Share Share this | Facebook Twitter YouTube LinkedIn Flipboard

IEEE: The expertise to make smart grid a reality

Interview with Lee Stogner

Lee Stogner is the Managing Principal of the Vincula Group. Throughout his working career, Lee has been active in both local and international IEEE activities and is the Chair of the South Carolina Engineering Cluster and a Director on the IEEE Board of Directors. Today, Lee is active in promoting the development of the Smart Grid through his participation in the IEEE Smart Grid Initiative, the IEEE Energy Policy Committee and the IEEE Electric Vehicle Committee.

Lee Stogner discusses recent developments regarding Electrical Vehicles and their adoption worldwide.

Question: What is IEEE's involvement in electric vehicles (EVs)?

When you raise the hood of an electric vehicle (EV) you see the entire IEEE organization. You see computers, networks, software, power electronics, control systems, batteries and other sources of energy such as lithium ion batteries or fuel cells. You see devices and technology that represent the different IEEE Societies but taken as individual pieces they don't come together as a system or a tool that can propel a car forward.

Much like a lot of other electronic technology in the world, be it computers or networks or electronics, the IEEE is providing the means by which all the pieces of an EV can be connected together and built upon. I'm talking about the standards and the technology that already exists and how it can be enhanced to grow and meet the challenge of EVs as the need and we increasingly understand what the car needs to do.

Only if all this technology works together as a solution is the EV fully enabled to be something that can take you to work, school or otherwise move people to where they need to go. The standards making process enables the integration. Also important are all the things the IEEE does to bring people together, such as publications, special events or conferences that enable people to talk and further develop ideas or find out what the rest of the world is doing. One such specialized event is the 2012 IEEE International Electric Vehicle Conference taking place in Greenville, South Carolina, USA, March 4-8, 2012. The IEEE is also a valuable resource for people or companies looking for help or technical documentation. In short, the IEEE is the catalyst that makes the EV possible.

Question: What is the current landscape for EVs?

The company that becomes the EV giant in five or 10 years may not be one of the major auto manufacturers. It may be a start up in India, Singapore or Greenville, S.C. The winners will be the companies that can bring together the technology, make it affordable and get it useable at a price point, as well as meet a functional expectation that makes the average consumer say, "You know, I think I'll take a chance and buy an EV as my second car now, and in five or 10 years I will buy as my primary car."

Also, the complexity of putting a vehicle on the highway is going to drop considerably as the components become more standardized. They will be easier to plug together to make many vehicles, or to make customized EVs.

Question: Are people cooperating or competing to develop the first EV?

All of the above. You see some people coming up with ideas that make them special and unique in the marketplace, and you see other people who are willing to partner. When they partner, for example, one brings the high-efficiency motor and the other brings the high-capacity battery. Together they have a solution that they would not have been able to build on their own.

In the past, the big three or big five auto makers have allegedly held back technology until they got their return on what they designed last year, or even five years ago. However, because there is so much competition in the EV arena, solutions will be brought out faster. If you don't get there first, someone else will.

Question: Will the one that gets the first vehicle have a hold on the market or will there be a wide variety of solutions?

There definitely is room for more than one leader. Cars driven in one part of the world will likely be different from cars in other parts.

Question: What are the latest developments in EV technology?

The ability to have small, very powerful electric motors is a recent development. If you look at a standard car, when you turn the motor on, it has to warm up. In addition to having to have enough power to make itself turn, it then has to turn the transmission, and then the tires. That is terribly inefficient. The one thing that the gasoline car has going for it is the reasonably high density of energy the car can get from a gallon of gas. This somewhat makes up for the inefficiency of the whole power train.

At its core, an EV has a very high-torque motor that allows the standard power train to be eliminated completely. That is 1000 lbs. you can take out of the vehicle right off the bat. This makes the car even more efficient in terms of the weight it has to move forward.

But the challenge that still has to be overcome is the energy density of the battery. Right now you have the new Ford, Chevy, and second-generation Nissan EVs coming out and they are at the breakthrough limit of 100 miles per charge (mpc). The batteries that are in the lab right now will be able to deliver and affordable car. I’m not talking about a Tesla, which comes with a handpicked lithium ion battery, but affordable cars with a range of about 300 mpc.

When we hit that number, and it’s going to be within the next five years, then the issue of whether or not one should buy a gasoline powered car or an EV is going to be moot. This is because people will not have "range anxiety" when they hop in the car and head for the beach or to go visit Grandma. They can get there and they can charge the car with conventional power at Grandma's house or at their hotel.

