ABB kicks off NYC E-Prix weekend with insights from US Energy Sec Granholm, industry experts
Pre-race event features conversations with US Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, Formula E driver Sebastien Buemi among others.
“It’s not a question of if, it’s a question of when people will drive electric vehicles.”
That was the takeaway from Sebastien Buemi, Formula E driver currently racing for Nissan e.dams, during a virtual panel discussion hosted by ABB on July 9th. Buemi and US Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm discussed the importance of electrification and what it means for the future of emobility and sustainability ahead of the ABB NYC E-prix, the only US stop on the all-electric race series’ calendar for the 2020-21 season.
Secretary Granholm agreed and went on to highlight the Biden Administration’s efforts to expedite the electrification trend.
“Our goal is making emobility accessible to average American families,” she said. “We’re working on decreasing battery recharge. Our goal is less than 15 minutes for a 300 mile range for everyday citizens. We’re also working on scaling up battery production across the supply chain.”
The event was hosted by ABB Chief Communications and Sustainability Officer Theodor Swedjemark. Other speakers included Formula E president Jamie Reigle, Rep. Paul Tonko (D-NY), ABB Emobility Account Management Leader, Stephanie Medeiros, and a panel of emobility leaders: Anna Schneider, Senior Vice President and Head of Public Affairs at Volkswagen Group of America; Paul Feenstra, Director of Government Relations at heavy truck manufacturer PACCAR; Fabio Mantovani, Vice President and Head of Emobility at the New York Power Authority (NYPA); Asaf Nagler, Senior Director of US Government Relations at ABB; and moderator Joe Britton, Executive Director of the Zero Emission Transportation Association (ZETA).
Picking up on battery production, ABB’s Medeiros noted that prices have dropped from more than $1,100/kWh in 2010 to $130/kWh in 2020, and according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance will break the $100/kWh floor by 2023. Formula E itself has benefitted greatly from advancing battery technology, said Buemi.
“Just a few years ago we had to switch cars in the middle of the race,” he said, adding that the reduced weight and increased capacity of the batteries along with improved battery management systems have also boosted top speeds from 130mph in 2014 to over 170mph for the current second-generation cars.
Of course, batteries are only part of the technology story. Charging systems, too have evolved in recent years. ABB is currently working with Formula E on a new high-power mobile charger that will be capable of charging two Formula E cars simultaneously and “flash charging” during pit stops, allowing longer races when the Gen3 cars make their debut in the 2022-23 season.
“We’re trying to build a tier-one sport,” explained Reigle, adding that Formula E is the only sport founded with sustainability “embedded in its purpose.” It’s that authenticity and commitment to advancing emobility technologies that the race series and its partners hope will drive Formula E’s continued growth.
The panel discussion centered mainly on policy measures to support electrification across all forms of transport, and a common refrain was the need to rapidly increase the number of public charging stations, to “meet EV drivers where they are,” as Rep Tonko put it.
“We need to remove the charging deserts,” added NYPA’s Mantovani, who also pointed out that 60% of the cost of developing a charging station currently lies in the make-ready process to connect it to the grid. Fast-tracking the utility connection, then, is a priority.
The ultimate goal from Volkswagen’s perspective is “convenience parity,” said Schneider, making it easier for consumers to choose electric.
Electrified fleets and heavy vehicles are coming, too. Feenstra’s PACCAR is delivering Class 8 heavy trucks to customers this year, but he also advocated for a reconsideration of the 12% excise tax on trucks and more policy support to encourage US manufacturing.
All panelists agreed there was much more the US government could do to support the shift to electric vehicles. ABB’s Nagler suggested four policy areas:
- R&D support across value chain from batteries to charging to vehicle to energy management software
- Tax credits and grants for new advanced manufacturing operations in the US (e.g., the 48C tax credit and the DoE’s loan guarantee program)
- Investment in charging station deployment and specifically updating and extending the 30C tax credit
- Workforce development and training
“There is no one size fits all in terms of charging,” Nagler said, and the same is true about vehicle types, use cases and business models. The key from a policy perspective is to remove barriers so that more players can enter the market, whether in charging systems, battery production or the vehicles themselves.
The emobility economy will lower costs and dramatically improve the emissions profile across all modes of transport. Getting to that point will take time, but with the right mix of policy and private sector investment, the US is poised to emerge as a global leader. Certainly, the electrification movement has a potent ally in Formula E, which provides a high-profile platform for advocacy as well as a valuable test bed for new technology.