On this episode of the Fueling the Future podcast, I spoke with Erika Myers, Principal, Transportation Electrification of the Smart Electric Power Alliance (SEPA). Erika and I have gotten to know one another a bit through our work together on the Fuels Institute’s Electric Vehicle Council, which I am chairing. It’s been fascinating to learn more about utility engagement in the electric vehicle space — it’s happening and I believe utilities will be a key driver of infrastructure expansion in the coming years and organizations such as SEPA are assisting them in building capacity. We spoke about one such work, a paper Erika co-authored, Utility Best Practices for EV Infrastructure Deployment, that makes a range of recommendations to utilities as they enter the EV infrastructure space. Following are a couple of excerpts from our discussion, which you can download or listen to at the link below or listen to in ITunes.
“From a high level, we see transportation electrification as a huge opportunity for utilities, and something that they need to start preparing for today. The folks who are listening to this podcast have probably seen industry forecasts predict EV adoption will increase from where we are today in the U.S., which is around one and a half million electric vehicles, to somewhere over 20 million electric vehicles in the next 10 years. This will equate to electricity consumption of about 11% increase annually, by that that point in time.
That’s a huge amount of growth in electricity consumption, and we have fortunately already quite a bit of existing capacity in our system, but probably the bigger trick is to figure out, how do we get people to charge during more optimal times of the day, or even over the course of a year? Because there’s changes in seasonal electricity consumption.
And so, we see three challenges utilities are facing related to these bigger picture issues. The first is distribution and transmission planning. We need to make sure we continue to provide reliable, affordable, and clean power to this new industry in the most efficient manner possible. The challenge here is basically having adequate forecasting data to incorporate into utility system planning. The second biggest challenge is minimizing system impact. You want to make sure people don’t charge their vehicles during what we call system peak. There’s usually about 100 hours a year where everybody has their air conditioning turned on, or their pumps are running, and all the things that are causing what we call a system peak, so that we can prevent unnecessary build out of new generation, and grid infrastructure.
The third biggest challenge is defining the utility role. Utilities are inherently different from the traditional private sector because they are regulated monopolies. They face a different set of regulations. The assets that they pay for out of the rate base, which is what all consumers are paying for as part of their electricity bill. Those assets must be used and useful, meaning that they’re filling an essential need to provide electricity. We know utilities are essential as future fuel providers, but they may not be able to move as quickly to fill in market gaps for things like charging infrastructure, which is why partnerships are so essential. SEPA is working with utilities and other EV stakeholders to develop best practice, and help guide solutions to these and other EV challenges.”
“I’m really excited to see what happens in the coming decade as the market matures, and we have bigger industry players entering the market. I see some future trends that I’m personally excited about. The first is an increased convergence around charging standards. That’s an exciting trend, from just the charging infrastructure perspective, to get some uniformity around the charging standards. I think that would help reduce costs for hardware and ultimately software.
A second trend we’ll see is more utility programs for transportation electrification, including some evolution of residential and commercial rate design. And I’d like to see at some point, something like an export tariff for vehicle to grid that will basically allow us to take advantage of EV batteries in the same way that we use stationary storage.
And then the third trend I’d like to see is in conjunction with grid modernization deployments. Industry players will be able to get real time signals for power cost. And these real time signals will help fleets, and aggregators design more sophisticated charging load management systems, and eventually will allow them to have bigger fuel savings. And so, what that might look like is real time pricing at the stations, the charging stations. Similar to what we have for fuel retailers. You see the price changing five, 10 times a day, something similar to that for consumers at DC fast charging locations.”