Climate Week NYC 2021

This year’s Climate Week NYC helped set the tone for the runup to COP26. The theme was getting it done” with a focus on fulfilling and increasing commitments made by businesses, governments and organizations. This is the hub for Canary Media’s coverage of the event.

New York City needs a lot of EV chargers. How can its power grid support them all?

Jeff St. John  . 

Revel's EV-charging "superhub" in Brooklyn is the first of many such sites New York City will need to meet its aggressive EV goals. (Nicholas Rinaldi/Canary Media)

For New York City to have any chance of fulfilling its ambitious electric vehicle plans, it’s going to need a lot more EV-charging sites like Revel’s superhub.” Located in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood, the superhub has 25 fast chargers — the most universally usable high-speed chargers at any single site in the nation, according to Paul Suhey, Revel’s co-founder and head of rideshare and EV

But how will charging sites like these find enough power on the already-congested grid that serves the country’s most densely populated major city?

Providing the public with a sufficient number of places to charge their electric vehicles in close proximity to where they live and work is critical to convincing them to make the shift to EVs and help New York City meet its aggressive transportation electrification goals. The city’s Electric Vehicle Vision Plan, unveiled earlier this month, aims to get 400,000 car owners to switch to EVs by 2030. To support that transition, the plan sets a goal of having about 46,000 chargers in place by then — 40,000 public Level 2 chargers, which take hours to refill a battery, and 6,000 direct-current fast chargers, which can do the job in as little as half an hour. Right now there are only around 2,000 Level 2 and 270 fast chargers in New York City and the adjacent Westchester County area combined. 

Adding these concentrated load pockets to a congested grid isn’t easy, however. To find connected power on the grid right now where you can site and permit EV charging is very, very hard,” Suhey said. The wait time to build charging projects can keep developers on hold for a year to never, depending on the location and a lot of other factors.” 

Adding EV charging capacity to the grid would be difficult enough on its own. But at the same time, the city is trying to shift heating systems in buildings from fossil fuels to electricity — a key strategy for reducing carbon emissions as the state moves to clean up its electricity supply on the path toward goals of 70 percent renewables by 2030 and 100 percent by 2040. Widespread electrification of other appliances including stovetops, water heaters and clothes dryers — another important climate strategy — will only add to the grid stress. 

The upshot is that New York City is going to need a lot more electrical capacity, and fast. 

This is a global problem, as Christian Levin, CEO of Volkswagen-owned truck manufacturer Scania, stated in a Tuesday panel at this week’s Climate Week NYC event. When he talks to companies that are worried about switching to EVs, it’s not the vehicles” that are holding them back, he said. It’s the charging. We need to start to invest heavily into charging infrastructure, [and] we need…help from policymakers.” 

But the EV charging buildout is also an intensely local challenge, as the experience of Revel and other developers in New York City indicates. It involves costly and complex work to extend power lines, install transformers and manage new grid loads. 

How do we build the charging infrastructure to support that transition?” Suhey asked. That’s hard in and of itself.”

The Revel approach

Revel, a startup founded in New York City in 2018, sells its charging services at 39 cents per kilowatt at its Brooklyn superhub. The site is the equivalent of a gas station for EVs. 

Customer Javier Álvarez charges a Tesla at the Revel Superhub in Brooklyn, July 2021. (Nicholas Rinaldi/Canary Media)

Electric trucks could handle millions of short-haul routes across North America

Jeff St. John  . 

Battery-powered trucks like this Volvo VNR model could effectively replace half the U.S. freight fleet, according to early results from the Run on Less–Electric test (Run on Less by NACFE)

Mike Roeth, executive director of the North American Council for Freight Efficiency, is confident that the U.S. and Canada can convert more than 5 million medium- and heavy-duty trucks from fossil fuels to electric without disrupting the flow of cargo they carry. And he has the data to back it up. 

That data comes from Run on Less-Electric, a just-concluded test conducted by major freight companies across six states and two Canadian provinces. Over three weeks, Run on Less collected data on electric delivery vans, box trucks, port terminal tractors and heavy-duty semitractor-trailers making standard daily deliveries, ranging from taking beer and potato chips to grocery stores to moving cargo containers between seaports and distribution centers. 

Roeth has coordinated two previous Run on Less events to collect real-time data on new high-efficiency truck designs, working in partnership with nonprofit research organization RMI and with support from the Department of Energy’s SuperTruck program. (Canary Media is an independent affiliate of RMI.)

But this is the first test that focused on electric trucks — and according to preliminary data and reports from the companies and drivers involved, the trucks are ready for action. 

Roeth described a few snags in the test drives during a Wednesday event at Climate Week NYC, such as downtime events on a few of the trucks.” But outside a handful of hang-ups like these, all of the trucks operated very well over the three weeks.” 

In fact, the feedback from the 13 participating companies, which included Anheuser-Busch, Frito-Lay, NFI and DHL, indicated that these electric trucks are performing better than recent diesel…introductions,” he said. That’s not surprising, given that electric-drivetrain-equipped trucks are considered to be easier to operate and are cheaper to maintain than internal combustion engine models. 

