By Kyle Field
The clean energy revolution is bringing new sources of generation onto grids around the world, which is fundamentally shifting the way grids operate. However, the intermittent nature of solar and wind generation require flexible grid technologies like demand response and energy storage at a scale.
As grid operators and new energy companies innovate in the space, technologies and solutions have risen on both the energy storage and the demand side of the grid to deliver the necessary flexibility. One key technology is surfacing at the intersection of demand and energy storage with the potential to unlock vast amounts of flexibility for the renewable grid of the future – and it just so happens to roll around on four wheels.
Where Vehicle-Grid Integration Stands Today
Today’s electric vehicles (EVs) are essentially big batteries on wheels, with a significant capacity to store and discharge energy. The average utilization of privately owned vehicles is 5%, meaning that the average battery on wheels is underutilized for the vast majority of its useful life. This potential has not gone unnoticed as technologists around the world work to develop solutions to tap into this distributed fleet of rolling energy storage with solutions that address both the demand these vehicles have for electricity, and the potential to actually push the energy stored in their batteries back into the grid, if needed.
Today, demand response, which reduces electricity usage during periods of high electricity demand, is one solution being used with smart grid connected EV chargers to optimize supply and demand on the grid. Enel X, including eMotorWerks, has a smart charging portfolio that includes demand response and other smart charging features to help optimize charging times when it is affordable and electricity demand is low.
Each smart charger – whether it’s in someone’s garage, at the local grocery store, or on the highway – is connected to the Enel X platform, which can manage EV energy loads on the grid at any given time. In some geographies, utilities or grid operators are allowed to ask for curtailing the aggregated load to Enel X, which can throttle down the charging speeds of the connected vehicles. The utility or grid operator then compensates Enel X for this flexibility, which shares revenues with EV drivers.
More advanced utilities, vehicles, and chargers allow for even more functionality, which allows them to not only throttle charging rates up and down, but also to discharge their batteries back into the grid, if needed. This so-called vehicle-to-grid (V2G) functionality provides even more flexibility to the grid and thus, commands a premium price.
Benefits Of Vehicle-Grid Integration
Enel X has built a solution that aggregates the distributed network of electric vehicles into a flexible pool that can provide grid services to utilities or to the grid. As the number of EVs increases across the world, this pool of flexible capacity also continues to grow, offering more grid services and financial incentives for EV owners.
Over the years, utilities have relied on a network of fossil fuel powered peaker plants that could be quickly fired up in instances where customer demand on the grid increased quickly. These expensive and dirty peaker power plants are being retired in many geographies, because innovative and cost-effective solutions like the virtual power plants created by Enel X’s smart chargers are displacing them in the competitive energy markets. Furthermore, by shifting when and how much electricity Enel X managed loads draws from the grid, Enel X helps utilities and grid operators reduce electricity costs, ease grid congestion, absorb excess solar and wind power and provide rapid response to unpredictable grid events.
For example, if EV drivers can charge during the day when there is a glut of solar generation, rather than during periods of high electricity demand, then grid operators can avoid using expensive peaker plants to meet the demand. At the same time, the EV driver can take advantage of utility Time of Use (TOU) rates, having a significant differential between on- and off-peak periods incentivizing charging when electricity costs are relatively low and allowing EVs to be charged considerably cheaper per mile than the equivalent amount of gasoline.
The hardware used for charging vehicles, known as ‘electric vehicle supply equipment’ or EVSEs, sits at the heart of Vehicle-Grid Integration (VGI) solutions and Enel X’s EVSEs have been built from the ground up as smart chargers. Their chargers not only offer smartphone integration and convenience, they are fully capable of Vehicle-Grid Integration right out of the box.
Building Solutions for The Real World
As new challenges arise, new solutions are built to solve them. Enel X is doing this with dozens of projects around the world that explore what is possible with a host of Vehicle-Grid Integration solutions like demand response, vehicle-to-grid and the incentives required to build viable, scalable systems.
In Northern California, Enel X’s eMotorWerks has partnered with Sonoma Clean Power to enable its EVSE customers to opt-in to the utility’s demand response program. The program allows customers to make some extra cash while they charge their EVs, and minimizes the need for inefficient peaker plants.
In August of last year, Enel X launched its own project in Italy to bring together a fleet of distributed EVSEs into a pooled unit in order to participate in the Italian Demand Response Program. The project enabled electric grid stability services and participation in the ancillary service market to modulate grid frequency by dynamically throttling demand from a network of distributed electric vehicles. To deliver more autonomy for solution testing, the project was built around Enel X’s own internal car sharing fleet to validate the functionality of the underpinning demand response control system.
These projects highlight the complexity of the solutions needed to deliver systems that are flexible enough to meet the various needs of grid operators, but also shed light on the opportunities that electric vehicle charging represents. Charging an electric vehicle absorbs more power from the grid than typical distributed loads, like a home refrigerator, therefore it is more impactful to be able to optimize EV charging on the grid.
GTM Research forecasts there will be as many as 40 million public and private EV chargers globally by 2030, and that EVs will represent 11% of the cars on the road by that date. Today, there are over 4 million plug-in electric vehicles, and with the arrival of longer range, more affordable EVs entering the mass market, this number is expected to approach 5 million within months, says Bloomberg New Energy Finance. As EV adoption increases, each vehicle has the capability to pull more power than the average house. Far more power, in some cases. Enel X sees the potential of these systems to evolve from being a source of concern for grid operators to a source of much needed flexibility and is building the solutions needed to make this happen.
EVs, A 100% Renewable Energy Resource
Vehicle-Grid Integration solutions are being developed by leaders in the space like Enel X and their team at eMotorWerks for the growing fleet of EVs and their owners. Their smart charging technologies not only lower the Total Cost of Ownership for an electric vehicle, but they also help to lure internal combustion vehicle owners over into the new energy ecosystem.
Ultimately, smart charging can ensure that EVs are used to cost-effectively integrate clean energy. As demand for intermittent renewable electricity grows significantly to power the proliferation of EVs, valuing and procuring EV flexibility services in the form of smart EV charging is critically important to decarbonizing the electricity and transportation sectors economically.
The fact that these technologies are already being implemented in projects around the world speaks to their maturity and the excitement from utilities to bring new solutions into the regions. Electric vehicles are coming and Enel X is building the scalable, intelligent solutions needed to turn them into assets for grid operators.
This post was supported by Enel X; graphic provided by the company.