The power company Southern California Edison recently offered insight into the impact of electric vehicles on the electricity grid, including their predictability and their impact on grid maintenance decisions. It recently published the report, “Charged Up: Southern California Edison’s Key Learnings about Electric Vehicles, Our Customers and Grid Reliability,” on these topics.
Many people don’t understand how electric vehicles impact electricity grids, or electric vehicle charging patterns. Who better to provide this information than a power company? And Southern California Edison is especially well suited for this. At the moment, Southern California Edison customers lease or own more than 12,000 plug-in electric vehicles (PEV), which represent about 10% of nationwide electric vehicle sales.
There were six major discoveries from the report:
- Our approach to managing PEV-grid impact is meeting our customers’ needs: Since 2010, of all the nearly 400 upgrades we made to (or identified for) circuits that serve PEV customers, only 1 percent of that work was required due to additional power demands from PEVs. The rest of the work was required under our regular infrastructure upgrade and maintenance schedule.
- Using the “end charge” time programing feature is good for EV customers and their neighbors: It’s better for grid reliability and neighborhood circuits when drivers program their charging to be complete by a specific time. When customers set an “end charge” time for charging to be complete, they randomize the start time of their charging, which prevents a large number of vehicles from coming online at the same time — avoiding power-load spikes that potentially could affect the local distribution system.
- What SCE customers want to know most about EVs: When 15,000 SCE customers visit our EV website monthly, about 46 percent make their first stop with the Plug-In Car Rate Assistant Tool, which helps estimate charging costs. Customers also click to find out more about public charging station locations from our link to the U.S. Department of Energy’s map, watch videos on EVs and read background materials on environmental benefits and home electric infrastructure requirements.
- Initial findings show early adopters of battery-electric vehicle (BEV) technology demonstrate consistent and predictable behavior: A sample of Nissan Leaf owners have indicated that any “range anxiety” had been eliminated after driving their new BEV over time. Most reported their overnight charging at 240 volts was sufficient to support their daily driving patterns.
- Multi-unit residents may face complex challenges: Despite high interest in EVs from condominium and apartment dwellers, fewer than 5 percent of building owners or condominium associations are even considering installing the necessary charging infrastructure. There are multiple rebates and incentives in the works to improve the situation.
- SCE and the cities we serve are charged up and ready to go: Virtually all of the 180 cities in SCE’s service territory are committed to helping their residents plug in by streamlining permitting and inspection processes.
Regarding that first point, only 1% sounds like a very tiny impact for so many electric vehicles, doesn’t it? How could this be?
All automobiles, including electric vehicles, require a tremendous amount of energy, whether it be in the form of gasoline or electricity. However, most of the power plants in the United States are of the thermal type. This means they are steam-powered.
Steam power plants take a very long time (hours) to throttle their power production up and down to meet fluctuating electricity demand, and they do so inefficiently (they waste energy). Power plants with this problem include thermal natural gas (some natural gas plants utilize combustion engines such as gas turbines), coal, and nuclear.
These baseload power plants and the electricity grid as a whole are configured and built so that they can meet and handle high electricity demand throughout the day during peak hours, and then they end up producing surplus power at night because electricity demand decreases, so when electric vehicles are plugged in at night, there is often surplus power waiting for them, and the electricity grid will also have some power handling capacity available, due to that same decreased demand.
Clear, point #2 above also helps.
Point #3 is also an important one to highlight. “Nissan Leaf owners have indicated that any “range anxiety” had been eliminated after driving their new BEV over time.” In other words, people become accustomed to them, and range anxiety turns into more of an urban legend than a reality.
Everyone used to live with very few gas stations. People can plan around these problems to get past them, and often successfully. I don’t normally see electric vehicle owners complain about range. If they can’t go far enough in their EV, they rent a car, use public transportation, or take a taxi.
Those are the points that stood out to me. Did anything else stand out to you?