by Bob Matyi
Posted March 12, 2019
Pennsylvanians have been slow to embrace electric vehicles relative to many of their peers, with fewer than 1% - about 15,000 registered drivers - driving EVs in the Keystone state.
Now, an EV "roadmap," developed on behalf of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection in collaboration with the Drive Electric Pennsylvania Coalition, aims to point the way to greater EV deployment by defining a set of proposed strategies that range from establishing statewide EV sales goals to creating an EV marketing and education program targeted at consumers.
David Althoff, director of DEP's energy programs office and the lead on the EV roadmap project, believes his state has almost limitless potential for electric vehicle growth.
"This is an opportunity for us to look into this transportation sector that is transforming nationally and all around us," he said in an interview. "We wanted to take the opportunity to see how we can take advantage of electric vehicles in Pennsylvania."
Recently, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf, a Democrat, signed an executive order setting the first statewide goal to lower carbon dioxide emissions in the state to achieve a 26% decrease by 2025 and an 80% reduction by 2050 from 2005 levels.
That is important, Althoff said, because "ultimately, transportation in Pennsylvania is one of the leading sources of greenhouse gas emissions."
But slicing air pollution is not the only benefit of EVs, as the roadmap notes. Consumers can save money by switching to EVs due to their greater fuel efficiency and lower maintenance requirements.
EV maintenance costs have been found to be lower than conventional vehicles because of less wear and tear on brakes and fewer moving parts. And while EVs have greater upfront costs compared to their gasoline-powered counterparts, "ongoing reductions to battery costs suggest the cost premium will decline over time and savings will grow," the roadmap says.
Then, there are the expected benefits to the electricity grid. Widespread electrification of vehicles could improve the load factor of the grid, the roadmap suggests, by increasing overall efficiency or utilization rate of the grid.
Because the grid typically operates below peak capacity, "by strategically adding new electric load at the right times - at night when grid use is lowest - EV adoption in Pennsylvania can help drive down costs for ratepayers, support increased renewable energy integration, and improve reliability to consumers."
Economic development benefits are likely as well. Transitioning its transportation system to run on electricity can help Pennsylvania decrease its dependence on foreign oil and increase reliance on domestic fuels and an electricity sector that brings greater economic impacts to the local economy, the roadmap adds.
Despite all of these potential gains, Pennsylvania nevertheless still ranks just 24th in the country in EV deployment, including both battery electric vehicles and plug-in electric vehicles. "Market growth has been slower than many peer states," the roadmap says.
Althoff is not sure why but suspects it may have something to do with the fact Pennsylvania largely is a rural state with the exception of its two largest cities/urban areas, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
But advances are occurring. The number of registered EV drivers in the state is roughly doubling annually, he noted. And he stressed the purpose of the roadmap "is not to predict an amount of vehicles, but to evaluate scenarios whereby if there were high policy efforts and additional high technology, what could possibly happen."
Under a best-case scenario, he believes it is possible for EVs to account for three out of 10 vehicles on Pennsylvania roads a decade or so from now.
Aside from their typically higher purchase price, EVs have had another drawback in the minds of many consumers - range. Until recently, they only held a charge for 40 or 50 miles before needing to be plugged in again, a recharging process that could take a half hour or more.
But that is changing as well.
"Vehicles are coming out now with newer batteries with 200 to 300 miles of range on one charge," Althoff said. Plus, there still are the hybrids, where a driver can switch from battery mode to running the vehicle on gasoline.
According to Althoff, electric utilities are "very interested and very engaged" in a broader deployment of EVs as delivering electricity "is part of their business model."
Regulators are interested as well. In late February, the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission approved filings by four FirstEnergy electric distribution companies serving the state to help remove uncertainty and potential barriers for third-party EV charging stations.
The PUC approved supplements to tariffs filed by Metropolitan Edison, Pennsylvania Electric Co., Pennsylvania Power and West Penn Power in response to an EV policy statement adopted last year by the commission.