The Role of Power Utilities in Turning EVs into a Grid Asset – Part 2
Part two of our two-part blog discusses the challenges facing electric utilities – both electricity generators and grid operators – with electric vehicle (EV) adoption coinciding with the electrification of buildings, heating, and industry. Overall, predictions are that electricity generation will be able to keep up with the gradual growth in demand for electricity from EV charging. However, the distribution grid infrastructure is not as well-positioned to handle the peak consumption loads that EV charging will require.
Certainly, proactive investments on the part of utilities and governments at all levels are called for. Consider the need today for building out high-speed EV charging infrastructure along highway corridors, where demand for electricity has traditionally been relatively small. Utilities and local governments should work together to assess the current state of the distribution grid and project what the impact of EV charging will be on infrastructure serving urban, suburban, and rural communities as well as highway corridors in 2030 and beyond.
Just as important will be investments in digitization and innovation to take advantage of emerging technologies that will alleviate the challenges of EVs. This includes smart EV charging and energy management technologies that utilities can leverage to help manage charging, balance grid loads, and transform EVs from a grid liability to a grid asset.
Balancing the load with managed smart EV charging
Offering residential and commercial customers managed smart EV charging services is certainly a way that utilities can capitalize on the EV revolution while protecting the grid. But whether or not utilities own and operate EV charging infrastructure, they will benefit from smart charging and energy management.
Smart EV charging uses chargers that communicate with a management platform via a data connection. The management platform can direct charging using a demand response solution so that charging takes place when the grid load is lower – for example, in the early morning hours for home and fleet depot charging. The same approach can balance the flow of power between chargers at a workplace or destination, where cars are parked for relatively long time periods, to avoid grid overload during peak energy use. These capabilities are available and in use today.
That is one way to balance the load on the grid. Another is to use pricing to affect when customers charge their EVs, which can be self-managed by the customer or integrated with managed smart EV charging. In circumstances when supply is limited and time constraints apply, such as supporting on-demand fast and superfast charging in the highway corridor, local solar energy generation and battery storage can fill in shortfalls from the grid. Smart EV charging and energy management solutions direct the flow of energy within the charging facility to respond to grid conditions or pricing incentives.
Leveraging EVs as grid assets
Utilities will play a pivotal role in turning EVs into energy storage assets that can return power to the grid when it is needed for grid balancing and boosting grid reliability and stability. In the not-so-distant future, the batteries in millions of EVs can become an integral component of a renewable energy ecosystem. When wind and sun are plentiful, excess clean energy can be stored in the batteries of EVs that are parked and connected to smart chargers. Most cars are parked 95% of the time, making EVs ideal flexibility assets for the grid. Stored energy is discharged from EV batteries at peak demand or when renewable energy availability is reduced.
The enabling technology for turning EVs into grid assets is V2X and, specifically, vehicle-to-grid (V2G). It enables bi-directional charging and the two-way flow of energy between EVs, smart chargers, and the grid. The battery can “tell” the grid how much power is available in its battery. The smart charging system serves as the broker between the EV and the grid, streamlining the removal of energy from the battery supply when needed by the grid and replacing that borrowed energy when demand has decreased. The data produced by V2G activities offers significant value to utilities and grid operators, who can use it to understand driver behavior and project long-term energy requirements.
V2G is still an emerging technology, and there are challenges to address before widespread adoption is possible. The long-term effects of V2G activities on the EV’s battery life is unknown, and EV owner concern about the impact is an inhibitor. Getting owner buy-in to the idea is another obstacle; people buy EVs to use for transportation, not to serve as grid assets. Utilities offering fiscal compensation for the “loan” of energy as well as reassurance that vehicles will be ready to drive when needed can help encourage participation. EV owners may also be concerned about the data gathered about their driving and charging habits and will need to be assured that personal privacy is protected.
While drivers will need to be reassured and persuaded to participate in the EV ecosystem, the other key players in the value chain are also critical to its future success. Vehicle and charger manufacturers need to provide hardware support for V2G. EV charging infrastructure operators need to adopt V2G standards like ISO 15118 protocol and invest in chargers with two-way transmission capabilities. Smart EV charging management software providers also need to support standards and enable operators to play the “broker” role in grid interactions.
What utilities need to do to support turning EVs into grid assets
According to “Power sector accelerating e-mobility: Can utilities turn EVs into a grid asset?”, a report from EY in collaboration with Eurelectric, utilities and grid operators need to address challenges across these key areas to support the transition of EVs to grid assets:
- Smart grid planning: use data to anticipate future requirements and invest in grid upgrades for the medium and long term to ensure cost-efficiency and optimum asset use
- Active system management: implement smart technologies for communication, metering, grid status monitoring and operations
- Security, efficiency, and reliability: implement control technologies, cybersecurity and digitization for grid stability; improve data management, security, and privacy
- Distributed energy resource management and renewables integration: enable real-time status awareness and control over the variety of behind-the-meter energy sources, including EVs and passive solar, to enable grid services
- Technology and data: deploy peak-shaving technologies and high-tech electricity storage, including EV batteries, large battery arrays, and thermal storage systems
- Flexibility: develop local flexibility markets, demand response programs and energy-efficiency programs
- Smart asset management: develop advanced asset management strategies, tools and methods to mitigate asset risk
As momentum is building for EV adoption, now is the time for utilities and local distribution grid operators to understand what will be required of the local grid to support EV charging infrastructure and ensure systems that can handle the load from managed EV charging. It is also time to begin designing and building the two-way infrastructure that is critical to turning EVs into grid assets. The end goal is to create an ecosystem that brings transportation and energy together to extend the use of renewable energy and reduce carbon emissions for the health of the planet.