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Experts discuss hurdles and advantages of electric vehicles

The electric vehicle movement had a moment this week when President Joe Biden took a new electric Ford F-150 for a high profile test drive to announce his plan to invest $ 174 billion in incentives for the technology.

As electric vehicles grow in popularity, they still face hurdles as they approach widespread adoption among drivers.

On Wednesday, two Duke scientists discussed the advantages and challenges of electric vehicles during a virtual briefing with journalists.

Watch the briefing on YouTube.

Here are some excerpts:


Timothy Johnson, professor of energy and the environment

“What we think about most are charging stations for light or private vehicles, the vehicles we use to get around in our daily lives. Construction of charging systems. Right now, for people who own electric vehicles, and you can argue about whether they’re representative of the general population, most of the charging happens at home. These are people who tend to live in single family homes with garages or at least one loading unit. “

“The other piece of the puzzle that is getting more and more attention is loading heavy-duty vehicles. Freight vehicles, emergency vehicles, buses, garbage trucks. We are broadening our thinking about the type of infrastructure needed to charge electric vehicles. “


Jennifer Weiss, Senior Policy Associate at the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions

“There are two different markets and two different routes. On the light side, the cars and trucks, the most important thing is to develop the coordinated network between all the different parties interested in investing in electrical infrastructure. That could be utilities, that could be state and local governments, that could be third party providers. “

“Make sure everyone is coordinating and working together to build a complete network and get the user where they want to go.”

“Build it where the customers are today. Not where you are going, but where you are today. This can include your home or work place, but also places like shopping malls, grocery stores, and other places people go. Coordination between all of these different groups will be paramount. “

“And I shouldn’t skip rural areas. They are not always on the radar when we are building investments because they are not on the main corridors, the main highways. But it is so important to develop the infrastructure in our rural areas. “

“Heavy-duty vehicles (vehicles) require a lot more electricity and infrastructure to power those huge trucks and emergency vehicles. We need to think strategically about utilities and work with them to find out what this means for the power grid. How can we secure emergency vehicles in the event of a storm with either a microgrid or a storage system so that they can also be supplied with electricity? “

Fear of the area

Jennifer Weiss

“As a Leaf (electric car) owner, that was my biggest concern when I first bought my Leaf. I stopped using my car when it had about 40 miles left just because I wanted to make sure it was charging. “

“Give the end user the convenience and feeling of being able to charge anywhere, just like at a gas station today.”

“If you go to a workplace every day, make sure there is a charger there. This reduces the fear of coming to and from work. When they go to the grocery store, when they go to a restaurant or a doctor just make sure we put it where they are for them to do the other things they do in their life i am able to recharge the car and overcome the fear of this range. “


Jennifer Weiss

“We just saw the infrastructure being built on these major corridors, the major highways in North Carolina. Especially in tourist areas, however, there was more talk about the expansion of the infrastructure. So, along our coast in North Carolina or in the mountains. But what we don’t see so much and what I would like to see more is in the small towns. Until we do that, we won’t get the mass adoption of electric vehicles. “


Jennifer Weiss

“I think it’s huge. Given how many people drive the F-150, you can see them on the road every day. Getting such a vehicle out on the market and launching a marketing campaign and getting people to do it is going to be huge for the industry. “

Timothy Johnson

“This is an all-American mainstream vehicle, the pickup. It’s an icon. This was not designed as an electric vehicle. That helps with adoption and just normalizes the idea that this thing can be electric and work pretty well. “


Timothy Johnson

“On the fleet side, there is great interest in electric vehicles. Where would you expect electric vehicles to replace their gasoline or diesel counterparts first? You start to see it with fleets – for example with transit buses. Why? They are more expensive to buy, but much cheaper to use in the long run. The fuel costs are lower, but the maintenance costs are much lower. From an economic point of view, interest is growing. “

“But electric vehicles are kicked around like masks. Unfortunately, they are a symbol. I hope that when it comes to electric vehicles, whether they are individuals or fleet managers who become familiar with these things, the benefits of buying and owning electric vehicles are recognized. Some of this political baggage will fall. “


