The POWER Interview: Addressing the Challenge of Electrification

The International Energy Agency says electrification “means replacing technologies or processes that use fossil fuels, like internal combustion engines and gas boilers, with electrically-powered equivalents, such as electric vehicles or heat pumps. These replacements are typically more efficient, reducing energy demand, and have a growing impact on emissions as electricity generation is decarbonized.”

The transition, though, comes with challenges. Many already are well-known, such as the need for more infrastructure to support charging of electric cars and trucks, and other transport vehicles. The residential and commercial and industrial sectors must consider the cost of new technologies for heating and cooling.

Utilities and power generators are faced with the problem of supplying enough electricity to meet the increased demand for power that will come from electrification. And can the power grid handle increased loads, while at the same time trying to integrate more renewable energy resources to the transmission and distribution system?

Lloyd Gomm is vice president of Marketing for Delta-Q Technologies, a company that designs, tests, and manufactures battery chargers for electric vehicles (EVs) and industrial machines. The company, part of Italy-based ZAPI GROUP and headquartered in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, is immersed in electrification. Its distribution network spans five continents and serves industries such as electric golf cars, lift trucks, aerial work platforms, e-mobility, floor care machines, utility/recreational vehicles, and also new markets such as outdoor power equipment and construction.

Gomm recently provided POWER with insight into Delta-Q’s work in the electrification space, and how some of the challenges of this transition can be met.

POWER: What is the most important aspect of electrification? Is it moving away from fossil fuels? Is it an increased emphasis on energy efficiency? Should something else be at the top of the conversation?

Gomm: For Delta-Q, the most important “Why” for the global push to an all-electric future is the environment. Enabling the move away from ICE (internal combustion engines) to reduce emissions is priority one. Moving to electric drive also provides OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) with an opportunity to rethink their overall vehicle/machine design to improve their products in various ways. Ease of use, less maintenance, and quiet operation are some of the additional benefits that serve to speed the adoption of electric drive-based solutions.

Lloyd Gomm

Electrification has proven its viability across numerous applications thanks to advancements in electric vehicle and industrial equipment solutions, including evolving battery technology, improved access to charging infrastructure, decreasing electric platform development costs, enhanced operational efficiency and government incentive programs. Positive momentum is fueled further by growing popular sentiment favoring sustainable solutions.

However, the road to widespread electrification still faces challenges that warrant attention. In high-power off-highway equipment applications, issues like charging infrastructure availability and high battery cost (due to high capacity needs) can be a headwind on widespread adoption.

POWER: Who should drive the push toward electrification and e-mobility—should it be government (local, state, federal), the utility sector, or the commercial/industrial and/or residential sector?

Gomm: In general, private sector companies like Delta-Q and our parent company ZAPI GROUP will invest and drive innovation based on a sound business case. In general, electric drive technology companies work to improve overall cost and ease of use to make electric drive adoption a “no-brainer.” However, in many emerging markets for electric drive, government programs are needed to help mitigate the higher costs sometimes involved in electrification and ultimately to support adoption. These can take the form of consumer incentives, renewable investment tax credits, or mandates to reduce emissions. The most effective programs are simple, easy to use or comply with and created with private and public stakeholder involvement.

POWER: How will the move toward electrification impact the power grid? Will there be enough electricity supply to satisfy increased demand? This has been a topic of discussion at POWER events (including the just-concluded Experience POWER Week in Savannah, Georgia), in terms of the impact of electric vehicle charging and electrification on the power grid.

Gomm: As we move toward electrification, there is no doubt that electricity demand will increase, particularly with the rise of EVs. However, concerns that EVs will overwhelm the power grid could be unfounded or overstated. In fact, a study conducted by Eurelectric found that if 80% of all passenger cars become electric, it would lead to only a 10-15% increase in electricity consumption. Electric vehicles are far more energy-efficient compared to internal combustion engines, and the projected growth in EVs should not result in an immediate or significant surge in total electric-grid power demand.

POWER: Industry experts have been discussing the economic impacts of electrification, including the need for investments in more power generation, and upgrades to the transmission and distribution system. Will these issues, and perhaps others, slow the electrification process, particularly if they result in higher utility bills for consumers?

Gomm: The economic impact of electrification is a regional issue that depends on current grid capacity, population growth and other variables. In general, electrification requires investment due to a shift to increasing utility demands from residential and commercial customers and the need to shift utility generation to renewable sources. We are optimistic that utilities and governments see a positive business case for satisfying increasing demand in a renewable way.

POWER: How, if at all, has Delta-Q been impacted by supply chain issues?

Gomm: Like other technology manufacturing companies, Delta-Q experienced temporary component shortages during the pandemic. We prioritized actively working with suppliers to mitigate the impact on our customers and continue evolving our technology, products and services. By being part of the global ZAPI GROUP, we are also able to better support our customers with a global manufacturing and procurement footprint.

POWER: Energy storage plays a role in electrification. Are there battery technologies beyond lithium-ion that will drive the energy storage market moving forward?

Gomm: While there are many nascent battery technologies, lithium-ion batteries currently dominate the energy storage market and are expected to continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Lithium batteries have many benefits (i.e., more power density, low maintenance, fast-charging capabilities and greater durability), and lithium battery technology is experiencing constant progress.

While some emerging technologies, such as solid-state and sodium-ion batteries, show promise, they are still in the early stages of development and face challenges in terms of cost and scalability. Therefore, it is likely that lithium-ion batteries will remain the primary battery technology for energy storage in the near term, especially as the technology continues to evolve and improve.

Darrell Proctor is a senior associate editor for POWER (@POWERmagazine).

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