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Thought Leadership
EEI International Insights:
Electric Companies Are Advancing Electric Transportation
December 2020
Uncertainty Through the COVID-19 Pandemic

As the world continues to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, governments and industry are working tirelessly to mitigate its effects. This new reality will have significant impacts on nearly every aspect of society, the effects of which may not be fully understood for years to come.

While this pandemic has kept us socially distant, it has underlined the importance of coming together to focus on the world’s most pressing issues. The need for global collaboration is only clearer, and it is evident that lessons learned from the pandemic can be applied in addressing challenges such as climate change.

Before the COVID-19 crisis unfolded, many countries were announcing commitments to new, ambitious climate goals, the most common of which was net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Now, as nations recover and economies restart, several countries are building on these commitments as part of their overall COVID-19 recovery plans. Countries, cities, and companies have presented a variety of visions and pathways for meeting a net zero target in their jurisdiction through a combination of policy, technology, and business innovations.

The Promise of Electric Mobility

One option rapidly gaining traction is electrifying transportation, which currently accounts for 24 percent of global carbon emissions. Transitioning from traditional fossil fuel-dependent transportation to electric transportation would significantly reduce carbon emissions from that sector making this a desirable option for achieving net zero targets.

In 2020 alone, new initiatives have begun to accelerate transportation electrification. The newly-launched Zero Emission Transportation Association (ZETA) brings together twenty-eight different businesses, including several U.S. electric companies, with the goal of enabling a pathway for full adoption of electric vehicles by 2030. Additionally, the Bezos Earth Fund recently funded a World Resources Institute initiative​ to electrify more than 450,000 school buses in the United States as part of its support of global climate action.

As demand for electric transportation grows, electric companies are working with residential and commercial customers to customize solutions and to meet their transportation electrification needs. This active involvement is decreasing barriers and paving the way to large-scale adoption of electric transportation. In this article we delve into various types of electric transportation and how electric companies around the world are leading the transition to a cleaner transportation future.

Charging EV Growth

Electric vehicles (EVs) are becoming increasingly popular as auto manufacturers offer more and more models at all price points, and as more people prioritize the environmental benefits of EVs. The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that the global stock of EVs exceeded 7 million in 2019, with the United States, China, and Europe leading the way in EV adoption. Under current policies, EVs could account for 7 percent of the global vehicle fleet by 2030. Additional policies compatible with the Paris climate agreement could increase EVs further to roughly one-third of the vehicle fleet by 2030. 

To support the rise of EVs, electric companies are working to deploy charging infrastructure, both in residential areas and along travel corridors. By the end of 2019, there were nearly 7.3 million EV charging ports worldwide, of which approximately 6.5 million were private, light-duty vehicle chargers. Electric companies are investing in charging infrastructure to support this growth, as well as exploring different business models to introduce various charging options.

Some of these business models include combining public lighting with EV charging; providing residential customers with smart home charging systems; installing charging infrastructure on highways; and providing charging points at shopping centers. For example, Enel subsidiary EnelX has launched JuiceBox, a residential EV charging program that makes it easy for customers to obtain and install networked charging stations in their homes. The JuiceBox also allows customers to monitor their charging and optimize charging schedules through a mobile app. EnelX also offers JuiceLamps, which combine charging stations with street lighting to give customers access to charging points while on the road.

The State Grid Corporation of China (SGCC) is another electric company investing heavily in EV charging. With more than 6,000 charging stations across a 30,000-mile network, SGCC created its Smart Internet of Vehicles EV Charging Network (IOV) where service providers can monitor the extensive network of charging stations across the country. The IOV also allows customers to choose their service provider and gives them tools to enhance their charging.

As part of its decarbonizing strategy, Iberdrola plans to invest €150 million to increase EV charging stations within the next five years, including along highway corridors. The electric company already has installed 5,000 charging points in Spain, 400 of which are rapid charging points along roads and motorways. In New Zealand, Vector Ltd is supporting vehicle-to-home charging for customers​, in partnership with other organizations, that allows the EV to send power back to the home during power outages and peak demand periods. 

Progress in Mass Transit

Electric companies also are facilitating a smoother transition for electrifying mass transit by completing energy grid capacity analyses to provide better cost options for cities making the switch. Energy grid capacity analyses also can increase the confidence of local stakeholders, as in the case of cities like Campinas, Brazil and Santiago, Chile. In Campinas, the local electric company completed a capability analysis and partnered with a transit operator to install a substation for a bus depot and equip garages with charging infrastructure. To support mass transit electrification in Santiago, ENGIE recently invested in the city’s public transportation by leasing 100 electric buses and by installing and maintaining charging infrastructure supplied by 100 percent renewable energy. This investment supports the city’s work towards its sustainability targets. ENGIE also has supported electric mobility in Chile through other initiatives, including one which helped deploy the city’s first electric taxi fleet and another initiative that  created an intelligent network of EV charging stations.

Shenzhen, China, is another city that has engaged with local electric companies to plan and develop the charging infrastructure needed to manage the electrification of the city’s entire bus fleet. The electric company, operators, charging manufacturers, and city collaborated to include charging stations along bus routes and at bus depots to enable the city to reach full electrification. Shenzhen’s success is largely attributed to the close coordination among various stakeholders to allow for a smoother transition. As more cities adopt mass transit electrification targets, electric company involvement will be critical for the rapid deployment of infrastructure to support the rise in demand.

In addition to bus fleet electrification, rail electrification also continues to grow. In fact, the IEA notes that rail is one of the most energy efficient modes of transportation for passengers and for freight. As countries look to decrease carbon emissions and congestion from vehicles on the road, electric rail transport will be an important option, presenting electric companies with more opportunities to collaborate with local governments. Currently, the rail sector is the only mode of transport that is widely electrified, with nearly 75 percent of global passenger rail transport taking place on electric trains.

As passenger rail traffic grows, particularly in rapidly developing countries like India, cities are looking at more options to expand rail networks with high speed rail and metro rail, and they are considering the infrastructure investments needed to electrify the network. In 2016, the ENGIE group, through ENGIE Ineo, launched a collaborative project with Thales in Dakar, Senegal, to construct and electrify a new rail network linking the capital to Diamniadio. Through these partnerships, electric companies are expanding rail electrification on both existing and planned rail networks. As metro rail plans increase, it will be crucial for electric companies to be actively involved in collaborating with and investing in these projects. 

Electrifying Company Fleets

Electric companies also are electrifying their own vehicle fleets in an effort to reduce their carbon footprint and to lead by example. EEI international members EDF, Energias de Portugal, Iberdrola, Ontario Power Generation (OPG), and Tokyo Electric Power Company all have signed on to The Climate Group’s EV100 Global Initiative, committing to accelerate the adoption of EVs within their own fleets. By 2030, OPG aims to transition its fleet of more than 400 vehicles​ to electric and to install new charging points across its sites. The EDF Group also has committed to transition its 40,000 vehicles to electric by 2030 and to provide smart charging terminals and electric shuttle vehicles at its nuclear sites. By leading the transition to electrify company fleets, electric companies are gaining critical experience that will help them to better assess the fleet electrification plans of companies in other sectors and identify the infrastructure needed to support these new electric fleets.

Conclusion

Electric companies are playing a key role in the transition to electric transportation as cities and companies prioritize electrification within their climate commitments. By encouraging the adoption of personal EVs, investing in mass transit electrification, and electrifying vehicle fleets, electric companies continue to reduce their carbon emissions and invest in the clean transportation system of the future.