Tech Insights

Lightening the EV Infrastructure Load

April 26, 2024 by Jake Hertz

With the increasing number of electric vehicles worldwide straining the grid, a comprehensive study looks at how EV efficiency could lessen the infrastructure load. 

Amidst the global rollout of electric vehicles (EVs), a major concern facing consumers and governments is the strength of the EV charging infrastructure. Concerns over charger reliability and availability are hindering the widespread adoption of EVs, and expanding infrastructure will prove costly and time-consuming.

However, improving EV efficiency could reduce the need for significant infrastructure buildout, according to a recent joint Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI)/Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) study. Moreover, changes in EV construction could benefit the power grid. What does EV efficiency look like, and how can engineers achieve it?

 

EV low battery alert

EV low battery alert. Image used courtesy of Adobe Stock

 

Targeting EV Improvements

NRDC and EPRI examined the potential advancements in electric vehicle efficiency and their broader impacts on energy consumption, infrastructure demands, and consumer costs.

Central to the analysis are several key technologies they feel have the potential to advance EV and internal combustion engine vehicle efficiency. These include:

  • reducing aerodynamic drag 
  • enhancing tire designs to decrease rolling resistance 
  • optimizing auxiliary systems to use energy more efficiently 
  • improving powertrain efficiency
  • increasing battery energy density 

Each technological strategy targets improving a specific aspect of vehicle operation to significantly reduce the energy required per mile, thereby extending vehicle range or minimizing the size and cost of the batteries required.

 

The four scenarios presented in the EPRI study.

The four scenarios presented in the EPRI study. Image used courtesy of EPRI

 

The study explores these advancements through the lenses of four distinct scenarios projected out to 2050. The “Current” scenario serves as a baseline, assuming efficiencies remain constant at 2023 levels. The “Improved” scenario incorporates existing best practices and anticipates gradual technological advancements. The “Advanced” scenario introduces significant improvements and includes moderate reductions in vehicle weight through high-strength steel. Finally, the “Advanced + Lightweighting” scenario extends beyond the Advanced scenario by incorporating substantial weight reductions through advanced materials such as carbon fiber.

 

Forecasting EV Efficiency Impacts

Employing the US-REGEN model, the researchers provided quantitative forecasts illustrating the profound impacts these efficiency improvements could have. 

In the most ambitious Advanced + Lightweighting scenario, they projected the annual electricity demand for vehicle charging could see a 53% reduction, plummeting from 2,400 terawatt-hours (TWh) to approximately 1,136 TWh by 2050. Moreover, this scenario forecasts the total annual energy expenditures could be reduced by about $238 billion by 2050, with $195 billion of those savings stemming from decreased costs associated with electricity and charging infrastructure. Such savings illustrate the direct financial benefits to consumers through reduced operational costs, enhancing the affordability and appeal of EV ownership.

 

Reductions in electricity use in each efficiency scenario.

Reductions in electricity use in each efficiency scenario. Image used courtesy of EPRI

 

The implications for the power grid are equally significant. Enhanced vehicle efficiency could substantially reduce the need for additional generation, transmission, and distribution infrastructure, potentially saving up to $170 billion annually in grid-related investments. This reduction not only aids in managing capital expenditure for utilities but also alleviates environmental impacts associated with extensive infrastructure development.

The decrease in energy demand per vehicle also implies a reduced need for battery materials such as lithium, easing pressure on global supply chains and contributing to sustainability efforts. This aspect is crucial as it addresses a major environmental concern associated with the scaling up of EV production—resource extraction and processing.

 

Future Technology Implications

The EPRI and NRDC study effectively argues for continued innovation in vehicle technology and a collaborative approach among automakers, researchers, and policymakers to realize these efficiency gains. It suggests further detailed studies should support these efforts to quantify these technological improvements' economic benefits and costs. Such studies will be useful in guiding future policies and investments in the rapidly evolving automotive sector, ensuring that the transition to electric vehicles is both economically viable and environmentally sustainable.