Jennifer Weiss

“In the last 10 years, the understanding of how much economic development electric vehicles can bring has changed. Especially here in the southeast, many car manufacturers have started either converting entire plants to electric vehicles or at least partially switching them over. And then you have the auto suppliers with you. From a political point of view … this is really important. We want to build that, we want to have economic development. At the same time, we want to train our employees to work with electric vehicles. Jobs in this area will increase. “


Timothy Johnson

“Gas station or gas station owners are certainly interested in what this means for their business. They make most of their money selling anything you sell in a supermarket, be it snacks or anything other than gasoline. I think there is a lot of innovative thinking about how to attract people there. I hope you enjoy it. Most public fees … Workplace fees are kind of functional. Where you might see more opportunity for fun is with fast charging. They try to attract EV owners who travel far and need a quick charge to get back on the road. However, it may still be 45 minutes to an hour before you are back on the road. So the restaurant combined with an EV charger makes sense there. “


Jennifer Weiss

“It depends on where you charge. Many of our local governments and some states have introduced free chargers. It costs nothing for the user. If you charge at home, it is independent of your electricity price. “

Timothy Johnson

“It’s hard to answer a question. … when you charge at home, it really is regardless of the rate of electricity your utility charges you. In the case of publicly available fees, the owners of this infrastructure must reimburse their fixed costs. It is not cheap to put a charger in a public place. “

“It can really add to the cost of public fees. So if you’re trying to cover your costs as a business it can go up.”

“It will be lower than gasoline. Gasoline prices would have to be very cheap or electricity prices would have to be very high before it costs more per mile to charge an electric vehicle than it does to fill up a gasoline vehicle. “


Timothy Johnson

“Electric vehicles don’t have an exhaust pipe. You have no combustion emissions at the place of use. Other emissions are associated with vehicles. Tires wear out; Brake pads wear out. “

“So you have particle emissions from tire wear and brake pad wear. Particulate emissions from an electric vehicle are still significant. They’re about half the size of a gasoline vehicle … but they’re still there. The question is all about where does the power come from? The electricity is generated somewhere. It depends on a number of things. If you connected a solar panel – we don’t do it that way – you would have emission-free electricity. “

“It’s a complicated question. If you plug in an electric vehicle to charge it somewhere, there is a power plant that increases its output a little to meet that load. You have to ask what kind of plant is that? Is it a fossil fuel plant? Are we taking in additional renewable energy? What will it be? And it depends on the time of day. That depends on the local network and the mix of power plants in this network. ”

“It also depends on how you charge. If you need to charge a level 1 or 2 charger and recharge the battery, do so overnight. If the power is relatively low, it takes several hours. The impact on the network is not that significant. If you charge a quick charger to charge your battery, you do it in a much shorter amount of time, so the electricity demand increases. This is indicated in a different way on the grid. “

“It really depends on what goes on behind the scenes when you hook up your vehicle.”


Jennifer Weiss

“It’s the customers’ knowledge of the benefits. We are currently facing a major hurdle in getting people to take a test drive, try things out and realize that with an electric vehicle they can do what they do every day. “

“Dealers don’t have many electric vehicles on the property right now. It’s the chicken and the egg. Until we actually see a lot more electric vehicles on the plots for people to test and compare to a traditional fuel vehicle, I think we’ll have a bit more inclines. “

Timothy Johnson

“Costs are another (challenge). Electric vehicles are still more expensive to buy, even though the total cost of ownership is … lower. It is important for an individual owner to overcome this cost premium hurdle. And for someone on a lower income, that purchase price becomes … significant. And when you buy a used car, there are less used electric vehicles too. “

Faculty participants:

Timothy Johnson
Timothy Johnson is Professor of Energy and Environmental Practice at the Nicholas School of the Environment. He studies the planning of energy systems with a focus on environmental quality and energy consumption.

Jennifer Weiss
Jennifer Weiss is a Senior Policy Associate at the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions. She authored the North Carolina Energy Efficiency Roadmap, a guide developed in partnership with the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality to help the state remove barriers and realize its energy efficiency potential.



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