1) Electric Vehicles Require Lots of Scarce Parts. Is the Supply Chain Up to It?
As the car industry gears up to expand EV output, here’s a look at the status of the components it will need
The car industry is staging a revolution—a transition from the gasoline and diesel engines that have powered vehicles for over 130 years to a battery-propelled future. But a key part of the reinvention remains unfinished and filled with risk: the supply chains for the parts needed to assemble fully electric vehicles.
The guts of EVs—high-capacity batteries, electric motors and the sophisticated electronics that mesh them together—are nothing like the engine blocks, transmissions and drive shafts that move internal-combustion cars and trucks. “This industry is going through a transformation like it hasn’t seen since World War II,” says Akshay Singh, a partner in PricewaterhouseCoopers‘s automotive practice. “The whole supply structure is going to change.” . . .
2) Electric Vehicles Need More—and Faster—Charging Stations. How Do We Get Them?
Potential EV buyers, afraid of running out of juice, want to make sure fast chargers are widely available. Three experts offer their solutions.
More than a million new public charging ports will be needed in the U.S. by 2030 to handle the rise of EVs, experts say. There currently are about 150,000 public ports, and about one-quarter of those are Level 3 fast chargers.
As the car industry plans a major rollout of electric vehicles, the project faces serious gridlock: There aren’t enough places to charge the vehicles, but there aren’t yet enough customers to justify a widespread expansion of charging stations. What can be done to get things moving?
The Biden administration has set an ambitious goal: Half of all vehicles sold in 2030 must be zero-emission, and 500,000 charging ports must be in place to service them. But experts put the number of chargers much higher. To accommodate all those new vehicles, they say, more than a million new ports will need to be installed in public places over the next eight years. Currently, there are only about 150,000, not counting the 11,500 or so in Tesla Inc.’s private network, according to EPRI, an independent, nonprofit energy research and development institute.
Not only do there need to be more chargers, but they need to be faster. The majority of public stations have what are called Level 2 chargers, which add about 25 miles of driving for each hour of charging. Some 38,000 are Level 3 fast chargers, according to EPRI, which can add about 100 to 200-plus miles of driving per 30 minutes of charging, depending on the vehicle and charger power. Newer electric vehicles can travel 200 to 300 or more miles on a full charge, depending on the model. . . .
3) Startups Look for Ways to Bring Down the Cost of Green Hydrogen
Money is flooding into making hydrogen more economical. The jury is still out.
Companies are pouring a lot of money into the idea that hydrogen can help decarbonize the fossil-fuel-based economy. But first, they have to figure out a way to produce that hydrogen more cheaply.
Today, hydrogen is mostly used in the production of fossil fuels and to make ammonia, an ingredient in many fertilizers. But it is also promoted as fuel for heating or transportation or power for industrial processes.
One drawback to hydrogen as a form of green energy, however, is that nearly all of the world’s hydrogen is produced in a greenhouse-gas-intensive process: heating natural gas with steam to split it into hydrogen and carbon dioxide. This type of hydrogen is known as gray hydrogen, or sometimes blue hydrogen if the factory has carbon-capture technology.
The main low-carbon alternative for producing hydrogen, dubbed green hydrogen, is made by passing renewable electricity through water using a machine called an electrolyzer to split it into oxygen and hydrogen. The process, which often runs off private access to a wind or solar plant, doesn’t cause emissions, but it does guzzle electricity and water. . . .
4) To Store Renewable Energy, Some Look to Old Mines
Pumped-storage hydropower at abandoned pits could help make wind and solar power available anytime
Mining operations that contributed to greenhouse-gas emissions could soon help to cut them.
Around the world, companies are seeking to repurpose old mines as renewable-energy generators using a century-old technology known as pumped-storage hydropower. The technology, already part of the energy mix in many countries, works like a giant battery, with water and gravity as the energy source. Water is pumped uphill to a reservoir when energy supply is plentiful. It is released and flows downhill through turbines generating hydroelectric power when electricity demand is high or there are shortages of other types of power. Finally, the water is captured to be pumped uphill again in a repeated cycle.
Surface and underground mines hold potential as reservoirs for the water, and could be developed with a lower environmental impact and upfront costs than building such plants from scratch, experts say.
Proposals for pumped-storage hydropower projects in Australia, the U.S. and other markets are gaining momentum, fueled by accelerating investment in renewables and by energy-security concerns following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and recent spikes in electricity prices.
5) New Technology Lets Farmers Use Land for Both Solar Panels and Crops
By using elevated panels, researchers hope they can generate electricity without reducing yields on the crops growing underneath.
Farmers wanting to install solar panels on their land, for their own use or to sell the energy, have had a tough choice: use the land for crops or for panels. Now, they are increasingly able to do both.
Researchers say that this concept of agrivoltaics—being able to grow crops on the same land where solar panels are in use—will not only free up limited farmland for multiple simultaneous uses but also contribute to the emissions reductions in the U.S. targeted in the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022.
Farmers installing solar panels on their land traditionally have kept their paneled acres separate from those containing their crops. But this is becoming less appealing as land for farming becomes scarcer and its value soars. Farmland in the U.S. has contracted nearly 25% since the 1950s, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and it is selling for record prices.
Agrivoltaics currently accounts for just a sliver of the world’s total solar-energy capacity, at roughly 2.9 gigawatts at the end of 2020, according to research firm Fitch Solutions. That capacity is expected to grow to more than 10 gigawatts by 2030, or the equivalent of more than 3,000 wind turbines, according to the U.S. Department of Energy—still a tiny portion of global solar-energy capacity. Worldwide, just over 1,000 gigawatts of solar capacity has been installed, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. . . .
6) ‘Deep Geothermal’ Promises to Let Drillers Go Deeper, Faster and Hotter
New technologies would allow geothermal plants to be built in places where Earth’s heat is farther from the surface
A group of startups and researchers are developing technologies to expand the output of geothermal energy.
Geothermal plants produce steam from underground reservoirs of hot, porous rocks saturated with water, and channel it into electricity-making turbines or pipes that heat buildings. Although the energy is virtually free of carbon emissions, its adoption has been limited because drilling gets more expensive and more difficult as it goes deeper.
As a result, geothermal plants mostly operate where subterranean heat is closer to the Earth’s surface and more accessible, including parts of the U.S., the Philippines, Indonesia, Turkey and New Zealand, and the wells that feed them steam typically aren’t more than 1 to 2 miles deep. These countries held about 70% of global geothermal capacity in 2021, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency.
The new technologies being developed would enable deeper drilling, which would allow geothermal plants to be built in places where the Earth’s heat is farther from the surface. Tapping into the hotter material at greater depths—which is known as deep geothermal—also has the benefit of capturing more of the Earth’s energy. The goal is to reach depths where the temperature can exceed 900 degrees Fahrenheit. . . .