Are EVs the total solution? The answer is no. There will be a diverse mix of fuels used to power vehicles that have an electric motor at their core. For example, great big trucks that you see on the interstate are moving towards natural gas, which can be run through a fuel cell or in a modified conventional engine. The nice thing about natural gas is we have an abundance of it here in the U.S.

Question: What are some other recent developments?

Manufacturers of motors have been ever more clever in using advanced modeling tools to maximize the power density in smaller motors. In addition, the use of advanced permanent magnets also helps to shrink the overall size of a motor, and they allow motors to turn with less power. Power electronics have improved, too. As you put power into a vehicle, the more efficient you are at switching and transferring the power throughout the entire vehicle, the farther it can go on a smaller charge.

So, it's incremental growth in various technologies that the IEEE and their members are so adept at developing and refining the car. If you look at the car that you used to ride around in as a child, it is different than the gasoline car you drive right now. There have been incremental, year-by-year improvements in materials, motors, electronics, and the design of light yet safe vehicles — it goes on and on. You will see that same evolution in EVs, in fact you can see it in what we have had for the past five years. The car that preceded the Chevy Volt at GM what they learned from it has produced a very good design that is represented in today's Chevy Volt.

Question: When was the first EV made?

EVs have been around for a long time. The first one was made in 1917. Then Henry Ford came along and pushed it to the side with his gasoline motor. But EV technology was adapted in a very big way by the railroads. The hybrid EV motor is not a new transportation solution, it's been used by diesel electrics since the 1930s. Trains would be much heavier otherwise. Amtrak trains that travel across the country have electric motors that are powered by generators that are driven by diesel engines. This combination reduces the need for heavy-duty mechanical transmissions.

Question: What are the top three areas of opportunity for innovation in the EV market?

Batteries would come first. The group that develops a 300-mile range battery for a production vehicle will become instant billionaires. The Tesla's and the Fisker's are promising longer range than that right now, but their batteries are hand-picked, hand-matched and very special.

After batteries, would come additional gains in the power electronics, which efficiently transmit the power from the battery throughout the vehicle to turn the wheels and power other systems on the car.

Further improvements in the total weight and aerodynamics of the vehicle are also needed. Car companies are becoming very clever at reducing drag right now. Each time they maximize that coefficient of aerodynamics it makes the cars go a bit farther. They are achieving these improvements by doing a lot of 3-D modeling, which allows them to keep the frame strong, but light.

Another thing that is going to affect the overall efficiency of next-generation vehicles is that they will be connected with the highway and with other vehicles. There is lot of discussion and standards are being developed to allow cars to operate better together on the road. That will be true for individual EVs and certainly for fleets of EVs. For example, a large power company in the Southeastern U.S. is buying 10,000 EVs. Some are pure electric and some are hybrid. They are getting increased overall efficiency from the fleet because they are being managed as a fleet.

Question: What challenges need to be overcome before we can see a widespread adoption of EVs?

Consumer education is number one. If you look at the people who are promoting Smart Grid you will see that there are parts of the world where consumers do not look upon this new technology as a good thing. Consumers that have not been properly educated about Smart Grid's benefits are reacting by asking if it can cause cancer or if it is Big Brother keeping track of which TV shows they watch.

We, as a society, nation and community, need to do a very good job of educating consumers why EVs are not a bad thing. They have plusses and minuses in terms of how far you can go on a charge right now, but all those things are being addressed. As we go forth, we will continue to build better solutions. When consumers are able to drive home and charge their vehicles with either electricity or natural gas overnight, or swap out the fuel cell as they go downtown, the politics of the whole world will change.

Acceptance of a new form of transportation is key. The technology issues will go away in less than five years, but overcoming consumer resistance and getting them comfortable enough to buy EVs in the millions is going to take education and proof. As more and more people see EVs being driven successfully on the road, they will want to buy one too. They want to be sure because of the economy. Many people are only buying a car every eight to 10 years. It is a major investment and they only get one chance to buy the right car. So, they have to see the EV as being a direct replacement for what they have been using all of their lives.

I think the success of people buying hybrids makes it an easier decision. They drive like regular cars and they get 10 to 15 more miles per gallon than what most people are driving.

Last but not least, there also are technical challenges in terms of the grid itself. I chaired a panel at an IEEE Innovative Smart Grid Technologies (ISGT) conference in Washington recently at which a lot of good papers were presented on how we need to make this tweak or that tweak to make the grid ready to support all the EVs that will be on the streets in the next five years. The demand is something that utilities can prepare for now and make sure they are ready to provide from a standpoint of power distribution, pricing and variable rate structures that enable people to charge their EV when energy is cheapest.

