Promo 5fb7adcd7722c

EV Readiness Program: Take the Wheel for Your Future

Nov. 20, 2020
Utilities that encourage purchase of EVs by investing in new infrastructure could see multiple dividends.

It is a generally known fact to utility executives that energy usage has been essentially flat since 2008, with the influx of energy efficiency initiatives and the shift from incandescent light bulbs to CFLs and LEDs. Manufacturing keeps shifting overseas. And with ongoing quarantine, we could see a reduction in commercial demand, as businesses favor work-from-home personnel as opposed to renting out office space. Revenue streams in classic market spaces are falling.

So, what are the possibilities for the future?

The future

The future may lie strongly in electric vehicles (EVs), which are expected to be 20% of new car sales with well over 15 million vehicles on the road by 2030. Cities and businesses are supporting this technology with public charging stations that sometimes require payment and sometimes are free, offered as community service. Customers are spending their own money to have chargers installed in their homes. A utility that encourages the purchase of EVs by investing in new infrastructure and becoming more creative with customer interactions could see multiple dividends.

Even with the flat load growth over the last decade, few utilities have made changes to their design practices. Equipment and infrastructure are still generally sized for the load usage of the 1980s through early 2000s. That infrastructure can potentially support a large penetration of EVs. You may already be tracking which of your customers have EVs, where these charging stations are, and how they are connected into your system. You may also be tracking, to a high degree of granularity, the characteristics of your electric grid to leverage into an ADMS. What other possibilities exist with this information and technology?

EV readiness programs

This information and technology can be leveraged into EV readiness programs. Many municipalities and regions, in conjunction with utilities, are or have studied such programs. They usually approach such programs based on the impact to a municipal area and how to encourage people to purchase EVs. An increase in EVs can lessen emissions in those regions, which is of obvious benefit to the health of citizens. And more EVs mean more revenue for utilities as people charge those vehicles. How can we lead this effort?

First, if you know where EVs are being installed and you know the details of your electric grid, you know where the infrastructure is not robust enough to support EVs. The meters, wires, and equipment not only need to support feeding power to the EV but they also need to be able to support power flowing from the other direction — from the EV itself. This would include having smart meters at all homes. But what if the home itself is not wired to support an EV? This is where a utility can make a major difference in assisting this growth — a very tangible version of the EV readiness program.

Get past the meter

Duke Energy is addressing some of the hurdles consumers face. Some may be interested in purchasing an EV but they want a faster charger than a typical 110-V outlet. They do not have the money to install a fast charger. A utility can help by offering rebates or discounts to install these chargers. To make the charger more attractive to homeowners and provide greater resale value, it should include the two standard charging formats: SAE J1772 and CHAdeMO. Duke Energy is already offering such programs in its various regions. In North Carolina, it is providing US$1000 rebates on Level II fast chargers for up to 800 residential customers. In South Carolina, it is offering rebates for up to 400 residential customers.

With these kinds of offers, utilities could make it a requirement that they have the option to control when the vehicle charges. This option can also be offered without the charger rebate, similar to the option of controlling a customer's air conditioner or water heater. By having "time of charging" control, utilities can control the large demand spike that typically occurs when people return home from work.

Another requirement of such a rebate could be the ability to use the EV's battery as a distributed energy resource (DER) in times of emergency or high-load/low-supply situations. With smart meters and other smart grid communications, utilities can decide if the EV has enough power to provide such assistance or if battery can help support the home itself. As additional services, utilities could help customers service and maintain the chargers, either with their own personnel or through a third-party vendor.

High-density units

While the focus of the previous section was for charger stations at a typical single-family home, it could be expanded to apartment complexes and other high-density residential buildings. I live in an apartment building that was built within the last three years. It has an attached parking garage with no EV charging station. This is not uncommon within the Denver metro area. Even if I wanted to purchase an EV, I would have no place to plug it in. This is a huge opportunity for utilities!

A utility can establish a partnership with these complexes and agree to install multiple charging stations within their parking lots or garages. The agreement can go further to establish who is responsible for the chargers: the utility, a third party, or the apartment complex itself. Processes could be added to assign chargers to tenants. The assigned chargers could then be linked to the tenant's electricity bill, which would allow easy tracking of use and payment. Once such a charging infrastructure is established and in use, it could potentially be used as a giant emergency battery for either the complex or a microgrid.

Proactively take the wheel

I have outlined at a high-level a few options for utilities to expand their revenue streams, build more engagement with their customers, and provide a future with DERs via EVs. By taking steps now to increase your tracking of where and how these EVs are being charged along with increasing information about your own electric grid, you give yourself the flexibility in deciding how you want to incorporate EVs into your overall strategy. And as an added benefit, you could be getting revenue from proactive planning and decision-making!

About the Author

David Miller

David Miller has 20 years of experience in utility design and field operations, including transmission and distribution design, distribution system management, field construction, outage restoration, and enterprise GIS management at Lincoln Electric System in Lincoln, Nebraska. He is currently a senior consultant at SSP Innovations.

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of T&D World, create an account today!