Electric vehicle
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Experts Talk: Transportation Electrification with Michael Ippoliti

World to Change as Electricity Begins Replacing Internal Combustion as Mobility Power Source 

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Michael Ippoliti

Michael Ippoliti, MBA, serves as an automated, connected and electric vehicle project manager in our automated, connected, electric and shared vehicles practice. At HDR, Michael focuses on the new technological applications surrounding electrified mobility and electric vehicle implementation, helping our clients plan and design system integration to accommodate demand as technology improvements accelerate adoption and market growth. 

In this interview, he explores EV adoption and emerging electric mobility technologies that are hastening vehicle electrification. The impact of EV implementation on various stakeholders is discussed, including its effect on state and city Departments of Transportation, regional transit districts and transit agencies, and electric utilities. Last, he points out how new mobility trends like automation, connectivity and shared mobility are aligning, and will fundamentally change our transportation systems.

Experts Talk is an interview series with technical leaders from across our Transportation program. Each interview illuminates a different aspect of transportation infrastructure planning, design and delivery. Check back regularly to gain insights from specialized experts and thought leaders behind our award-winning, full service consulting practice.

Electric Vehicle Implementation 

Q. What is the forecast for Electric Vehicle adoption in the United States? 

A. The inflection point in EV adoption will likely occur when battery EVs without government subsidies become cost competitive with gasoline- and diesel-powered internal combustion engine vehicles. I’m expecting this to take place by the mid-2020s and I’m not alone in this prediction. Others are forecasting an even faster timeline for cost parity with the market as a whole agreeing that 2022–2028 is a reasonable timeframe. Once cost parity is reached, sales are expected to explode with EVs quickly overtaking ICE vehicles in new vehicle sales, becoming the majority of the overall consumer fleet within 20 years, by 2040. 

The explosion of sales will be driven not only by the cost parity, but by the rather large investments currently being made by most, if not all, of the large global automakers who have collectively invested more than $90 billion in developing electric vehicles. As a result, in the near future, we will begin to see a flood of new EV makes and models arriving in showrooms. This includes not just luxury vehicles, but SUVs, sports cars, sedans and even trucks. In fact, GM has indicated that they plan to introduce 18 new EV makes and models in the next five years alone!

Q. How are emerging electric mobility technologies affecting EV implementation nationwide?

A. One of the biggest concerns regarding EV adoption by consumers relates to the driving range in combination with the number of available chargers and the required recharging time. Currently, the battery technology has evolved to the point where EVs can achieve 250 miles or more before needing to recharge. This is admittedly lower than the 300+ miles that current ICE vehicles can achieve on a single tank of fuel, which may be a driving force in this “range anxiety.” Still, the facts show a different take on these numbers as the typical American only drives an average of 40 miles per day. So, despite the fears of range issues, an EV would actually be suitable for travel for six average days before needing to be recharged.

Also contributing to implementation, is the availability and time it takes to recharge an EV. More and more, auto manufacturers, electric companies, municipalities, private companies and state agencies are increasing the number of charging stations that are available to the consumer resulting in a quadrupling during the past five years. 

At the same time, there are several key technologies that are currently being researched that will be potential game-changers for the industry. These technologies include the development and adoption of super capacitors that are not based on precious metals that, in conjunction with changes to the battery technology, enable large voltage, rapid charging. If successfully brought to market, this technology would reduce the typical charging time of 4-6 hours to approximately 10 minutes. 

Inductive charging is an area of significant interest and research within the industry. Much like your smartphone, this technology can wirelessly charge your vehicle. Simply park over a pad or area on the ground where the technology is laid on top of or embedded into the roadway, and your car automatically charges. 

Finally, technologies such as solid state batteries and newly designed liquid lithium batteries have been proven to increase efficiencies and extend the driving range in research settings. If these can be successfully commercialized, they too will virtually eliminate range anxiety as they would enable 500+ miles on a single charge and would enable recharging in minutes.

Q. How can urban planners and government agencies prepare for EVs as they begin operating in our cities? 

A. Regarding electrified mobility and infrastructure, city planners need to think differently about corridor planning, land use and partnerships with private enterprise so that EVs can operate more efficiently in a sustainable, resilient environment. In conjunction with state/city DOTs and regional/city public transit agencies, city planners must consider how to properly integrate EVs into their plans for future infrastructure, and how various smart city technologies will interact with EVs.  

In most cities, the first major shift to EVs will likely be in public transit. In early 2019, the total cost of operation, or TCO, for a battery electric transit bus on city routes was actually found to be equal to or less than a diesel bus. As a result, transit agencies nationwide are starting to shift from diesel to electric. 

For many routes, electric buses could use overhead or in-ground, fast charging zones at bus stops. While the bus lets off or takes on passengers, a fast charger can repower the bus batteries enough to boost mileage. As electric buses become more common, engineers will need to determine which routes need fast charging zones, where to put them and how to transmit power to those places. At the same time, bus depots and facilities also must be redesigned for EV buses’ overnight recharging and maintenance. 

