News about the emerging eVTOL (electric Vertical Take-Off and Landing) revolution is everywhere. From Joby Aviation (JOBY) to Archer Aviation (ACHR) and many more companies like them, a myriad of well-designed electric aircraft are currently in various phases of testing, regulatory compliance, and production. The headlines are so frequent, that It’s become next to impossible to look at a city parking garage and not imagine the wisp of propellers and quiet hum of an electric motor, as an eVTOL lands on its rooftop to drop off its passengers.
What’s much less often spoken about is the infrastructure that’s going to be required to bring the eVTOL revolution from a conceptual vision to reality. Maybe that’s because “infrastructure” is a boring clunky word. It has no catchy acronym, like eVTOL; it has no futuristic name, such as “vertiport”; and no catch phrase like “urban mobility”. But at its core, infrastructure is much more simplistic in theory than each of those acronyms, names, and catchy phrases. The word infrastructure stands for the “basic” physical and organizational structures and facilities needed for the operation of a society.
When thinking about the basics of the eVTOL revolution, let’s start with the first letter of that acronym; “e”, for electric. In its current state, our national grid has insufficient capabilities to handle the demand of a nation of EVs (Electric Vehicles) on the road. The demand that a network of crisscrossing eVTOL aircraft would place on it would be even greater. To put this in perspective, about 2 years ago, NASA’s Langley Research Center developed a model that assumes eight eVTOL charging stations at a regional vertiport. To service charging needs, the researchers concluded that this eight-pod vertiport would require approximately 50 MWh – or 50,000 kWh – of energy per day. In comparison, the Federal Highway Administration estimates that the average EV 13,500 miles per year would require 4,000 kWh of energy – for the entire year. This level of energy consumption would put an unsustainable strain on our grid.
Let’s give the benefit of the doubt and pour cold water on a 2 year old report from NASA. After all, it is the holiday season filled with goodwill and all. In May of 2022, Johan Peeters, VP Business Development at ABB EV Charging Infrastructure, stated that his company, in collaboration with Lilium (LILM), the makers of the first vertical takeoff and landing jet, has found a solution to the charging but states that “The real question here is – can the plane and the battery take that power? This will really depend on how fast the battery technology evolves”
Giving the benefit of the doubt once again, we’ll assume that the global supply chain returns to normal, and that battery technology has adequately advanced enough in the last 7 months that they can handle the charges given. The final question revolves back around infrastructure: What will be the cost, scope and time needed for local power providers to run power lines, in an urban environment, to all of these parking garage vertiports? The regulatory process and environmental studies alone could take decades in some cases.
As CEOs we’re wired to find solutions. My solution would involve a Federal/private partnership. In 1919, the U.S. Army sent an expedition across the U.S. to determine the difficulties that military vehicles would have on a cross-country trip. Along for the ride on this mission was a 28-year-old lieutenant colonel named Dwight D. Eisenhower. 37 years later as President, that 1919 trek across the country led to him signing the Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways Act. I think that in tandem with the brightest minds of the private sector, something similar should be done now.
I believe that few things are as important to a civilization than the basic physical and organizational structures and facilities needed for the operation of its society; few things would be more revolutionary to our growth as a society than sustainable aviation and nothing is more important to our national defense than our electric grid. Why not slow down and do this right?
The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.
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