I had an opportunity to listen in on a presentation from Jon Baggett, business recruitment manager, South Carolina Dept. of Commerce, and ask some questions about what is happening in my new home state. Here is the big takeaway: South Carolina is looking to become a hub for EVs (electric vehicles).
The state is seeing new projects related to electric vehicle supply chain, including everything from production of EV cells to changing manufacturing plants to retool product lines. He says when he pulled data two weeks before the presentation, there were 21 new investment projects and six expansion projects. The week of the presentation, it received five RFIs for five new EV related projects in the state.
He suggests South Carolina will become a hub due to its location in the center of the southeastern auto sector and the port in Charleston, saying “We feel like we are going to be in a good location going forward as the EV supply chain sets up throughout the southeastern United States.”
This is because many EV location decisions are driven by their proximity to customers. Similar to traditional automotive supply chains, they are looking for the potential for just-in-time delivery of products.
Of course, there are challenges. One is that in order to take EV projects to a new level, it will require greater energy. Baggett says “This leads to a challenge for us in the state to ensure we have industrial sites to have the capacity to meet the needs of the utility. Our team … (is) … working with our county allies to continue to make sure we have an inventory of available real estate to show these projects.”
Right now, in the state, there are probably five or six sites in various regions that are shovel ready for the heavy utility loads that are related to these projects.
Another hurdle is in South Carolina the energy mix is heavily on nuclear with very little hydroelectricity. If you remember my conversation with Sheila Hollis, acting executive director, U.S. Energy Assn., on The Peggy Smedley Show, one issue that this country has is nuclear plants are beginning to be shut down because they are aging out.
Baggett says, “One of the interesting things … is there is demand for renewable energy and to show they are using green energy in their manufacturing process. This is one of the new challenges for our utilities.” In this state, utility providers are now looking at how they can provide renewable energy credits and how that is going to impact rates.
Another challenge is the labor market conditions, as he says there is a record unemployment in a good way, meaning the labor market is very tight. As such, the state is working now to continue to grow the talent and encourage younger generations to get into the manufacturing sector. The state is even helping to develop new skillsets by working with Trident Tech in Charleston, which received a grant from the National Science Foundation to set up an EV training program.
I am eager to see South Carolina position itself as an innovation hub—something we so desperately need in all areas of the country—but there is still much work to be done and many questions left unanswered.
For one, what about the infrastructure? When asked about if we should be encouraging businesses to put charge points in their parking lots, Baggett said we will see organic growth for charge stations in the state. When pushed further later, he said “We have several sites that are infrastructure ready, and we are seeing counties making investments in their infrastructure to get their sites ready.” Still, I wonder how soon.
Truly, this is all great that we are moving toward something, but we are inching there. In one breath, we talk about manufacturing cars, but not the infrastructure to make them run. In another we talk about charging stations at businesses, but not charging stations in the home.
And then there is perhaps the biggest looming question that no one wants to ask, except me: Are we creating a greater divide between those who can afford electric vehicles and those who can’t? I understand we are all suffering from pain at the pump right now, but I am not sure that is going to push the average car buyer to go to an electric vehicle. While the prices have come down, EVs are still very expensive. How can the average person make that move? These are all great ideas, but where is the plan for the average person to follow?
We are left with this: OEMs (original-Equipment manufacturers) and supply chains are making significant investment in the EV space, so they are planning on the transition. My hope is they aren’t “charging” ahead without seeing the full EV picture.
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