Xcel Energy Should Help with the Electric Car Rollout

It’s been a good few weeks for electric cars.

Elon Musk’s first Model 3s are about to roll off the assembly line. Rival automakers are lining up to prove they’re not out of the game, with VW claiming they’ll undercut the Model 3 on price and Volvo declaring they’ll be phasing out the internal combustion engine from their cars starting in 2019. France pledged to ban selling gas powered cars by the 2040. And Minnesota lawmakers, watching the numbers of Electric Vehicle registrations rise, are mulling a local charging network to help encourage the transition to battery powered mobility.

Kansas City Power and Light charging station and electric car (CleanTechnica)

But even with all these successes, electric cars still face “range anxiety” fears. Enthusiasts are more than willing to point out how an EV with a range of 100 miles is adequate for 95% of all car trips, but unfortunately, climate change can’t wait for us to argue one-on-one with every suburbanite who thinks they can’t possibly live without the option to go on an impromptu road trip, despite having never gone any further from their hometown than Treasure Island Casino. No, we’re going to need to make getting an electric car as easy as possible for most people, including those who drive longer distances.

A more robust local charging network would be a great help in getting the average driver over their range anxiety, regardless of how legitimate or irrational fears about range may be. But when we think of charging infrastructure, there’s a potential player that could help bridge the gap between the auto-industry owned interstate Superchargers and the home charging port – the electric company.

Utility companies stand to profit greatly from the electrification of transportation. If predictions about the coming EV revolution are correct, electric cars could be quietly consuming volts in countless garages around the country over the course of the next decade. But if companies like our local Xcel Energy want to see this come to fruition, they can take a proactive step to encourage this future by helping to build out the charging network. And they wouldn’t even be the first to do it.

Kansas City probably isn’t the first place you’d think of being on the vanguard of electric cars, but EV adoption over Q1 2017 increased 78% over the previous year. The next cities down the list, Las Vegas and Raleigh/Durham, were left in the dust. That’s because in 2015, Kansas City Power & Light rolled out a plan to install 1,000 EV charging stations through the metro area. The company placed charging stations in parking lots of businesses, apartments, and public places, in order to make them ubiquitous around the city. Since that time, the city has seen incredible growth in their EV fleet, as charging stations are nearly as easy to find as a gas pump.

It wouldn’t be fair to say that Xcel hasn’t done anything to help with the adoption of electric vehicles in the MSP metro. They offer a special off peak charging rate for EV customers, and have offered rebates on Nissan LEAF models to their customers in the past. But the success of KCP&L should be a sign that the largest obstacle to EV adoption is in the mind, not the wallet. Surround people with proof that they’ll have a place to charge, and they’ll come around. And, while the initial rollout of the Kansas City charging network gave power away for free, these charging spaces offer a potential way for utility companies to get a return on their investment while still playing a major role in cleaning the transportation sector.

The electric car market in 2017 is much more favorable than the one KCP&L built a network for in Kansas City. With cheaper, mass market EVs hitting the road, Xcel can use their blueprint for success to bring electric cars to the mainstream in Minneapolis-Saint Paul. According to the map of existing charging stations available on Plugshare, there’s already stations distributed fairly well across the metro area. Maybe you’ve seen one at a HyVee, Goodwill, or in a Minneapolis parking ramp. Imagine adding 1000 more, and seeing one nearly everywhere.

It’s worth noting that electric cars won’t make Minneapolis-Saint Paul streets any safer for cyclists and pedestrians than regular cars. They won’t fix dependence on subsidized parking, or offer an alternative to highway infrastructure we have no political will to pay for. But they can at least help us to reduce the pollution and carbon emissions inherent in our current transportation fleet, and given that’s a problem we have limited time to solve, I’ll take what I can get.

Matt Eckholm

About Matt Eckholm

Matt is a filmmaker who played Sim City once as a kid and then was doomed to have the least interesting anecdotes to share at parties forever. He serves on the Saint Louis Park Planning Commission, and has always wanted to name a pet 'Boondoggle' to teasingly reference in biography sections.

9 thoughts on “Xcel Energy Should Help with the Electric Car Rollout

  1. Monte Castleman

    1) Volvo is not “phasing out internal combustion engines by 2019”. All their cars will have a battery and may or may not have an ICE in addition. Consumers still want a car that will go from 0 to 60 in less than 30 seconds but now they want fuel economy too so you can’t keep putting in huge V6 engines. Smaller, non-performance vehicles like compact crossover SUVs are even dropping V6s as an option because few were ordering them. Instead they’re moving to turbocharged I4s, or increasingly, hybrid technology since the price on it is dropping and the technology itself is attractive to a certain sort of buyer.

