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Regional Report: Grid Electrification & EV Consumer Trends

Greater Phoenix a leader for electric vehicle innovation, manufacturing

Greater Phoenix has become a hub for electric vehicle manufacturing in the United States.

ElectraMeccanica broke ground on its U.S. Assembly Facility and Engineering Technical Center in Mesa, Ariz. on May 11. Zero Electric Vehicles (ZEV) has operated out of Tempe, Ariz. for about a year. The Ernst & Young Cloud Enablement Center launched in Phoenix in February, and Culdesac has its sights set on a 2022 opening in Tempe.

“We're kind of coining the Arizona area as Electric Valley,” said James Maury, president and co-founder of ZEV.

Industry leaders joined GPEC’s latest regional report to discuss grid electrification and electric vehicle consumer trends. Panelists include:

  • Marc Coltelli, Global Energy Strategy & Operations Leader (E-Mobility Lead), Ernst & Young
  • Ryan Johnson, CEO & Co-Founder, Culdesac
  • James Maury, President & Co-Founder, Zero Electric Vehicles
  • Paul Rivera, CEO, ElectraMeccanica
  • Moderator: Eric Sperling, Social Television Network

The benefits of electric vehicles are clear: 74.5% of global transport emissions come from road vehicles. Transitioning a commercial delivery truck to an electric vehicle is the equivalent of planting 350 trees. Economically, the eMobility market is expected to reach $72 billion in the United States by 2030.

But there are still quite a few areas of advancement needed before the U.S. is able to transition to a widespread use of EVs.

The next steps for the grid

One of the biggest barriers for extensive use of electric vehicles is that the current system was designed for traditional transportation methods.

“We have a grid infrastructure system that was designed a hundred or so years ago, and it wasn't thought through in terms of the demand that we're seeing of the network and electricity today,” Coltelli said.

The accessibility of car charging remains a question. While gas stations are everywhere, the availability of EV chargers is still limited. Many consumers charge at home, but public charging is going to be a necessity, particularly with range anxiety among many who are hesitant to transition to electric and even those who currently own an EV.

“There's a lot of loss coming off the electrons that we all store in battery systems today. You'll have a range estimate of 250 miles, but your actual vehicle will only go about 190 miles,” Maury said. “That's a significant difference when you're actually trying to get to your journey and feel comfortable before you have to find a charge station."

European countries have built and developed infrastructure that has allowed a wider usage of vehicles, and because of this, growth has moved faster in that continent than in the U.S.

Range is particularly an issue for fleets and commercial vehicles that travel hundreds of miles per trip. While most people don’t go further than the office in a day, commercial vehicles have a larger impact on carbon emissions and a greater need for lasting battery life. The focus on battery development comes down to safety and temperature, along with how to recycle them.

“It's a very complex situation and more and more EVs are being put on the road today,” Rivera said.

Download our Autonomous and Electric Vehicles ecosystem analysis


How these issues can be addressed

Having a reliable grid not only at the state level but throughout the country is vital to future advancement of electric vehicles. For this, there needs to be government cooperation.

“People will want to charge, know that it's there, know that it's available. And we don't want to see situations where the availability of electricity is compromised because the right legislation and the right incentives are not in place,” Coltelli said.

Cooperation between the public and private sectors is also of grave importance.

“There are so many sectors out there that unless we converge and we bring together all of those elements, no one is really going to solve it by themselves,” Coltelli said.

Culdesac, the first car-free neighborhood built from scratch in the U.S., is looking to address modern mobility, living and sustainability in a whole new way.

More than 60% of millennials want to live in a walkable neighborhood, Johnson said, but only 8% do. Culdesac Tempe attempts to tackle this by bringing life to your front door and building vibrant, wide-open spaces while taking advantage of the city’s many transportation options.

“The future of cities is building neighborhoods for people, not cars,” Johnson said. “Cars will of course still play a role, but there's a huge opportunity to rethink how cities work to put people at the center.”

Instead of streets and pavement, homes will be surrounded by trees, bike paths, shops and parks. The transportation model would be based around walking, biking, car and ride sharing.

Johnson said that residents at Culdesac Tempe will emit 50% less CO2 emissions than an average car owner.

Through collaboration between companies focused on sustainability and innovation, alternative options like these will help the state environmentally and economically.

Read more about Culdesac in our case study with the startup


Greater Phoenix is an EV hub

With these companies based throughout the region, Greater Phoenix is at the forefront of future development.

“Phoenix is the petri dish for proptech (and) mobility technology,” said Johnson, who was also part of Opendoor's founding team.

“It's an amazing place for sustainability. We've got great solar. We've got wind projects.” Maury said. “There's all kinds of ways that we can actually use energy to effectively build mobility.”

Rivera said ElectraMeccanica chose Mesa because of its proximity to the West Coast consumer market and the partnerships with local governments, organizations and cities.

“Five municipalities around the Phoenix area have agreed to work with us, through the help of GPEC, and with APS and SRP, to test the sharing program for us,” Rivera said. “That was one of the very last pieces of the puzzle for us. That was a tipping point.”

Learn why so many tech companies are moving to Arizona

Meet our panelists: