Thruway EV Charging Dilemma: NY Jumping Without A Parachute!
Roger Caiazza (on the subject of)
Independent Researcher and Publisher,
Pragmatic Environmentalist of New York
[Editor’s Note: Empire State Gov. Kathy Hochul is making promises New York cannot keep as her proposal to charge EVs along the Thruway reveals a stunning incapacity to do so.]
The Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (Climate Act) has a legal mandate for New York State greenhouse gas emissions to meet the ambitious net-zero goal by 2050 and the process to develop the implementation plan is well underway. Unfortunately, Governor Kathy Hochul’s administration does not appear to be focused on reliability and affordability issues and is instead placating the ideologues on the Climate Justice Working Group (CJWG) and particular members of the Climate Action Council.
This post illustrates the problem by looking at one particular question about the electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure at the redeveloped New York State Thruway service centers that was brought up at the September 29, 2022 Council meeting (presentation and recording).
Climate Act Background
Everyone wants to do right by the environment to the extent they can afford to do so and not be unduly burdened by the effects of environmental policies. I submitted comments on the Climate Act implementation plan and have written extensively on New York’s net-zero transition because I believe the ambitions for a zero-emissions economy embodied in the Climate Act outstrip available renewable technology such that this supposed cure will be worse than the disease. The opinions expressed in this post do not reflect the position of any of my previous employers or any other company I have been associated with, these comments are mine alone.
The Climate Act establishes a “Net Zero” target (85% reduction and 15% offset of emissions) by 2050. The Climate Action Council is responsible for preparing the Scoping Plan that will “achieve the State’s bold clean energy and climate agenda”. They were assisted by Advisory Panels who developed and presented strategies to the meet the goals to the Council.
Those strategies were used to develop the Integration Analysis prepared by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) and its consultants that tried to quantify the impact of the strategies. That material was used to write a Draft Scoping Plan that was released for public comment at the end of 2021. The Climate Action Council states that it will revise the Draft Scoping Plan based on comments and other expert input in 2022 with the goal to finalize the Scoping Plan by the end of the year.
I recently described my concerns about the Climate Action Council response to stakeholder comments. In brief, there is no indication that any comment that raised issues inconsistent with the narrative will be addressed. Most concerning to me is that there is no apparent realization that it is inappropriate to not reconcile the differences between the Integration Analysis generating resource projections with the estimates made by the New York Independent System Operator (NYISO) in their 2021-2040 System & Resource Outlook report.
Another concern is that the leadership of the Council has paid so much attention to questions and issues raised by some of the more vocal but energy illiterate members of the Council that substantive issues will not be addressed. Throughout the Council’s Scoping Plan development process, the leadership has allowed those members to go off on tangents to address their particular personal agendas rather than keeping the meetings focused on the overall objective to “inform the state energy planning board’s adoption of a state energy plan”.
Thruway Electric Vehicle Charging
In my article on the September 29, 2022 Climate Action Council meeting I gave an example of one of the frivolous questions from the Council. At 22:28 of the meeting recording Peter Iwanowicz asked about the New York State Thruway Service Area Redesign and Redevelopment Project that is presently underway. He asked if anyone in the administration could give the Council an idea what’s going on with respect to fast charging at the Thruway rest stops stating: “I was personally blown away at driving into one of the newly reopened ones to see no electric vehicle charging there.”
He went on to say that “it’s pretty shocking to me, one as a member of the Council but two as an EV driver not to see chargers in the newly reopened station charging”. In this case the response was “Let us get back to you.” I noted I would address this in more detail in a future post.
The New York State Thruway is a toll road that runs just under 500 miles from New York City north to Albany, west to Syracuse and Buffalo then on to the Pennsylvania line near Erie, PA. The New York State Thruway Service Area Redesign and Redevelopment Project explains that there is an effort underway to redevelop 27 service areas along the toll road. It took very little effort to find an answer to the Iwanowicz question. The website’s “Frequently Asked Questions” explains that they are working on it:
Additionally, under direct guidance and consultation with the New York Power Authority (NYPA), Empire plans to implement a passenger vehicle electric charging program at all Service Areas to further New York’s goals of reducing emissions and expanding electric vehicle infrastructure across the State.
While they are “working on it” is the simple answer, the real concern of the Climate Action Council should be on the expectations for electric vehicle charging. As has been the case for every component of the transition plan that I have researched the answers are more complicated and uncertain than implied in the Draft Scoping Plan. When the electric car mandate came out, I posted an article that was republished at Watts Up With That. One of the comments on the republished article caught my eye. Steven Pfeifferstated:
I’m sure that the New York State officials have carefully taken into account the impact of EV’s on the electrical grid in NY. /SARC
Where it could get interesting is the peak demand with fast chargers, because a lot of them will be needed even with many people charging at low levels overnight or at work.
Let’s say a typical “Quick Mart” has 16 gas pumps. Each gas pump now has a fractional HP pump, maybe a load of 500 Watts per pump. So maybe 8 kW total peak demand.
