Most people do not pump gas at home. In fact, they drive down to a gas station and fill up the fuel tank from a pump. New EV owners, however, will likely expect to be able to charge their vehicle at their house, condo, or apartment. Additionally, charging is likely expected to be a quick and easy process.
A large number of EVs entering the market over the next five years means a significant increase in electricity usage and the need to rethink how energy is moved from production to the end user. This article is about some of the challenges facing the emerging EV market, especially how to treat electricity as a substitute for gasoline and diesel fuel.
Just like gasoline and diesel fuel, electric power has a supply chain that leads from production to the customer. Electric power must be generated, transmitted, distributed, and deployed. Much of the news coverage about electric power demands due to the transition to EVs is about power generation, but hefty costs must be borne in the other areas as well — and these have legal implications.
Let’s start with generation.
Adding hundreds of thousands of new EVs will increase electricity demand significantly enough to absorb some or all of the spare electric generating capacity of the United States, especially during peak demand times. This may lead to more frequent use of peaking power plants and price increases for electricity subject to seasonal and even intraday changes. New pricing structures in contracts may be required to address price fluctuations, including fixed pricing, price ceilings, and variable pricing offerings.
The increase in electricity requirements will add to demands for the construction of new and varied power generation facilities, such as solar, wind, and tidal power, which will bring with them a host of legal issues for new construction, real estate, environmental permitting and compliance, and tax incentives. Existing power plants will be expanded or have their operating lifetimes extended, which may require certifications, compliance audits and upgrades for worker and environmental safety, and remediation. The tension between the maintaining of existing facilities versus building new ones with significantly different carbon footprints will require complex analysis to support decision making and risk management.
The generated power has to get from the generation facilities to the consumer, and that generally means transmission to local electric utilities for distribution. The existing electric transmission grids are aging and near capacity and will need expansion not only to existing lines but construction of new lines and more interconnections between lines to provide redundancy. These new systems will create the need for supply agreements between electricity suppliers to complement the physical interconnections being constructed.
New lines, whether in existing or new rights-of-way present environmental, construction, land use, eminent domain, and political legal challenges. Most electric transmission is performed via suspended high-voltage lines; however, new challenges and opportunities may be out there for the use of underground transmission lines and wireless power transmission, such as via high-energy electromagnetic waves.
Hand-in-hand with transmission is distribution. Once electricity at transmission line voltages is transmitted to a distributor, such as a local electric utility, the power is divided amongst thousands or millions of branches to supply consumer needs at reduced voltages. This means new distribution lines and upgrades to existing ones to service increasing demand. Many of the legal challenges faced by distribution companies will be similar to those facing owners and operators of the transmission systems; however, these will be more localized and deal with city and county level decisions, zoning, easements, ordinances, and regulations in addition to governmental oversight. There will also be inconveniences to be managed for local businesses, road closures, safety and risk management, and outage mitigation. All of this is just to get the electricity to the charging stations, where deployment occurs.
Here, the term “deployment” is used to describe the part of the charging process where electricity from the local electric utility is actually transferred to batteries in individual EVs. The traditional fueling station will likely continue to exist and be a convenient replacement – a line of charging stations on the corner rather than a line of pumps. An existing fuel station may have everything but the electric charging units, but they may face environmental remediation and zoning issues for repurposing. Whereas, new construction for a charging station may negate some of the long-term environmental issues facing existing fuel stations. But there are alternatives to be considered, including the much-touted at-home charging.
Let’s consider charging stations in residential houses. Some envision EV charging as a slow charge on what looks like an extension cord running into their EV. Consumers are likely not going to be satisfied with a slow recharge rate which means a market for upgraded charging systems that can charge the EV quickly that will also add higher power demands, a need for more robust circuits to carry that power, and professional electricians for installation. Higher power systems also represent more risk if they fail, which may impact home insurance liability and cost. Yet to be resolved are questions such as who will own the charging station in the home? Will it be owned by the homeowner or leased from another party? Will local electric utilities enter the business of leasing and maintaining charging equipment for customers? Could there be a separate power agreement for the charging station separate from the home with a subscription for services?
Another alternative for deployment is the transmission of electricity wirelessly. The opportunities are endless with wireless. If an EV is equipped with a power receiving antenna, then the EV could receive power from a wireless charger in a garage, whether it be at home or in a parking structure. It is possible to construct or repurpose existing towers in heavy traffic areas to transmit power wirelessly to all of the vehicles within range. Consider a toll road that also charges the EVs that travel on it. Wireless charging introduces many options, including ownership or leasing of wireless charging devices, monitoring of the power received, protection against illicit power siphoning, and data security. Each of these innovations may give rise to new patents to be licensed by automobile manufacturers and wireless power equipment developers. Will a power receiving antenna be a standard feature or an aftermarket add-on? Wireless charging may even be realized by installing charging equipment in the roadways themselves. Large scale wireless charging may implicate city planning and policy decisions.
EVs are going to play a significant role in the future of personal transportation, complete with greater energy efficiency and a reduced carbon footprint that is good for the environment. There will be many challenges and opportunities as we grapple with scaling the generation, transmission, and deployment of electricity to meet the demands. And, while the legal implications embedded in the build out of this infrastructure are enormous, they are not insurmountable.