A History of Advanced Energy’s Transportation Work

By Jonathan Susser | January 22, 2020

Electric vehicles (EVs) have been gathering speed in recent years, but Advanced Energy has been exploring the technology for over three decades. Through partnerships with electric utilities, government, businesses and schools, we have helped shape the electric transportation industry and promote clean and efficient driving. Among other reasons, we support EVs for their ability to improve operational efficiency, providing flexible growth in electrical load that can benefit both utilities and their members. As electric transportation expands, it is essential that communities understand the vehicles and the impacts they can have, and we have been there every step of the way.

Click the image above to view our electric transportation timeline.

We were researching the potential of EVs going back 30 years, long before they started hitting the market in their current form. In the late 1980s, we invested in and tested an electric van to assess its application in commercial fleets, and in the early 1990s, we monitored an electric commuter car, a Pontiac Fiero, by using its 45-60 mile range to go on highway trips around North Carolina. Over two years, the Fiero logged 13,000 miles.

Fast forward more than a decade, and we continued to assess EV applications. In the mid-2000s, we received a grant to evaluate the potential of a plug-in electric school bus. We helped design and build the bus with industry partners, and school districts across the country participated. The project explored the operating costs, emissions, fuel economy, and other benefits and limitations of the technology. Although, at the time, potential cost and technical challenges were found, developments over the past few years have demonstrated the promise of electric school and transit buses.

2010 is typically considered the year EVs were revitalized in the U.S.: The Nissan LEAF and Chevrolet Volt arrived, and Tesla further emerged. Starting around this same time, we contributed to the Rocky Mountain Institute’s Project Get Ready, which helped communities prepare for EVs. Partnering with the City of Raleigh, we provided education, outreach and workshops to assist with public charging.

In 2011, the Centralina Council of Governments received a U.S. Department of Energy Mountains to Sea grant to create North Carolina Plug-in Electric Vehicle Roadmaps. We collaborated with Centralina and other partners to create five of these resources (North Carolina statewide, greater Charlotte region, greater Asheville region, greater Triangle region and Piedmont-Triad region) that served as comprehensive guides to prepare North Carolina for EVs. Furthermore, in 2012, we worked with industry and government colleagues to conduct the two-year, 40-vehicle Plug-in Electric Vehicle Consumer Usage Study, which assessed driving and charging patterns that could affect EV adoption.

Another milestone for our transportation work was the launching of Plug-in NC in 2011. Originally named the North Carolina Plug-in Electric Vehicle Task Force, Plug-in NC is a statewide collaborative program that works with individuals and organizations across North Carolina to promote EVs through consulting, education, outreach and resource development. Its primary roles are to spread awareness, reduce barriers to EV adoption and conduct research to help integrate the technology into our communities. Through Plug-in NC, we have developed toolkits, organized workshops and coordinated events to connect with broader audiences and make EVs more mainstream.

Today, with the help of Plug-in NC, our focus is on ensuring that people, communities, organizations and electric utilities learn about and prepare for EVs. Events and activities engage the general public, utility staff and workplaces, and workshops cover everything from electric transportation basics to the benefits of electric fleet vehicles to how to begin an EV program at a utility. Our transportation team also works closely with clients to design and deliver customized services, including research projects and educational materials.

One example of such a service is our strategic planning for electric co-ops. To help co-ops encourage and prepare for electric transportation, we have partnered with ones both locally in North Carolina and throughout the country to develop step-by-step strategic planning guides. These tools provide an overview of the technology and the state of the industry, detail the impact of EVs on co-op operations, and offer strategies for how co-ops can get involved and become their members’ go-to resource for information.

Two additional — and significant — initiatives that we are currently assisting with are the Volkswagen Settlement and North Carolina’s Executive Order No. 80, which spurred the creation of the North Carolina Department of Transportation’s Zero-Emission Vehicle (ZEV) Plan. We were active participants in the development of the ZEV Plan, attending workshops and collaborating with others to provide feedback on draft versions. Both the Volkswagen Settlement and Executive Order No. 80 will greatly support EV development in North Carolina, and we are excited to be involved.

When we’re on the road, we like to lead by example, so you’ll see us in one of our company electric cars — our 2011 Nissan LEAF or 2019 Chevrolet Bolt EV. We drive these around town and display them at events, both ones we host ourselves and many others we participate in. Our transportation team often partners with local organizations to get the word out about EVs during Earth Day celebrations, National Drive Electric Week and throughout the year.

The focus of our transportation program has shifted over the last three decades to follow the “Impact Curve.” Originally, we emphasized research and testing to better learn about the technology and help get it into the market. Now that EVs have crossed that barrier, a current goal is to make sure people and organizations are educated and prepared for them and their impact. Through customized consulting and program services, we have been able to provide direction to organizations as they design their own EV programs.

No matter the need, we are committed to promoting EVs and ensuring that communities are ready for them. We can be depended on to provide guidance, training and education to continue to shape the electric transportation market as developments arise. To learn more about what we can offer, click here.