America's biggest public utility is preparing to help electrify transportation in the South as part of an initiative to grow the number of electric vehicles on the road by nearly 15-fold in the next eight years.
The Tennessee Valley Authority predicts at least 200,000 EVs will be operating in its 7-state region by 2028, up from only about 14,000 such EVs today. While EVs are expected to remain only a fraction of the 10 million vehicles on the road in the near future, the transition from gasoline and diesel to electric-charged batteries is projected to grow over time and help transform both the transportation and energy industries in Tennessee.
"The electrification of transportation can be as transformative to this region as TVA's electrification of the Valley was back in the 1930s," said Joe Hoagland, TVA's vice president of enterprise relations and innovation.
Working with state and local governments and power companies like EPB, along with car manufacturers and service stations, TVA is eager to add more rapid-charging stations to help ensure motorists are comfortable turning to battery-powered vehicles for transportation.
Although 80% of EVs are easily recharged while sitting at home, many car buyers are still uncertain about being able to recharge their vehicles when needed on longer trips or during frequent trips around town.
There are currently only about 25 rapid-recharging stations across the Tennessee Valley capable of recharging most of a vehicle's battery within 30 minutes. But TVA is revamping its rates and local power companies are looking at ways to promote or even add and operate more rapid-charging stations on their own to relieve the range anxiety of many motorists that is keeping them from turning to EVs for their transportation.
Last month, TVA directors authorized the creation of new power rates to help improve the price of fast-charging stations and TVA officials say they are working with other stakeholders in the region to ensure there are adequate power options as more motorists turn away from conventional gas-powered cars and trucks.
TVA President Jeff Lyash said the federal utility is focused on improving energy, the environment and economic development in the Tennessee Valley and electric vehicles serve all three of those objectives.
"TVA can't do this alone, but we hope to be a catalyst to identify and work on ways to help in the growth of EVs," he said.
Environmental, economic gains
Lyash said expanding EV use in the Tennessee Valley should help reduce TVA's average cost of power by spreading the costs of generation while cutting emissions of carbon dioxide compared with the burning of gasoline in conventional cars. The typical electric vehicle produces 8,600 fewer pounds of carbon a year than a gasoline-powered vehicle, TVA estimates.
In addition to significantly reduced carbon emissions, the average EV driver can save up to $1,000 in fuel costs every year. With another 200,000 EVs on the road within the next eight years, TVA projects motorists could collectively save nearly $200 million in fuel costs.
At the same time, Lyash said the electricity used to power EVs is produced locally, rather than the gas or diesel fuel that is now imported into the region.
TVA has been researching and investing in electric vehicles and battery recharging since the 1970s when TVA built an electric vehicle test facility in Chattanooga. Although EV adoption over the past four decades has come slower than TVA originally forecast, Lyash believes the industry is poised to take off in the next decade.
Tennessee is emerging as one of the top states in America for manufacturing electric vehicles. Nissan has been making battery-powered Leafs and hybrid electric vehicles at its plant in Smyrna, Tennessee for the past decade. Volkswagen is investing $800 million to begin making a battery-powered SUV by 2022 in Chattanooga. And General Motors announced plans this fall to invest nearly $2 billion at its Spring Hill factory to build the Cadillac Lyriq, a small electric SUV, in the largest single expansion investment ever made in Tennessee.
For its part, TVA can recharge the new battery-powered vehicles with electric rates that are priced below 70% of America's other utilities and with the third-lowest carbon intensity of any of America's 100 biggest utilities, Lyash said.
As TVA and other utilities have cut the carbon output from their generation by replacing coal and oil generation with cleaner hydro, solar or nuclear power, utilities like TVA are no longer the biggest sources of carbon emissions. Cars and trucks powered by fossil fuels are now the biggest sources of carbon emissions linked to global climate change, according to environmental scientists.
"The expansion of electric transportation in the Tennessee Valley means cleaner air, climate action, and economic benefits for local communities," said Kent Minault, a volunteer leader with the Tennessee Chapter of the Sierra Club.
Getting charged up
TVA is currently working with about 20 local power companies like EPB on rates, policies and grants to help propel more EV sales and usage. Lyash said TVA rates must reflect the costs of service, but the demand and energy charges have been revamped to make fast-charging stations more cost competitive.
"We're not interested in owning and operating charging stations ourselves, other than for our fleet, but we do want to work and help others in ways that will facilitate the growth of this technology," Lyash said.
Lance Irwin, director of energy solutions technology at EPB, said Chattanooga already offers numerous public charging stations in public garages and parking lots offered by businesses, retailers, CARTA, EPB and TVA.
"We're partnering with TVA on a lot of fronts and have representation on the executive committee for Tennessee Drive Electric to try to work with different segments of the industry to build out more infrastructure across the state, including in Chattanooga," he said.
While some local power companies may add more charging stations, EPB is not planning for such additions since Chattanooga is already one of the top cities in the country for the number of public charging stations compared with the number of EVs on the road.
The International Energy Association has recommended a level of 10 EVs to 1 charging connection. The median ratio across all 50 states is 11:1.
But in a study by the U.S. Department of Energy earlier this year said Chattanooga had 7-to-1 ratio of EVs to public charging connections and Chattanooga was one of only six metropolitan areas in the United States with the full coverage for public charging infrastructure.
Contact Dave Flessner at email@example.com or at 423-757-6340.