Behind the wheel of electric vehicles (EVs) are early adopters, paving the way for the rest of us to jump on that electric-powered bandwagon. According to a recent article in Utility Dive, “Right now there are more than 250 million vehicles registered in the United States, and less than 1 million of those are electric. It's a drop in the bucket—so far, anyway—and to date, there has been modest impact on the electric grid.”
But we are in at the beginning of a major market transformation. The goal—the mass market adoption of EVs—is getting nearer. What it requires is not additional generation, but rather a nimbler grid that is better equipped to integrate and manage distributed energy resources and renewables. As with most technological innovations, it takes time for falling equipment costs and advances in the technology to make the time ripe for the EV to go mainstream.
The same articles goes on to state “the Edison Electric Institute, which represents investor-owned utilities, projected 7 million of the zero-emissions vehicles will be on U.S. roads by 2025.” And according to an article in Smart Cities Dive, “Volkswagen predicts EV sales to exceed that of cars with internal combustion engines in the next 15 years alone.” Major manufacturers are expanding their repertoire of EVs to include sports cars, trucks, and crossovers.
What’s standing in the way of EV adoption?
Besides cost, two of the main obstacles to widespread EV adoption have been a lack of charging station infrastructure and the hassle of actually charging the vehicle, which can take as long as 12 hours. It’s challenging to estimate how many charging stations are needed, as there is no direct comparison to gas stations. The majority of EV charging is done at home, but traveling long distances requires a grid of charging stations to make the journey possible.
As the momentum shifts toward EVs, the impact of millions of EVs plugged into the grid will have to be carefully managed. The demand for electricity may be a boon for utilities, giving them a much-needed chance to boost revenue. It will also put pressure on utilities to design their operating systems with more efficiency.
For example, the Utility Dive article cites examples such as “managing EV charging to help utilities integrate more renewables, manage peak demand and possibly provide services back to the grid.” EVs can be part of the solution for an overstretched energy grid, serving as mobile storage and helping regulate demand surges. These two-way power flows are known as vehicle-to-grid (V2G). While this possibility for EVs is currently only in the pilot phase, it’s exciting to ponder the next logical step in grid integration.
As of now, EV use is concentrated in the busy urban centers that proliferate on either coast. But other regions are getting on board, particularly Denver, Austin, and Nashville. Incentives go a long way in increasing EVs’ attractiveness. Several cities have free parking, reduced taxes on company cars, and free access to HOV lanes to encourage EV adoption.
EVs integrate a burgeoning new arena for utilities, combining demand response, load shifting (avoiding charging cars at peak times and encourage overnight charging), and peak management technologies into a seamless resource. EVs and renewables are part of a symbiotic relationship, each optimizing the other. It points the way to a brave new world of a “holistically integrated charging infrastructure.”
Greg Wassel understands that grid optimization is key to our industry’s future. He is responsible for identifying new and innovative approaches to integrated demand side management programs, forging partnerships with industry-leading companies to enhance operations and developing new products and services for clients. Greg also leads our grid optimization product line and monitors demand response and other distributed resources program performance, ensuring quality every time. Greg supports our existing clients and business development teams by conducting regular best practice and innovation meetings to ensure that each client is kept up to date regarding the rapidly changing demand side management industry. He has a master’s degree in geography from the University of Georgia and is a certified energy manager (CEM).