Together with Grid Enhancements, EVs Make Important Strides
Electric vehicles are a rapidly growing component of the U.S. transportation sector. Last year alone, 97,000 EVs were added to U.S. roads and highways, helping to bring the nation’s total fleet to its current level of 225,000, and over the past several months, sales have reached near-record highs. Most research has found that there is little reason to believe electric vehicles will destabilize the U.S. power grid. But as more people are plugging in, utilities are conducting research on exactly how the growing fleet of EVs will impact current U.S. power demand. Like thousands of air conditioning units activating on a hot day, in-home chargers will need access to the grid without disrupting normal operations. In Houston, transmission company CenterPoint Energy is opting to stay ahead of the curve on EV integration, teaming up with auto manufacturers to study the effects of wide-scale EV adoption. Several EV automakers and electric utilities have heard the call. Ford, Honda, BMW, Chrysler, General Motors, Mercedes-Benz, Mitsubishi, and Toyota have joined 15 power companies to study how EV demand will affect the grid. Demand-response, as it is called, leverages technologies already offered by many utilities in the country. Companies are already investigating the possibility of smoothing out changes the grid using EVs to control the load on the system. Similar to lowering the temperature on the thermostat while away from home to save energy, EV demand-response could modify a vehicle’s charging cycle based on the needs of the power system. In exchange for the help, consumers could receive discounted power costs or other incentives to promote participation. A future “smart grid” could work in tandem with electricity supply and demand. Many EV drivers either power up at home, or at work. During periods of peak electricity consumption, EV recharging could be delayed or attenuated depending on need. Utilities are studying the issue to prepare for larger scale adoption of battery electric or plug-in hybrid EVs. By 2023, there could be 2.7 million EVs on U.S. roadways, according to Navigant Research, an energy research consultancy. Some researchers are confident that the system could work both ways. Automakers, such as Honda, are investing in vehicle to grid (V2G) research, which would enable consumers to sell back unused EV energy during peak consumption. Navigant estimates that these demand-response technologies could curtail up to 272 megawatts of peak load in North America by 2020, equivalent to the annual consumption of over 250,000 average American homes. Such a system may generate significant savings to the consumer. Willet Kemption, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Delaware, adds that V2G technologies could pay off for consumers. When cars work in conjunction with the grid, he says, they could return $5 per day, or $1,800 per year. In a system where EV owners are earning revenue by being connected to commercial V2G systems, those savings can help make electric vehicles even more appealing. On a gallon of gasoline equivalent basis, electricity as an automotive fuel is only 25 to 30 percent the cost of gasoline, according to Navigant. As EV adoption rates continue to grow, a future grid will have to expand to keep up with new demand. Mike Duvall, director of electric transportation and energy storage at the Electric Power Research Institute, says that a fully electrified society could increase U.S. energy consumption by ten percent. Some companies have already undertaken efforts to accelerate EV adoption. In a recent deal announced by Nissan, new LEAF drivers are eligible for two years of free level 2 and DC fast charging from NRG, a utility company. In Texas, LEAF drivers now have access to the NRG eVgo’s “Freedom Station Network”, which operates 23 locations in the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area. NRG free fast charging partnerships have proven to be so successful that BMW has joined the program, offering the service to drivers of its i3 electric car. Corporate “No Charge for Charge” programs may be a boon to early adopters of EV technology, but wide scale adoption will necessarily require further investment in the electric grid. Interviewing with GreenBiz, Duvall added that the average transmitter is 44 years old. As the price of EVs comes down, automakers may offer more incentives for consumers to go electric. But the growth of the EV industry, in large part, will depend on smart investments in infrastructure and energy efficient technologies that reduce cost. Growing together, industry and utilities can pave the way for more progress in the EV market.