The Road to Large-scale EV Charging

It’s easy to see why consumers are warming up to electric vehicles (EVs). They’ve become more accessible, and their aesthetic quality is improving.

By Brian Dawson, Calico Energy Services

It’s easy to see why consumers are warming up to electric vehicles (EVs). They’ve become more accessible, and their aesthetic quality is improving. While the auto industry and consumers might be revving up for this transportation revolution, a lack of readiness on the part of utilities to manage EV loads threatens to hamstring it.

Power providers long have been concerned about the demand that widespread EV adoption would place on aging electrical grids. These concerns were heightened further in January when President Barack Obama launched an ambitious program aimed at getting 1 million EVs on the road by 2015; $7,500 rebates were offered to Americans who make the switch to these more efficient cars.

With such attractive incentives, utilities must be prepared for gradual adoption across their service territories and for concentrated demand in specific neighborhoods where EVs become trendy, a phenomenon first seen in hybrid vehicles. If not handled appropriately, clustered EV loads will become detrimental to a power provider’s service reliability, while rapidly decreasing the lifespan of local infrastructure.

Utilities everywhere must develop demand management strategy specifically for EVs, which will allow them to deal with adoption proactively, rather than reacting to blown transformers and service interruptions.

Unfortunately, roadblocks stand in the way. Regulations and industry standards still haven’t caught up with EV-charging models, and public charging station payment and availability are still in flux. Moreover, there are questions surrounding how to manage substantial charging requirements during peak demand (in residential and public-commercial settings), particularly for higher-intensity chargers known as levels 2 and 3.

Forward-thinking utilities, however, aren’t letting these hurdles get in the way. Instead, utilities in Washington, California, Texas, Washington, D.C., Illinois and other progressive states are forging ahead with EV-charging plans.

First, they are monitoring uptake in their service areas by requiring permits for high-intensity commercial charging installation and surveying their customers. With this information, they can ensure their rollout plans map to likely demand.

Next, these utilities are assessing current demand-management solutions and best practices while keeping their eyes on the critical pillars of EV adoption: availability, pricing, scalability and reliability.

Many utilities are learning quickly that they need a flexible, programmatic approach to large-scale EV charging that still gives customers the ability to choose when, where and how fast to charge their vehicles. After all, consumers won’t adopt EVs if they break the bank or can’t be recharged in a convenient timeframe.

One set of technologies with the ability to manage EV charging demand without inconveniencing vehicle owners is demand-side management (DSM). Already in use for energy applications such as residential and commercial energy management and demand response, progressive DSM platforms also can provide utilities with a single, centralized system for managing vehicle charging.

When integrated with other energy systems, DSM platforms provide the operational capability for utilities to shift EV demand automatically to off-peak hours, ensuring system reliability and reducing local infrastructure load. Ideally, these systems offer vehicle owners the ability to override utility control strategies easily and to establish a charge profile that ensures their cars will be fully charged when they need them, regardless of the type of EV or charging station. In addition, DSM platforms allow utilities to offer compelling rate programs, innovative billing models and the ability to incorporate renewable energy in electric vehicle charging for a true, zero-emissions model.

EV-charging strategies that incorporate DSM and renewable energy sources place utilities on the road to helping millions of consumers replace their gas-guzzlers. In addition, power providers can gain additional revenue from increased electricity use without bringing down the rest of the grid.

Brian Dawson is CEO of Calico Energy Services.

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