What hasn’t been as clear to the trucking industry is whether electric trucks can match the range and refueling flexibility of their fossil-fueled predecessors. But that wasn’t a problem for the vehicles running the daily duty cycles chosen for this test, Roeth said. Most, in fact, never dropped below 50 percent charge on their batteries, and they had plenty of time to slow-charge overnight without straining the power grids they were connected to. 

Roughly half of all freight trips completed each day in the U.S. are less than 100 miles in length, so it’s a significant finding that electric vehicles can make those deliveries with no major problems, Michael Berube, DOE deputy assistant secretary for sustainable transportation, said at Wednesday’s event. 

Only a few years ago, the conventional wisdom held that we’ll never electrify trucks,” he said. But the reality is, as [this research has] shown, there are some parts of that market that are ready today…where it will make economic sense to switch over, between the lower fuel costs and the lower operation costs of these electric vehicles.” 

That, in turn, could have an outsized impact on reducing greenhouse gas emissions from transportation, the largest single source of U.S. carbon emissions by sector, said Jason Mathers, director of vehicles and freight strategy at the Environmental Defense Fund.

Trucks make up less than 4 percent of total road vehicles in the U.S. but account for roughly 25 percent of carbon dioxide emissions. This is because they weigh a lot more than passenger cars and they’re on the road more often, Mathers said. Nearly half of those trucks, about 5.2 million, fall into the categories of vehicles represented in this month’s Run on Less test. But right now, less than 1 percent of those trucks are electric. 

Switching all 5.2 million of these trucks to electric could slash about 100 million metric tons of carbon emissions from the U.S. trucking sector’s annual total of just under 450 million metric tons. The switch could also make even bigger cuts to emissions of nitrogen oxides and particulate matter that are harmful to human health, Roeth said. 

That’s [equivalent to] about 25 coal-fired power plants that would be eliminated if all those trucks went electric,” he said. And all of those trucks are electrifiable.” 

(Run on Less by NACFE)

New York OKs underground and underwater transmission lines to deliver upstate clean energy to NYC

Jeff St. John  . 

New York City is set to receive gigawatts of clean power from HVDC transmission lines submerged under the Hudson River. (Greg Keelen via Unsplash)

New York City needs a lot of clean power to meet its zero-carbon goals. Upstate New York produces a lot of clean power, and so does Canada. But right now, there isn’t enough transmission grid capacity to connect these areas. 

On Monday, New York leaders announced two big transmission projects designed to bridge this north-south clean power divide. To help overcome the barriers that have stymied many similar projects in the past, both will use high-voltage direct-current cables buried underground and, in some places, under the waters of the Hudson River. 

State policymakers have aimed for years to link up New York’s renewables-rich upstate region and the fossil-fuel-dependent New York City area. New York City gets about 85 percent of its electricity from fossil fuel plants, many of them located in disadvantaged communities that are harmed by air pollution from the facilities. By contrast, upstate New York gets about 88 percent of its electricity from carbon-free resources, including ample hydropower, a growing share of wind and, more recently, solar projects. 

In a Monday announcement coinciding with the opening day of Climate Week NYC, New York Governor Kathy Hochul (D) highlighted how these projects could help us turn the page on New York City’s long-standing dependence on fossil fuels.” In addition to creating thousands of jobs and driving about $8.2 billion in economic development, the transmission projects are expected to reduce carbon emissions by 77 million metric tons and save $2.9 billion in public-health costs from reduced air pollution over the next 15 years. 

But the projects aren’t a done deal yet. Both were selected as part of a process launched in January by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, so they still must go through final contract negotiation and approval. Once contracts are finalized, the New York Public Service Commission must approve them. Payment for the projects will be dependent upon local approvals, completion of construction, and delivery of power to New York City. 

The larger of the two projects is the 1,250-megawatt Champlain Hudson Power Express, which has been in the works since 2013. It would connect hydropower from Canadian utility Hydro-Québec via a 339-mile corridor running under Lake Champlain, underground along transportation rights of way through Schenectady and Albany, and under the Hudson River for most of the rest of the distance to New York City. 

The project is expected to cost about $2.2 billion and start delivering power to New York City in 2025. It is being developed by Transmission Developers, Inc., which is owned by private equity firm Blackstone.

The second project announced Monday, Clean Path New York, comes from Forward Power, a joint venture of EnergyRe and Invenergy, in partnership with public utility New York Power Authority. Unlike the first project, this one bundles new transmission with new clean energy — about 3,400 megawatts of new wind and solar capacity to be built upstate by EnergyRe and Invenergy, the latter a major clean energy developer. 

Of the project’s $11 billion price tag, about $3.5 billion would go toward building a 174-mile high-voltage direct-current transmission line capable of carrying 1,300 MW of power from upstate to New York City, with completion set for 2027. The remainder of the budget would fund the new wind and solar. 

The New York Power Authority will provide the right of way for much of the project underneath its existing 345-kilovolt overhead transmission line running from Utica to Orange County, with the remaining stretch buried along roadways and underneath the Hudson River. NYPA will also balance out the variability of the new wind and solar with its Blenheim-Gilboa pumped-hydropower storage facility, which uses excess clean energy to pump water uphill and then releases it back down through power turbines to generate additional electricity when needed. 

Transmission route and projects (NYSERDA)