I'm confident that a good system will emerge from discussions that are taking place right now. Fortunately, the batteries in the cars that are about to be sold can be charged in matter of three to four hours. The ultimate goal is one to two hours, because it will be very easy for people to plan around that amount of time.

Question: Which countries are leading the way in the manufacturing of EVs?

I'm proud to say that the U.S. is one of the leading countries in the development of EV technology, as well as the manufacturing of vehicles that are being sold right now. Japan is certainly very active and China is coming on strong. China has big problems with automotive pollution and the country has a national mandate to reduce pollution caused by gasoline-powered cars.

I'm proud to say that the U.S. is one of the leading countries in the development of EV technology, as well as the manufacturing of vehicles that are being sold right now. Japan is certainly very active and China is coming on strong. China has big problems with automotive pollution and the country has a national mandate to reduce pollution caused by gasoline-powered cars.

Question: Where is consumer adoption taking place in the greatest numbers?

I just saw a survey that said the greatest number of EVs sold to date have been sold in California. Is that because they are smarter than the rest of us? No. People who buy EVs receive incentives in California. Plus, folks there are concerned about the air they breathe when they are sitting on the freeways in traffic, so they want to buy cars that will not add to the pollution.

As individuals, the most EV consumers at the moment are in California. Look across the country, though, various state governments are buying EVs as pilot projects and as small fleets to use in cities and on campuses. With the introduction of EVs like the one being manufactured in Greenville, S.C. by Proterra, there are even electric busses being sold to cities and other users of that kind of transit.

Question: What are the benefits of getting involved in the IEEE with regards to the EV industry specifically?

If you want to connect quickly and deeply into the network of individuals that are creating the technology and moving the ball forward, you have to be a member of IEEE. You also need to join our partner The Society for Automotive Engineers. Between their mechanical components and our electrical and computer wizardry, you can bring to together all the right people to create a solution for tomorrow.

IEEE Membership will guarantee you reduced rates to the publications, but to truly get the value of that membership, you have to volunteer and participate on committees or projects in which there are a gathering people discussing ideas or working to solve problems.

Question: When do you expect to see the widespread adoption of EVs in the U.S., Europe and Asia?

In the U.S. we have just been through a recession, and for some of us it continues. As the economic climate picks up, people will have more freedom to buy that second car and make it a hybrid or pure electric. If you look at the economics of the automotive world right now, it is completely different than what it was even a year ago. The factories are churning out cars that are much more efficient than they were three years ago and more of them than ever before are hybrids.

The transition is underway. I predict that within the next five to 10 years every two-car garage will have a hybrid and a pure EV. The average daily round trip for most of us is 35 miles, which is easily attainable by today's EVs. In the near future, people who want their EV to go a bit farther on a single charge for fear of getting stuck in traffic will be on board. And if gas is $10 a gallon at some point in the next five years, there will be no question that purchasing an EV is the right thing to do.

In fact, Ford is making it easy to make that decision right now. With the Ford Fusion plug-in EV that goes on sale this spring, consumers can buy a home solar charging option. Those that are able to manage their range could live off the grid and drive their cars right past the gas station every single day.

If we put ourselves under the umbrella of clean transportation, consumers can buy a natural gas-fed Honda Civic, which has only a slight modification to the car's original fuel system. The car drives quite well across a very good range, and most people already have a gas line to their house for their furnace. The only thing a person would need is a small compressor to fill the car's fuel tank. So, maybe the second car in consumers' garages will run on natural gas.

Question: What kind of innovation are you seeing in the overall EV market?

Looking at the big picture, innovation is taking place in all forms of transportation. There are a variety of fuel sources capable of moving vehicles and the ability to connect into a grid that will better managed trips between here and there will make it possible for people to operate their EVs very efficiently.

There also will be a change in the ways that we buy, lease and finance the cars. I suspect that consumers will lease many EVs, because leasing will make it easier for them to swap out a fuel cell or battery as technology improves. In Europe right now, auto dealers sell cars and take them back so that their components can be appropriately recycled into the next generation of vehicles. EVs will be recycled, too.

Question: What is special and different about IEEE and its role in making EVs a reality?

IEEE is special because of the breadth and the depth of our people as well as the technology, intellectual property and documentation they provide. Again, as you raise the hood of an EV, it's not just the battery or motor that we have helped to make happen, there are all sorts of things that the organization has helped to make more standard, more plug-compatible and more available to both consumers and OEMs.

However, it is true that the IEEE can sometimes be a complex organization to deal with and people coming to us wonder who they should talk to and if they are in the right place. To that extent, we have created the IEEE Transportation Electrification Initiative. Just like IEEE Smart Grid, this group is going to reduce the complexity of working with the IEEE on EVs, and add a personal touch whenever possible.