GM Modular Ultium Battery Platform. Courtesy GM

Getting The Grid Ready

April 6, 2021
It’s all about numbers and timing when it comes to trends.

There is never a dull moment when following the trends affecting today’s smart grid, and if the future grid is included, it really gets exciting. But many of these trending topics start with the customer. Remember how rooftop photovoltaic (PV) was introduced by door-to-door salespeople? Now it’s a major force in distributed energy resources. And what about the smart home apps that started out as a way for the customer to monitor their loads? Then they were aggregated to form load management systems. Well, it’s happening again.

This time the focus is on transportation electrification or better known as electric vehicles (EVs). The customer is very interested in this technology, as they should be. The cost of an eGallon (electricity equivalent of a liquid gallon) is much lower than a gallon gasoline/diesel, and it’s more stable. The Department of Energy has a website ( where the consumer can compare for themselves. That wouldn’t be there if interest were low, but there are two major hurdles in the deployment of EVs.  


The first hurdle is the price of the EV itself. But just like PV panels, the price is now dropping to something more affordable. And like the PV panels, increased sales and improving technology are responsible for the price drop. In late January, the Biden administration announced the U.S. government would replace the entire federal fleet of trucks and cars, roughly 645,000 vehicles, with EVs. Around the same timeframe, General Motors (GM) raised EV awareness with its announcement.

GM reported it had plans to phase out liquid-fueled light vehicles by 2035 and replace them with EVs, and it’s not just GM. Volkswagen stated it is planning to launch nearly 70 new EV models in the next 10 years. Ford said it would spend about US$11.5 billion through 2022 on new EV models. Tesla reported it is building a new US$ 1.1 billion gigafactory in Austin, Texas. Tesla will build its cybertruck, a semi, Model 3, and Model Y vehicles in this factory.

Since about half the price of an EV is related to its battery, that is a key element and there have been some recent developments in EV battery technology too. GM has developed a new EV battery pack technology that is stronger and will be lower priced than the traditional EV battery. It’s called the Ultium cell, which will be built in a new US$2.3 billion dollar factory by GM in partnership with LG Chem.

From the information released so far, this next generation battery pack is a significant change in EV batteries. The physiology of the Ultium is a pouch-style cell that can be stacked vertically or horizontally inside the battery pack. This makes for a very efficient package. Also, the stackable approach allows for EV battery pack capacities to range from 50.0 kWh (kilowatt hour) to 200.0 kWh. To put it into another perspective, get ready for an electric line truck in your future.

Growing Interest

So, the commercial and residential customers are interested. The manufacturers are investing in facilities for increased EV production. Battery technology is maturing, and tax credits along with other incentives are combining to take care of EV hurdle number one. It’s the proverbial perfect storm brewing, and it’s drawing more attention to EV hurdle number two, the availability or lack of it for charging points and charging-management systems.

Black & Veatch (B&V) published an eBook titled “The “Electric Vehicle.” In it, B&V notes, “85% of the utility respondents to their study expect multiple charging sites greater than 5 MW (megawatts) in their territory by 2023, but 25% are not taking steps to prepare for EVs.” It is not surprising that 25% are not taking measures to prepare for EVs. After all in some parts of the country there aren’t many EVs, but that is changing. The power delivery industry has begun to focus on the charging infrastructure hurdle.

Utility Support

As a result, many utilities have announced plans, programs, and courses they are taking to be ready for the increase of EV populations on their systems. Xcel Energy recently announced its “electric vehicle vision” package that would transition it to having 20% of all vehicles in its service area be EVs by 2030. Xcel says, “The program will save their customers billions while delivering cleaner air.”

Finding a charging point in densely populated cities such as London is a significant problem for residents. To address that situation, London has been working with Siemens and Ubitricity. They have gotten together to deploy an extraordinarily convenient way to address the issue. So far Siemens and Ubitricity have converted more than 3,000 of London’s city lampposts, into EV charging points. These conversions take advantage of the existing distribution grid’s infrastructure at locations accessible to residents owning EVs.

Regulators are also helping utilities prepare for customers’ expected EV growth. Recently, Duke Energy announced a three-year pilot project to create a fast-charging network for EVs. The South Carolina Public Service Commission approved two Duke Energy electric transportation pilot programs. A Duke spokesperson said, “It will be the first commission-approved regulated utility EV infrastructure deployments in the Carolinas.”

Southern California Edison’s (SCE) US$436 million Charge Ready 2 infrastructure program was approved by the California Public Utilities Commission last year. SCE said this project will fund nearly 37,800 EV charging ports.

National and state regulatory support for EV programs is growing globally to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency agrees saying the transportation sector is one of the largest contributors to the nation’s GHG emissions. Traditional vehicles produce 28.2% of the total GHG emissions.

Gary Rackliffe, vice president of Market Development and Innovation at Hitachi ABB Power Grids brought up some interesting insights on EVs and the grid. Rackliffe said, “EVs offer not only a way to reduce GHG emissions but an opportunity for electric utilities to deliver more kWh through the grid, increasing utility revenues and the grid’s utilization. Advanced charging stations and charging management schemes can support grid services and help to minimize charging when the system peak demand occurs."

Rackliffe went on to say, "Fleets also offer EV owners the fastest investment payback. EV fleets reduce an organization's carbon footprint and are also more cost-effective to operate than internal combustion engine vehicles since electricity prices are lower than gasoline/diesel. EVs also require less spending on maintenance because they have fewer moving parts. At Hitachi ABB, the focus is on supplying fleet charging systems for 1 MW and larger. We manage and coordinate EV charging management to minimize the impact to the grid.”

“Last-mile EV delivery fleets like Amazon, UPS, or FedEx are good examples of this application,” Rackliffe said. He pointed out, “An electric fleet vehicle can operate for 10 to 12 hours a day over a defined route, day after day. Hitachi ABB’s Grid-eMotion fleet charging and charging-management is made for this type of application. The infrastructure is scalable, modular, and fully customizable for large scale EV charging of smart public and commercial transport done during off peak time, which is beneficial to both the fleet operator and the utility.”  

Low Hanging Fruit

ComEd announced it will be replacing end-of-life liquid-fueled light duty vehicles with plug-in hybrid and fully electric vehicles. ComEd said this program will result in the electrification of approximately 30% of its fleet by 2025. ComEd’s goal is to electrify 50% of its fleet by 2030, which has the potential of reducing its carbon footprint and eliminating 29,000 metric tons of GHG emissions.

There is a promising EV fleet project taking place in the United Kingdom (UK) called Optimise Prime. It’s billed as the world’s biggest trial of commercial EVs. It’s funded by Ofgem’s (Office of Gas and Electricity Markets) Network Innovation Competition project costing approximately US$45 million. This industry-led EV project includes UK Power Networks, Scottish & Southern Electric Networks, Hitachi Vantara, Centrica (owner of British Gas), Uber, and Royal Mail.

The goal of Optimise Prime is to develop effective strategies that will minimize the impact that the electrification of commercial vehicles will have on distribution networks. The project is gathering data from thousands of EV by the Uber, Royal Mail, and British Gas fleets. The data will include information on depot, home, and on-the-road charging along with operations data, which is an area that hasn’t been deeply studied in the past.  

To sum all of this up, EVs and their charging technology are trending technologies that the customer is bringing to the grid in ever increasing numbers. And that’s a good thing because there is so much to be gained from them. EVs have the potential to be an additional energy storage source. EVs can enhance the grid’s load profile. They will provide utilities with a new revenue stream worth billions of dollars each year. Of course there are issues and challenges, but isn’t that the way of today’s new trending technologies!

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