Replace those (or add) today’s “fast” chargers, say 16 of those at a nominal 250 kW (that may be on the low end, Tesla’s may be 350 kW).
16 x 250 = 4,000 kW or 4 MW of connected load. So suddenly every suburban or rural Quick Mart has an electric load (design peak demand) equal to a paper mill, auto assembly plant, or a medium size college campus.
And if I’m doing my math correctly, a 250 kW charger (with 15% loss) adds a net of about 3.5 kWh per minute to the EV battery, so it will be adding about 12-14 miles range per minute of actual charge time.
Compare that to my sedan, where I can add over 300 miles of range in about two minutes of actual full time, or 150 miles per minute.
Either electric or gas cars will have similar time requirements to pull in, park, initiate the process with a payment method, etc. So the actual “fill time” is what is important.
Most EV proponents assume the in the future, new batteries and chargers will be developed that will make EV charging “as convenient” as filling the tank of an IC engine vehicle.
If that ever becomes reality then the impact on the grid will be monumental – based on simple calculations, the supercharger load will be about 4 megawatts per charger – that is 4 MW for ONE charger supplying ONE car, to be able to match the miles added per unit of time attainable with a conventional IC engine car.
In the following section I am going to adapt his analysis (spreadsheet) for an example service center. Note, I did not double check his assumptions. I used the New York program to develop electric vehicle infrastructure, Evolve NY electric chargers for more information. I presume this NYPA program will be combined for the service center implementation of passenger vehicle charging stations. The description of these charging stations states that charging speeds range between 150-350kW.
Warners Service Center Electric Vehicle Charging
I arbitrarily chose to look at the closest service center to my home primarily because the re-development has not started there yet. There are ten automotive fuel pumps and one truck pump. I counted the parking spots in the automotive lot and found that there were 154 parking spaces: 6 handicapped, 97 spaces in the interior and 51 spaces on the edge where I presume it would be possible to install an electric charger.
Steven Pfeiffer’s example considered 16 gas pumps but Warners only has 10. Each gas pump has a fractional HP pump, with “maybe a load of 500 Watts per pump”. Warners has a peak load 5 kW. The common comparison metric for load is a typical household which is 1 kWh/day with a peak load of 100kW. In this case the peak load at the service center is equivalent to 5% of a typical household.
Pfeiffer’s example compared those gas pumps to a “fast” charger with a charging rate of 250 kW. That works out to a peak load of 2,500 kW which is equivalent to the peak load of 25 households. Note, however, that the Evolve NY chargers include 350 kW chargers. That works out to a peak load of 3,500 kW and that is equivalent to the peak load of 35 households.
Travelers don’t really care about the electricity requirements. Their main concern is how long it takes to fuel up. For this analysis assume that an internal combustion engine (ICE) automobile gets 25 miles to the gallon, has a 12-gallon tank (so it has a 300-mile range), and that a motorist would fill up when the tank is 1/6 full so that 10 gallons would be pumped. If the gas pump fills at 5 gallons per minute, then pumping takes 2 minutes and 250 miles are added to the range.
Pfeiffer notes that if he is doing his math correctly: “a 250-kW charger (with 15% loss) adds a net of about 3.5 kWh per minute to the EV battery, so it will be adding about 12-14 miles range per minute of actual charge time.” Assuming that the charger adds 13 miles of range per minute of charging time it will take 19.2 minutes to get the same mileage with the 250-kW charger. I assumed that all the values were proportional for the 350-kW charger and found that it will take 13.7 minutes to get 250 miles of additional range.
Cars will have similar time requirements to pull in, park, initiate the process with a payment method and do everything else necessary to fuel. I assume that those requirements add three minutes to the car fill up. Using these assumptions an ICE automobile can get filled up in five minutes, an EV can get charged in 22 minutes with a 250-kW charger and 17 minutes with a 350-kW charger.
I maintain that the question about the availability of charging systems at the Thruway service center was inappropriate because it is so limited. I believe it would be more appropriate for the Climate Action Council to be discussing bigger picture expectations. In this instance it would be more appropriate to discuss whether the EV plan for the Thruway service center redevelopments should be to provide equivalent re-fueling capabilities such that the same level of service is available in the future. The existing Warners service center has ten pumps and can fuel 600 vehicles per hour. In order to match that hourly rate, the service center would need 44 250-kW chargers or 33 350-kW chargers.
In order to provide that level of service the peak load will increase. For the 250-kW chargers the peak load is 11,115 kW which is equivalent to 111 households. For the 350-kW chargers the peak load is 11,550 kW which is equivalent to 116 households. At this point complicating questions about the electric distribution service availability come up. At a minimum, additional transformers will be needed. Many of these service centers are in rural areas and additional upgrades may be required for the power supply. The Council should know whether those complications are considered in the Draft Scoping Plan.
