Teach Me Interview Series: Dr. Moe Alahmad on Electric Vehicle Infrastructure

Mon, 06/07/2021

I’m Neil Rutledge, a Research Associate at the Nebraska Governance and Technology Center. Part of my work is engaging with the talented faculty, fellows, and grant recipients who are a part of our work at the center, sharing their work and expertise with other scholars and the public.

As part of the Teach Me series, I sit down with these scholars to ask them about their work related to law and technology. In this installment of the Teach Me series, I talk with Moe Alahmad, Associate Professor in the Durham School of Architectural Engineering & Construction at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln about his work with electric vehicle (EV) infrastructure in that state of Nebraska; work that we at the NGTC are excited to help support.


Dr. Alahmad, thanks for answering some questions for us about your work. By way of introduction, can you tell us a little about your research?

Our team is the main research arm for the Nebraska Community Energy Alliance (NCEA), an interlocal cooperative agency with 35 members located throughout the entire state of Nebraska. The mission of NCEA is to build and promote advanced technologies for housing and transportation that save energy, reduce CO2 pollution and cut costs.  Our team collects, processes, and analyzes data from existing commercial and residential charging stations installed throughout Nebraska to document the economic and environmental benefits of electrified transportation. Every month, our team uses data from NCEA participants and develops a report that is available, to the public, at the project’s main website (http://necommunity.energy).  In addition to data analysis, our team is using machine learning tools to study electric vehicle (EV) uptake, to understand the charging behavior and demand in Nebraska and to support NCEA in planning and developing an EV charging infrastructure to prepare our community for the future.


It seems like we have heard about the rise of electric automobiles for some time now, and certainly we have seen advances in that regard, but have things changed quite a bit in the last 10 years?

Electric vehicles have seen a major shift in the last few years. In 2016, the number of EVs sold in the US were 159k, whereas in 2020, the number grew to 343k. This is in accordance with the S-innovation curve for any new technology, where in the initial years, the growth is slow but with advancement of technology and growing popularity, the growth takes off. We are now at the base of a steep slope. Looking back, ten years ago, the major concerns were range anxiety among users and potential adopters, and the lack of charging infrastructures.  However, with advancement in battery technology and deployment of charging infrastructure, the U.S. will see more rapid growth and adoption of electric automobiles. 


I can understand how a greater amount of charging infrastructure could make an enormous difference in the viability of electric vehicles in our state- where does Nebraska stand in that regard?

In 2014, there were a handful of commercial charging stations in Nebraska. Today we have at least 213 commercial charging stations.  These stations have been deployed in part by NCEA/NET funding, NDEE execution of VW settlement and stations installed by TESLA. This number will grow by at least 35 more commercial charging stations when NCEA starts to execute its sixth grant cycle on July 1, 2021.  In addition to commercial charging stations, 590 residential charging stations are installed in electric vehicle owner homes in Nebraska as part of NCEA collaboration with its utility members, OPPD, NPPD and Fremont.  Similarly, this number will grow by 80 stations when NCEA starts to execute its sixth grant cycle on July 1, 2021.


What factors have held back more widespread adoption of electric vehicles in Nebraska?

Studies have shown that range anxiety, lack of charging infrastructure and public awareness are factors that impede the widespread adoption of electric vehicles in Nebraska and in other states.  The range anxiety factor is diminishing as newer vehicles are built with 300-500-mile range.  The charging infrastructure continues to be a challenge, particularly DC fast charging stations across major highways to provide full network coverage. As we build the infrastructure and support the installation of charging stations in critical areas, we will see greater adoption.  Examples include workplace charging and multi -family dwelling units where potential adopters have no access to charging stations currently.   


In terms of the adoption of electric vehicles in the state of Nebraska, what do you anticipate over the next ten years?

We anticipate the availability of more electric vehicle options for drivers to consider when purchasing their first or next vehicle.  This will be coupled with price parity when compared to conventional vehicles.  More charging stations throughout Nebraska will allow any driver to drive anywhere in the state with access to refueling. The refueling, the amount of time it will take to recharge an electric vehicle, will also decrease substantially to replicate the amount of time it takes to refill an empty tank at the gas station. 


Are you involved in making suggestions regarding the location of future public charging stations? If so, how do you make those recommendations?

Yes, we are working with NCEA to support efforts in determining the optimal locations for charging infrastructure throughout Nebraska.  We are using machine language learning tools to support our infrastructure build-up. We have done some preliminary work as part of a funding from NDOR/NCEA where a mathematical model was developed based on a short-range and a long- range electric vehicle, highway driving characteristics, ambient temperature and range anxiety. The locations were latitude-longitudinal specific, where the nearest city found to be recommended for charging infrastructure installation to cover the entire Nebraska’s highway driving.


In terms of the money supplied through the NGTC’s grant, what will it allow you to do?

When it comes to the deployment and penetration of electrified transportations and infrastructure, there is no specific legal or regulatory framework for its implementation, installation and transactions with the exception that you cannot resell electricity. However, there are a number of governance factors and regulations that are intertwined with the deployment and penetration of electric vehicles and charging infrastructure on which the NGTC funds will allow us to conduct research.  Looking at these factors locally, in Nebraska, and nationally in all other states will provide a framework for interested entities to use the findings to support this technology.


Are there any common misconceptions about electrical vehicles, or electric charging infrastructure, that you wish you could correct?

Range anxiety continues to be a topic of discussion when discussing electric vehicles.  The common question that arises is, what will you do when you run out of energy in the middle of the road with no charging station in site.  The simple answer is that when you drive an electric vehicle you plan your trips accordingly and you become more aware of your driving habits and plans.  I have been an electric vehicle driver since 2013, driving an all-electric and a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle and I have never run out of energy, left stranded in the middle of the road.   Today, manufacturers are making vehicles with a wide range of mile capabilities to meet the needs of a diverse population.

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Image of Moe Alahmad