ALBANY — Sales of all-electric vehicles soared in New York in 2021, with more new EV registrations than 2020 and 2019 combined.
But the 50,000 EVs on the road still make up only a tiny fraction of the 9.47 million light vehicles registered in New York as of Feb. 1. Add in 42,000 plug-in gasoline-electric hybrids and New York motorists are still less than 1% battery-powered.
With a recent law banning the sale of gas-powered light vehicles in New York taking effect in 2035, the state has 13 years to make the extensive preparations to create an infrastructure capable of recharging the millions of EVs it hopes to see on the road by that time.
Some of the preparation already is proving problematic, speaker after speaker testified Thursday at a hearing designed to examine the status of EV charger expansion and ways to accelerate it.
Some of the opinions voiced at the hearing:
- The public chargers already installed are underutilized.
- There are constraints on supply and delivery of electricity to fast chargers, which can bring a battery from zero to full in 30 minutes or less but are expensive to install and operate.
- There’s an over-emphasis on fast chargers; slower chargers will meet most drivers’ needs.
- Too many slower chargers are being installed; fast chargers are what’s really needed.
- Subsidies are structured inconsistently with actual needs.
- Not enough stakeholders understand what the needs actually are.
- There’s a regulatory failure to cohesively plan and act to meet the actual needs.
- There’s no transparency about who will bear the massive costs of this transition.
- The state needs to prioritize environmental justice so the communities now most affected by carbon fuel emissions will reap the benefit of decarbonization.
- State government needs to provide a better sense of direction.
The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority by name and by mission is ideally suited to be part of the process. However, NYSERDA says it is not the lead agency, and no one who spoke to The Daily Gazette for this story knew if there was a single state agency with full oversight.
Instead, NYSERDA said it and five other agencies are closely cooperating and frequently collaborating on meeting the goals, and it said this arrangement is proving effective.
Assemblyman Steven Englebright, chairman of the Assembly Committee on Environmental Conservation, suggested efforts like these were hindered by compartmentalization and Balkanization among state agencies under the Cuomo administration.
Installation of EV chargers is just one part of a massive state plan to make New York carbon-neutral over the next 28 years.
To accomplish this, NYSERDA expects New York will need 160 gigawatts of installed electric generation capacity in 2050, none of it derived from fossil fuels.
This compares to average peak demand of 31.6 gigawatts on the hottest summer days over the last decade, according to NYISO, the state’s grid operator.
To make this work, public and private entities must:
- Install on a mass scale industrial-sized wind and solar power farms that many New Yorkers don’t want to look at and which depend on the highly variable sun and wind instead of natural gas;
- Roll out energy storage technology such as batteries, also on a massive scale;
- Upgrade a power grid described as aging and inadequate for future needs;
- Fend off legal challenges to the siting of all this infrastructure;
- Pay a tab NYSERDA estimates at roughly $3 trillion from 2020 to 2050. (It expects $2.7 trillion of that will be money that would otherwise be spent on traditional energy sources, leaving a net cost of $290 billion to $310 billion.)
New York already has one of the lowest carbon-emission footprints of any state, and critics say reducing it to zero will have no impact on global climate change unless the rest of the globe makes similarly radical changes.
NYSERDA asserts that New York’s transformative efforts will reap local benefits in reducing the impact of climate change, as well as lower health care costs due to pollution, and quantifies the two at a combined $400 billion to $420 billion savings from 2020 to 2050.
NYSERDA said utility-scale battery storage technology already is mature and economical, and will only become more economical in the future. In early 2022, 1.2 gigawatts of storage capacity is under contract for installation statewide and the goal by 2030 is at least 6 gigawatts.
Who will pay the out-of-pocket costs of going green — ratepayers, taxpayers, someone else — will depend on funding and policy decisions that are still being made, NYSERDA said.
Looking specifically at EVs and the public infrastructure needed to power them, NYSERDA said the pieces of the puzzle are moving along well: EV sales are up sharply and the number of chargers installed statewide tripled in three years amid a NYSERDA incentive program.
Moving forward, it believes continued state investment in EV infrastructure, incentives for consumers to buy EVs and continued rapid improvement of EV technology will increase New Yorkers’ willingness to buy EVs.
