Heads Explode As Workplace Charging Meets Demand Response (CleanTechnica Exclusive Interview)

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If you’re not familiar with workplace charging and demand response, we’ll get to that in a minute, but first, imagine if you stop at a gas station on your way to work, and you get a discount for not filling up your whole tank. To sweeten the deal, let’s say you can just glide straight on to work without even stopping at a gas station, because your parking spot at work has a gas pump. I know, right? If your head is not exploding yet, that means we’re ready to talk about a new pilot program that will study how electric vehicle owners respond to a discount for charging up their EVs at work.

The project is being conducted by the global EV charging company Greenlots, in partnership with the EV charging manufacturer EVSE LLC and Southern California Edison. Greenlots CEO Brett Hauser was nice enough to sit down with CleanTechnica for a phone interview last week, before the official announcement, so we could bring you the big picture.

workplace charging demand response

 Workplace EV Charging & Demand

We’ve talked about the convenience of workplace EV charging before — that’s where you can just park at work and charge up your EV while doing other things.

However, we haven’t really dug into what that all means for the companies that host workplace charging, and the utilities that provide the juice. Mr. Hauser clarified it for us: your EV now becomes part of the company’s demand on the electrical grid.

According to Hauser, the rule of thumb is that adding an EV charger to the grid is like adding another home, so workplace EV charging is more than a drop in the bucket, even for relatively small companies just putting in one or two spaces.

The numbers can really add up for large companies that host their own EV fleets while also making charging stations available to employees and visitors.

The question is, how to meet that demand, and how to pay for it.

The traditional solution is to build more power plants and upgrade the grid to meet peak demand, but that’s a pricey solution, even if you only consider grid-related costs, as Hauser noted:

…from a utility perspective, as the proliferation of electric vehicles becomes greater, there are certain service constraints, and upgrades are very time consuming and expensive.

So, there’s a big incentive for both utilities and customers to work within existing grid resources. That means shifting demand around to shave down those peak electricity use points.

Workplace EV Charging & Demand Response

Demand response refers to reducing or delaying the customer’s electricity use in response to a preset schedule, ad hoc requests, or emergencies, all with an eye toward improving overall grid performance and reducing the need for new power plants.

Electric vehicles are bringing a new twist into the whole equation, primarily because they don’t sit in one place like a building: they go from place to place, and they have different uses, so their place in the hierarchy of electricity users can change on a dime.

The flip side is that, with workplace charging, EVs provide utilities with an opportunity to build more flexibility into the grid, by engaging individual consumers both at work and at home charging stations.

That’s a win-win all around: the consumer gets a discount, the workplace gets to ease its peak demand, and the utility gets to avoid major new infrastructure investments.

The New Demand Response Pilot Project

According to some Greenlots press materials sent to CleanTechnica, this is among the first large-scale pilot tests of EV charging based on the open-standards automated demand response platforms OpenADR 2.0b and OCPP 2.0 for EV charging (think Wi-Fi open standards, and you can see why open standards are critical for mass-market EV adoption and effective demand-response programs).

As for hardware, the pilot will 80 Level 2 EV chargers recently installed by SCE at several of its facilities.

The idea is to see how EV owners respond when they are offered a variety of discounts off the base rate.

For this project, there will be a base or “premium” option, which guarantees the vehicle owner a full charge at the workplace charging station, the only exception being an emergency.

Owners who prefer to get a full charge but will settle for less, when necessary, will receive a discount.

An even bigger discount will be offered to EV owners who indicate that they don’t mind if they sometimes get less than a full charge.

In support of this arrangement, Greenlots cites Navigant studies indicating that home charging stations top the list for EV charging in the US, but workplace charging is also becoming popular as a convenience and a range extender.

In that context, it does seem likely that a fair number of EV owners with access to workplace charging also have a home charging station, which would translate into a high degree of flexibility.

The question is, will it make difference?

By the end of this year, Greenlots expects to have enough data from the SCE charging stations to do a deep dive into the ins and outs of demand response EV charging at the workplace. Here’s a laundry list of what they’ll be looking at:

  • Evaluating the impact of EV charging on peak load and the effectiveness of managing the peak through automatic load curtailment.
  • Enabling consumers to opt-in or out of a demand response program.
  • Evaluating consumer response to a variety of pricing and DR strategies.
  • Identifying cost-effective strategies related to system development requirements.
  • Directly engaging customers in demand response programs through Greenlots applications.
  • Evaluating DR as a means of mitigating local transformer overload risk in areas with EV clusters.
  • Evaluating the potential for creating accurate load plans through site and region specific demand response management of EV charging.
  • Lowering system costs via open standards.
  • Enabling and evaluating charging system response to day-ahead and hour-ahead pricing and load curtailment signals.

Before we leave the topic, let’s note that demand response is just one in an expanding toolkit for utilities to avoid new power plant construction. On-site energy storage, distributed energy generation, and “smart” metering can all come into play, too.

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Photo Credit: Workplace charging stations in Malaysia, courtesy of Greenlots.

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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

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