    2) I’m not sure if the statement that suburbanites have “never gone any further from their hometown than Treasure Island Casino” was intended to be disingenuous or not. In any case every suburbanite I know, and I know a lot of them, has gone farther than Treasure Island Casino, usually multiple times a month. But even in jest denying that electric car range is a problem detracts from your proposals on how to fix it.

  2. Tom Quinn

    It takes about 5 minutes to fill a car with gas and at least an hour to charge a Tesla with a 440V supercharger. Granted, some people will have the money to upgrade their electrical service and rewire their garage, but there will still be a huge demand for public charging stations. Will we need 10X more charging stations than gas pumps? Where will we put them all and how do we prevent the inevitable bottlenecks of people fighting for charging opportunities?

    1. Joey SenkyrJoey Senkyr

      Remember that electric car charging is a totally different paradigm than gas car fueling. Gas cars can only fill up where there’s access to a gas tank, which is a pretty huge investment, which leads to the gas station model we have today. EVs, however, can be charged wherever there’s electricity, which is, effectively, everywhere that anyone lives or works. Remember that, unless you failed to plug in the night before, your car would always have a full charge in the morning. How often would you stop at a gas station if you could fuel up in your garage? It takes more than an hour to fast charge a Bolt or a Tesla from 0%-100%, sure, but the only time you’d do that is on a trip, when you’ve gone 200 miles without stopping since leaving your garage, and plan to do 200 miles more before hitting your destination.

      This is not to say that public charging stations aren’t necessary. They absolutely are, to help people get over the fear of running out of power and being stranded, if nothing else. But I’d say that homes and workplaces are the only places you’d see vehicles being fully charged regularly, as opposed to adding 15% to your charge while you’re at HyVee or Lund’s since you’re there anyway.

      1. Walker AngellWalker Angell

        Spot on Joey.

        I’ve been driving an electric car for about 3 years. I wake up every morning with a full tank and have never had need of a charger in the metro. Trips are different and for these chargers are certainly necessary. With my gas car I would visit gas stations about 80 times per year (about 60 local Twin Cities and 20 on trips), with my electric 19 (all trips).

        Over the next couple of years the number of pure electric cars (e.g., not hybrids) on the roads will grow quite dramatically. People will increasingly know friends, neighbors, and relatives who drive one and will hear from them that range anxiety is a non-issue, even with the current infrastructure. We need to continue to educate people but I think fears of range anxiety will diminish naturally.

        Local public chargers were necessary with low range BEV’s but with all of the cars coming out having a range of 200+ miles the only chargers that will be required for 98% of the population is home and for trips. Home includes apartments and condos. For trips they are needed in places with some good food options can be safely accessed on foot or bikeshare.

  3. Kyle

    “can’t wait for us to argue one-on-one with every suburbanite who thinks they can’t possibly live without the option to go on an impromptu road trip despite having never gone any further from their hometown than Treasure Island Casino.”

    Ya know what? For a lot of suburbanites a couple hour drive to Treasure Island is a great way to spend a weekend and your article would be better without this condescension. Normal people even with an interest in “urban” issues still make very different lifestyle choices than you and that should be taken in to account and respectfully addressed in articles, not mocked.

    I do think the current reality is about range and convenience and a simple charging network is certainly part of that conversation. But until batteries are developed with ranges comparable to gasoline and recharging as conveniently as gasoline, electric vehicles will remain a niche product; without government subsidies on purchase prices, even more so. And those subsidies are going away……..

    However I wouldn’t be surprised nor disappointed in the least if my four year old never drives a gas-fueled vehicle outside of our old classic oil-burner on weekends to the car show at a museum.

  4. Karen

    Thomson Reuters in Eagan has a few electric charging stations and there are many more cars wanting to use those than there is charge stations.

    Did you mention hybrids? I think there will be many hybrid plug ins in the future also.

    Workplaces, offices, parking garages and shopping districts seem ideal locations for these as people often are parked at such places for at least an hour anyways. Hyvees are installing charging stations.

    Perhaps we also need to lean on employers, office owners, and developers to do their share.

  5. Nick MagrinoNick Magrino

    “climate change can’t wait for us to argue one-on-one with every suburbanite who thinks they can’t possibly live without the option to go on an impromptu road trip, despite having never gone any further from their hometown than Treasure Island Casino.”

    Treasure Island Resort and Casino, thanks.

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