The link between electric vehicles and electric utilities is inseparable, and as more and more utilities realize how much they have to gain from increased electric vehicle adoption, many are rounding the corner and starting to actively advocate for them.
Electric cars are flexible — flexible charging times represent the potential for variable loads for utilities which could be leveraged in the future. This is an exciting prospect when one compares the dynamics of intermittent renewable generation coming online with solar generally forecasted to be overproducing during peak daytime hours and the variability of wind typically kicking in at night. Workplace charging of electric vehicles could be the key to tapping into newly installed solar generation while at the same time, providing needed stability to the grid.
Beyond variable power consumption, many utilities are looking at the possibility of vehicle to grid (aka V2G) connectivity, which has the potential to enable utilities to tap into the batteries of thousands of electric vehicles as a single, distributed energy storage pool to help offset spikes in demand or drops in energy production elsewhere on the grid.
And the power consumption of electric vehicles is not insignificant. In my southern California household, each of our electric cars consume as much power as our house does, on average. Our home consumes ~7.8 kWh/day, my wife’s Mercedes B-Class Electric Drive consumes ~7.9 kWh/day and my Tesla Model S 85 consumes ~10 kWh/day on average. Obviously this will vary by household and miles driven per vehicle but suffice it to say, they are large factors that will add significant power consumption to the average household.
Adding residential energy storage to the mix also holds great potential, and the market for home batteries is heating up, but it is always better to maximize the efficiency of assets already purchased, so it makes sense to maximize the investment of the electric vehicle before fine tuning the solution with a home battery.
Many forward thinking utilities are already testing the waters (we recently highlighted one such pilot in the UK with Moixa batteries) with residential batteries and what possible compensation models are required to optimize the situation. It gets murky quickly with hundreds of different feed-in tariff schemes, likely no current model to address compensating customers for power pulled from a customer battery, and the likelihood of a hybrid of utility owned and customer owned batteries.
Utilities taking a forward-thinking, proactive approach to electric vehicles coming onto the grid is in their best interest as it allows them to fully understand what impact EVs will have on the grid, what potential solutions they could bring with them and what possible solutions exist…before they are needed.
Exploring these pilots can determine if a distributed fleet of vehicle-to-grid capable EVs could offset the need for a new fossil fueled peaker plant (like this one near me that I’m pushing back on). It makes sense on paper but we won’t know until we try it in a pilot or two, and then at scale. Beyond that, could we leverage a distributed fleet as part of a compensation model tied to the Virtual Power Plant concept that companies like Next Kraftwerk are already successfully utilizing in Western Europe? These are just a few examples of outside the current utility box but there are surely dozens if not hundreds of possible improvements that could be implemented when the full potential of EVs at scale is analyzed by the experts that are our utility companies.
Without waxing too emotional about the idealistic opportunities, there’s also the fact that a tripling of residential power consumption will have a linear effect on profits in most utilities so it also makes sense in the a purely capitalistic sense as well. Granted, many regulated utilities have checks and balances in place to prevent them from enacting policies that encourage unnecessary increases in consumption, so this will not be the case for everyone.
Suffice it to say that utilities stand to gain quite a bit just about any way you look at the possible addition of thousands or millions of electric cars to the grid over the next few decades, and that warrants a deeper dive into the possibilities.
Source: The ICCT
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