Likewise, certain sections of urban roads can become charging zones with in-pavement, wireless charging systems that quickly charge EVs passing over those segments. Cities will need to work out the billing with power providers and EV owners using online applications similar to point-of-sale “wallet” systems now used in stores. 

In addition to charging zones, residents also will need more charging stations or facilities for their EVs. Cities and utilities need to work together to create on-street charging by using streetlight poles as charging stations. In fact, this approach is already on trial in London. Building code policy revisions that require new apartments to have EV chargers in their parking garages should be considered. City parking structures can also be adapted to accommodate EV charging facilities. This option is certain to grow as shared-ride and ride-hailing services start reducing the number of cars driven into cities and then parked all day. Under-used parking spaces could become EV charging facilities for autonomous fleets, as well as for city-dwellers with their own EVs. 

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Q. How are other major stakeholders likely to be impacted by the electrification of transportation?

A. The number of agencies, businesses and markets that could be impacted is huge; everything from urban and regional planning to daily routines to geopolitics will likely change. Let’s talk about the challenges a few of the more familiar players are dealing with:

Oil and Gas Companies: Some people believe the fate of oil companies is sealed, but not necessarily. These companies have venture capital divisions that are diversifying and investing in emerging electric mobility companies to get ahead of industry changes. Meanwhile, natural gas and renewable natural gas are primary fuels for electric grid generation, and this market is anticipated to remain strong.

Goods Movement by Truck Fleets and at Ports, Railroads, Warehouses, etc.: Another early electrification market will be trucks of all sizes. The major parcel delivery firms (e.g. FedEx, UPS, and DHL) have significant EV programs. Large tractor trailers are being electrified, with electric axles on trailers as the latest innovation. Their trailers have batteries and a motor/generator that can either assist to push the truck or capture energy from slowing down. Operational changes and building refueling facilities of sufficient size are among the hurdles to overcome.

Electric Utilities: At the leading edge of delivering what is fast becoming a significant vehicle fuel, electric utilities face both tremendous opportunity and dramatic transformation. Almost every utility is seeking to configure electricity into the uncharted market of providing EV fuel. Such a transition has never happened so quickly and on such a large scale. EVs are a new customer base for utilities bringing a new set of challenges. For example, while companies work to increase battery efficiency and thus driving range, more charger locations will be required to facilitate mobility. Utilities will need to work closely with local government, departments of transportation and private businesses to plan for, optimize and implement the appropriate charging locations. EV truck depots will require more electric power. Curbside EV chargers will consume larger amounts of electricity from streetlight poles and this usage must be metered accurately. Power companies will also need to consider how poorly synchronized large EV fleet charging could cause spikes in demand and possibly overload circuits. 

Q. How do you see vehicle electrification aligning with the automated and connected vehicle trend?

A. There are engineering benefits to using an EV to create an AV/CV, but alignment will also naturally occur because these trends are all happening at the same time.  Simultaneously combining the technology disruptions of automated and connected vehicles, shared vehicle programs and electrification will dramatically change what mobility means in the future. The acronym I use for this confluence is ACES: automated, connected, electric and shared mobility. University of California professor and clean-transportation expert Dan Sperling calls it the “Three Revolutions” in his recent book and advocates for “steering automated, shared and electric vehicles to a better future.” I 100% agree — as transportation professionals, we have that capability and responsibility.  

Inspiration & Advice: Michael Ippoliti

Q. What inspired you to focus your career on developing transportation initiatives using cutting-edge technologies?

A. I’ve been fortunate to work at the intersection of how people shape technology to their needs while, at the same time, the technology is shaping people’s desire. In my early career as a human factors engineer, I designed equipment for air traffic control and user interfaces before touchpads and mice were commonplace. It was exciting to work on mission critical issues and deliver solutions that had never been done before. After business school I went to work at Volvo, where the primary focus was on new car safety technology. At their design center, a show car I worked on over 15 years ago — the Safety Concept Car — had 14 technologies that are now commonly in production. Telematics and connected vehicles are only now becoming prevalent, but these are technologies we were working on years ago. I loved seeing and being part of ongoing discovery and progress through innovation, and it has helped shape my career.

Q. What advice would you offer to new professionals in surface transportation industries who will apply these emerging technologies out in the field?

A. It will be a wild ride for the next 20 years, and it’s THE most exciting time to be in our field. But never think that your predecessors weren’t as skilled as you are, and not as fully aware or as focused on doing the right thing. The people who designed our road systems and cars were just as smart and driven as you. They worked in another era with different technologies and constraints. An affordable electric car, or one that drives itself, is no different than Henry Ford’s Model T was in its day — impressive feats of engineering and revolutionary business models made real by brilliant people backed up by a wide network of teams and resources. We stand on the shoulders of giants — generations of them. Learn from the past and you can apply amazing new technologies to help make our world a better place.