Pfeiffer points out that “Most EV proponents assume the in the future, new batteries and chargers will be developed that will make EV charging “as convenient” as filling the tank of an IC engine vehicle.” He explains that “If that ever becomes reality then the impact on the grid will be monumental – based on simple calculations, the supercharger load will be about 4 megawatts per charger – that is 4 MW for one charger supplying one car, to be able to match the miles added per unit of time attainable with a conventional IC engine car”. In this example that would increase the peak load at the service center to 40,000 kW which is equivalent to 400 households. At that level I would expect that a new substation might be required.
In addition to the power constraints, installation of EV charging stations needs to consider site constraints. Recall that there are 154 parking spaces: 6 handicapped, 97 spaces in the interior and 51 spaces on the edges. Here is another appropriate overview discussion for the Council. There is a tradeoff between parking available for people who need to attend to personal needs (restaurants and bathrooms) and for chargers. At some point in the future placing EV chargers in the current fueling area will be possible but that transition has to be planned. The ultimate question is how long and whether New York intends to provide fossil fuels to out-of-state visitors and grandfathered vehicles owned by residents.
On a practical level I assume that that the preferred location for chargers would be on the edges. Depending on the fast charger type between 33 and 44 chargers provide equivalent service and there are 51 spaces on the exterior. The first practical question is whether additional parking spots are needed to respond to the loss of spots to chargers. I imagine there will also be installation issues for the electric power and infrastructure needed for the charging points. Another issue is whether there should be provision for charging services for vehicles towing trailers.
The bigger challenge is New York winters. One issue is that the charging efficiency and the vehicle range are both reduced in cold weather. The current re-fueling capabilities are not seasonally dependent. Should there be additional chargers added because more people will need to stop to charge and it will take charging longer in the winter? The bigger issue in my opinion is snow. While it is more practical to put the charging stations on the edges of the parking lot that is also the only place that snow removed from the lot can initially go. Parking lot designs that do not take into account snow removal can cause safety issues and certainly affect the time necessary to clean up after snow storms.
On the list of issues confronting the state’s energy transition this particular question is pretty low on the priority list. We have already seen the leadership of the Council claim that there is too little time to reconcile the electric grid projections made by the NYISO with the Integration Analysis. Nevertheless, a Council member thinks that it is appropriate to cut into the precious little time available for the Council to consider the entirety of the energy transition with his personally biased question. More importantly this is just an example of a recurring theme throughout the Scoping Plan process. Any question from the CJWG and certain members of the Council gets a response no matter how removed from the issue at hand.
I highlighted this particular question because it illustrates my bigger concern. The Climate Action Council should be focused on big picture items that affect not only the net-zero transition but also the public’s use of energy. Instead, the leadership has allowed the membership to go off on tangents like this. In this example, the relatively trivial issue is what can be expected at the Thruway service areas and over-arching questions arose.
- What does the Council recommend for future planning: minimizing resources required which increases public inconvenience or the opposite?
- How does the Draft Scoping Plan address these tradeoffs?
- What is the expectation for resources like this during the transition?
Unfortunately, those big picture items are not getting addressed while Staff tries to track down answers to questions like this.
There are many over-arching net-zero transition issues that the membership of the Council seems OK ignoring as the Scoping Plan development process unfolds. I am particularly concerned that the Draft Scoping Plan only provides aggregated costs relative to societal benefits and there are significant unresolved differences between the generation resource projections for the net-zero transition between the Integration Analysis and the NYISO Resource Outlook. It is not clear that the aspirational technology deployments proposed in the Draft Scoping Plan are feasible with respect to affordability and reliability.
I believe the Council should define their expectations for those two aspects. What does affordable mean; how should it be tracked as the transition unfolds to protect the low- and middle-income citizens who are least able to afford regressive energy cost increases; and what does the Scoping Plan project will happen in this regard? Reliability is a bigger concern because it directly affects public safety. Does the Council believe that current reliability standards must be maintained in the future? How will that be enforced? In particular, if the organizations responsible for reliability believe the current reliability standards are threatened what is the plan?
I have shown that even a trivial question about New York State Thruway service centers raises more important general issues that should be the focus of the Climate Action Council. Not so long ago, affordability and reliability were the paramount concerns for the New York energy system. At that time the idea that the existing system would be dismantled without proven technology in place would be dismissed out of hand.
It was generally accepted that, for example, natural gas could be used a bridge fuel until the aspirational dispatchable emission-free resources could be tested at the scale needed, perform like a natural gas fired generating unit, and provide power at a similar cost, was generally accepted as a rational approach. The analogy for the current approach is that proponents including some members of the Climate Action Council want to jump out of a perfectly good airplane without a parachute because they assume that the concept of a parachute will be developed, proven technically and economically feasible, and then delivered in time to provide a soft landing. The risks of the current approach are not even being discussed by the Council as they fritter away time dealing with politically expedient Integration Analysis updates and personal agenda items of the membership. I am not optimistic about the future.
Roger Caiazza blogs on New York energy and environmental issues at Pragmatic Environmentalist of New York. This represents his opinion and not the opinion of any of his previous employers or any other company with which he has been associated.
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