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Charging battery of an blue electric car

Panel III session summary

Electric car meets electric grid

Panel III: Electrification of the automotive sector

Auto and utility executives share their efforts to support electric vehicle adoption

“Consumers are fundamentally changing how they will buy transportation,” KPMG in the US Partner Gary Silberg told the audience at the 2017 KPMG Global Power & Utilities Conference. “This will likely have a massive impact on the energy markets. Massive.”

Silberg, who is the Americas Head of Automotive at KPMG in the US, kicked off a panel bringing together auto and utility executives with a review of several trends and developments impacting both industries.

The march toward vehicle electrification

Silberg first addressed the creation of a new automotive ecosystem in which technology-driven suppliers such as Nvidia, NXP Semiconductors and Mobileye are transforming vehicle manufacturing from the outside in and advancing autonomous driving capabilities.

“The power and the innovation of what they're doing is fundamentally changing how consumers behave,” he said, “and it will likley impact the energy market like you've never seen.”

Silberg further pointed out that 70 percent of the US population has access to an Uber in 10 minutes or less. As these Mobility as a Service options become more ubiquitous, car purchases are starting to fall, particularly in the United States.

Ultimately, the increase in autonomous driving and car sharing will combine to suppress demand for internal combustion engine vehicles, Silberg said. To help answer why the future is both autonomous and electric, he shared a video from Google's autonomous vehicle offshoot, Waymo, which had just launched 600 self-driving cars in Phoenix, Arizona, and asked the audience to take note.

“When you push down on the pedal, that is an awesome experience. But every one of those people in that video, what were they doing in the back? They weren't driving. They weren't pushing down on the accelerator. They couldn't care less what the powertrain is. All they care about is that it got them from point A to point B.” 

However, there are those who will care about the powertrain: the fleet owner. “If they decide the fleet is going to be electric, it will be electric, and they will decide when and how they want to plug it in,” he said. “It is highly probable in the economics of the industry that future cars will be electric vehicles.”

Finally, Silberg explained that miles traveled are going to soar as autonomous driving expands mobility to both unlicensed younger and less-abled older passengers. “These are massive opportunities for the energy industry.”

Businessman in conference

Innovation from the auto industry

BMW has been heavily piloting electric mobility for more than 10 years, helping the company uncover customer needs and identify different driving patterns to inform its business, according to Kerstin Meerwaldt, Head of Strategy and Business Development, and Chief Customer Officer, Energy Services, at BMW Group. BMW, which introduced the i3 all-electric car in 2013 and the i8 hybrid sports car a year later, views sustainability as its duty. 

“Electric mobility is a task for society, that's what I believe,” she said. “BMW has done its homework in developing premium electric vehicles, and that's a big part of the task when it comes to renewable mobility. I'm happy to be part of that.”

Toyota initiated electrification 20 years ago with the game-changing Prius hybrid, according to Dr. Despoina Chatzikyriakou, Senior Engineer, Technology Trends Analysis Division at the company. Since then, Toyota has sold more than 10 million hybrids worldwide and has been working toward developing fully electric vehicles and hydrogen fuel cells, which offer a range similar to the conventional car.

The combined effort to improve charging infrastructure

With car companies like BMW and Toyota focused on bringing alternative mobility solutions to market, utilities like Spain's Endesa are exploring the multiple opportunities as well as challenges associated with the growing uptake of electric vehicles, according to Javier Uriarte, Head of Market at the utility.

“We want to follow the customer everywhere,” he said. “We are developing business models where instead of thinking only about places where we deliver energy, we think of the customer as a user who can acquire our energy everywhere, anywhere.”

While auto manufacturers are not responsible for infrastructure, BMW is invested in improving the customer journey, and so it takes what Meerwaldt called an 'initiator's role' in the effort. The company is participating in multiple initiatives including the IONITY joint venture of car manufacturers intent on building a network of charging stations along major routes across Europe for long-range mobility. BMW also entered a joint venture with Viessmann Group, Digital Energy Solutions, engaged in building connected charging infrastructure for electrified fleets.

Toyota participates in similar alliances as BMW in Europe, Chatzikyriakou said, as well as in organizations like the Hydrogen Council for alternatives to complement electric mobility.

2 businessman and 2 businesswoman in conference

Disruption, but at a manageable pace

The panelists agreed that the kind of disruption and cannibalism described earlier in the conference by keynote speaker Mitch Lowe are not a concern.

“There's so much difference between developing an app and a car,” Meerwaldt said. “We need months and years in order to develop a car that meets safety standards and the expectations of the customer.”

“In the entertainment industry, you don't have CO2 emission standards. I think we have to put it in context,” Chatzikyriakou added. “We have to disrupt our strategy, we have to disrupt ourselves, because we have no option in this industry. We have to reduce our CO2 emissions constantly, more and more and more. We have to do something about it.”

Meanwhile, Endesa is gathering important customer data from projects like its e-mobility demo in Malaga, where participants have been driving 200 electric vehicles for two years.

The utility, which supports both at-home, lower-voltage charging and fast charging in public areas, found that drivers were typically using electric vehicles for short-range and urban driving, and they tended to charge at home. The usage of fast charging in the urban setting, according to Uriarte, did not appear to justify the investment.

However, Uriarte said that Endesa is developing a backbone of a fast recharging infrastructure in the main corridors of Spain, anticipating a future of lower-cost electric cars and longer range due to battery innovation.

“Autonomous vehicles, car sharing, all these developments in the automotive industry that are changing under disruption will provide more opportunities for growth,” Uriarte said. “And clearly if it is electric, we are very happy.”

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