnecting charging cables.


The new highly distributed dynamic electric power system requires distributed data communications, sensing, controls, and processing with a large cyber security attack surface. This is a familiar problem to industrial automation professionals who are proficient at applying the ISA/IEC 62443 that has been refined 20 years. The ISA/IEC 62443 series of standards and processes for implementing and maintaining electronically secure distributed systems. This is a well-defined and accepted holistic approach to cybersecurity in distributed systems.

Charging Stations or Transit?

The United States government is financially subsidizing electric vehicle charging infrastructure development that could be put to better use investing in mass transit.  Federal and state funding of electric physical charging stations and infrastructure is another subsidy serving higher income citizens Essentially financed by all the population.  I have often thought mass transit located on the interstate highways would be logical.

Automation professional roles

The growth of electric vehicles (EVs) will require automation professionals to manage the complexities of increased power generation, distribution, and orchestration of generation resources including solar, wind and traditional sources. Automation professionals will be critical for designing, building, programing, cyber protecting, and commissioning power distribution and generation automation & control systems for efficiency, optimization, and meeting demand.

Electric Vehicle and infrastructure investments must be coupled with knowledgeable automation system design throughout the ecosystem in order to meet the goals of lower global CO2 emission and energy efficiency.

Comments, Criticism, Thoughts: What do you think?

Bill Lydon