eMotorWerks Looks To Save Colorado Utility Some Cash With New EV Charging Pilot

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eMotorWerks, an Enel X company, is continuing its push into the demand response space with a new residential EV charging pilot in Colorado that will see a network of smart home chargers being deployed to consumers in a push to help utility Platte River Power Authority avoid otherwise necessary infrastructure upgrades. CleanTechnica connected with Preston Roper e-Mobility GM for North America at Enel X and Lauren Burke, Senior Director of Marketing and Development at Enel X, to get the inside scoop about the new project in Colorado.

The consumer-facing side of the project consists of incentives being offered to customers by both the Platte River Power Authority (PRPA) and eMotorWerks for a total of up to $350 off for the first 100 customers ($200 from PRPA and $150 from Enel X) and $200 off for the next 150 customers. The incentives apply to eMotorWerks’ Juicebox chargers, which are still our favorite EV chargers here at CleanTechnica.

Once residents have their smart charging stations installed and connected to WiFi, JuiceNet software enables Platte River to operate demand response programs and optimize charging to balance electricity supply and demand. The idea is rather simple: when the utility senses an increase in demand from the grid, it can activate eMotorWerks’ demand response pool of connected smart chargers to delay charging to a later time.

As JuiceNet sees more data, it gets better at predicting how and when EV owners will charge their vehicles, giving it the ability to offer a constantly adjusting pool of demand response to the utility. On the other hand, the system also doesn’t want to have a major impact on EV owners, but their experience in past projects shows that this is not a major hurdle. Most demand response events are brief and cause almost no impact to the EV owner while offering a massive benefit to the utility. This takes advantage of the fact that most EV drivers leave their vehicles plugged in far longer than it takes to fully charge their vehicle.

When eMotorWerks gets the signal, it throttles down the amount of power being consumed by its distributed network of smart, connected EV chargers. EVs can consume a significant amount of power, especially in a network of 250 or more, making the ability to control their charging behavior a valuable tool for the utility.

“This is the first large-scale smart residential EV charging initiative in Colorado,” Preston said. The project is one of the first that will put demand response technology to work with a widely distributed network of chargers.

“The study will primarily kick off when we have critical mass,” Preston said. That critical mass is the first 250 chargers, hence the sense of urgency to get them into the hands of customers. The chargers and entry into the program is not restricted to battery electric vehicles, so plug-in hybrids can get in on the action as well.

This diversification will put the ability of the solution to manage a diverse pool of battery sizes and charging speeds to the test. A Tesla Model S P100D might need to suck down 75 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of power after a long day on the road whereas a Chevy Volt (RIP) might only need to top up with a few kWh per day. Ultimately, what is offered to the utility is based on JuiceNet’s ability to predict, “how much, in aggregate, across those stations can be committed to a DR type event,” Preston said.

The first 250 vehicles have already been approved to participate in the project, but to scale beyond that, they will need to get approval from the Colorado Public Utilities Commission, Lauren said. What is clear today is that the EVs are coming and utilities need to start preparing their infrastructure and intelligent solutions to accommodate them.

“If you look forward to having 50 million EVs in the next 10 years, you’ve got to be ready for it and it makes total sense that we make sure the stations are controllable,” Preston said. Smart chargers may sound glamorous and expensive, but they’re already very competitive with and even more affordable than many of the residential chargers on the market. To the utility though, there is a massive difference as smart chargers enable utilities to partner with EV charging manufacturers and EV owners to find a healthy balance that keeps everything humming along on the back end.

To ensure that its systems are compatible today and out into the future, Enel X is building its systems to be OpenADR compatible and compliant. Preston said that the standard is critical to ensuring a long life and open communication for the device, but that it’s what you add on the Open ADR standard that really adds value. That’s the JuiceNet and even this small pilot has the potential to blow open the floodgates of savings for the utility, potentially saving them some serious cash.

“They’re trying to save literally billions in infrastructure by making sure they have that infrastructure in place,” Preston said. “According to a recent report from the Colorado PUC, as EV adoption grows, a mass market for EVs could provide cumulative benefits of $43 billion to the State of Colorado, including reduced electricity bills from improved utilization of the grid, reduced expenditures on transportation fuel and vehicle maintenance, and societal value of emissions reductions of both GHG and criteria pollutants.”

Adding an electric vehicle to a home is roughly the equivalent of doubling the electricity usage of the home. Adding two EVs, like at our family home with our two EVs, effectively triples the amount of power being pulled from our home. Looking ahead just a few short years at the 50 million new EVs that are expected to be roaming around the world in 10 years and you start to see the problem. It’s not that the grid can’t handle the extra demand, it can. The problems start to arise when you stack that demand up in the wrong order. Think about 1 million drivers in the greater Los Angeles area all getting home from work between 5 and 6pm and plugging in their EVs. BAM.

The ability to see that demand and intelligently smooth it out over an entire night is what eMotorWerks’ team is working toward and the lucrative, low-hanging fruit that resulted in this Colorado project becoming a reality. “We think that it makes a lot of sense to have a requirement that all EV charging stations be smart grid enabled,” Preston said. The response from the utility makes it clear that they’re interested in the capabilities enabled by smart chargers as well.

The cherry on top of the demand response solution is that it also enables more renewables to be added to the grid because it gives grid operators more flexibility in dealing with excess supply and excess demand.  That is great news for Colorado because Platte River also has a goal of achieving a zero net carbon energy portfolio by 2030, according to a recent release.

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Kyle Field

I'm a tech geek passionately in search of actionable ways to reduce the negative impact my life has on the planet, save money and reduce stress. Live intentionally, make conscious decisions, love more, act responsibly, play. The more you know, the less you need. As an activist investor, Kyle owns long term holdings in Tesla, Lightning eMotors, Arcimoto, and SolarEdge.

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