“Range anxiety” — drivers’ nagging fear the battery will deplete before they get to a charger — will diminish as EVs become more familiar, NYSERDA said.
(It’s not clear how often that actually happens. AAA Northway reports that its roughly 177,000 members made roughly 90,000 calls for assistance in 2021 and just four were for dead EVs needing a tow to a charger.)
By any analysis, the existing system is not ready for New York’s all-electric future and has a long way to go before it is ready.
“We absolutely have confidence that the system will be able to serve EV demand in the future,” said Jake Navarro, National Grid’s director of clean transportation.
The upstate electric and gas utility is committed to upholding its end of the process: power distribution and delivery. However, it is not in the business of power supply — generating electricity.
National Grid can spread the gigawatts thinner with managed demand programs but it can’t add gigawatts to the grid.
“The generation side of things is certainly something to keep an eye on,” Navarro told The Gazette.
A future where all or many New Yorkers use EVs for the road trips they now take in gas-powered vehicles will need to include a network of large-scale fast-charger plazas along interstate corridors and at least some primary state roads.
A single plaza with 30 fast chargers would peak at 10 megawatts demand, enough to power a small town, Navarro said. A large electric truck weighing dozens of tons might need 1 megawatt just by itself.
Testifying Thursday, Brian Gemmell, National Grid’s chief clean energy development officer, said a fast charge station can take a few months to build, or even less, but the infrastructure to power that station takes years to build. The infrastructure buildup needs to stay a step ahead of the EV rollout, he said.
“National Grid would like to work with the state to make this happen,” Gemmell said.
The EV rollout would benefit from more centralized direction from the state, Navarro said. In the United Kingdom, the government created a plan for an EV charger network then handed it to utilities to carry out, and that was effective, he said.
In New York, multiple agencies, utilities, private-sector operators and technology platforms are involved, he said. “This is a very complex process and it needs more coordination than the industry has needed in the past.”
New York state in 2013 set a goal of 3,000 public charging ports installed by 2018 and in 2018 raised the target to 10,000 installed by Dec. 31, 2021. It came close: there were about 9,300 chargers installed at the end of last year.
The largest state-run utility in the nation, the New York Power Authority, was faulted in an audit released last week by the state Comptroller’s Office for not doing more to reach the goal.
Among other things, it said NYPA had installed just 277 public EV charging ports in the nine-year period, had not sited them in counties with high numbers of registered EVs, and not done enough to improve and increase public usage of the chargers it had installed.
Along with NYPA’s specific failures to meet self-imposed deadlines, the audit seems to generally fault NYPA for not providing a more holistic response to the need for EV infrastructure.
In its official response to the audit and in comments to The Gazette, NYPA depicts itself as proactively fulfilling its own mission and coordinating with NYSERDA and multiple other state agencies and authorities on the larger picture. Like NYSERDA, it is not directing the effort but part of the effort.
NYPA acknowledged missing parts of the timetable it set, but said other findings in the audit were off-base: Its EVolve NY fast chargers, for example, were never intended to be installed where the most EVs were registered, they were intended to be placed where EV infrastructure was lacking.
Livingston Energy Group was also among those testifying on Thursday.
The Schenectady company that started with the two co-founders as its sole employees in 2016 has grown to nearly 40 employees, has installed hundreds of chargers and actively manages more than 700 stations.
Livingston provides a turn-key solution to clients who want to install EV chargers — technology to match their needs, installation, assistance obtaining funding and development of management software.
It’s moving toward some light manufacturing and assembly of the components it uses, as well.
Co-founder and CEO Schuyler Poukish said Livingston has done a brisk business with installations but other aspects of its business — site management, particularly — suffer from the lack of a cohesive rollout in New York state.
There needs to be greater emphasis on designing a future-compatible system that unifies supply, demand and delivery, he said, a standard rather than a collection of pieces, some of them proprietary.
Even something as simple as incentive programs for installations doesn’t always work correctly, Poukish said. One NYSERDA program ended so abruptly that some previously approved Livingston customers never got their money.
(National Grid said it saw its own customer applications drop from 275 a month to 130 when NYSERDA’s Charge Ready NY ran out of money in September.)
What the EV program in New York needs, Poukish said, is a greater investigation by the state on how to reach the future goals and better communication with Livingston and other stakeholders as they make those goals reality.