This Integrated Energy Solution Makes EV Charging More Affordable (And More Sustainable)

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By Patrick Kelly, Vice President of Operations, PowerFlex

Electric vehicle (EV) adoption is on the rise thanks to a combination of attractive incentives, falling costs, and a growing recognition of the impact vehicle emissions have on local air quality as well as global climate. Organizations that are committed to sustainability want to respond to the increased demand for EV charging from their employees and customers, but there’s one very big problem: EV charging can create significant additional load, and with it, higher utility bills. That’s why companies are considering fully integrated, intelligent systems that make use of a variety of renewable energy technologies, including solar and storage, to flatten energy demand and costs associated with EV charging, as well as provide additional financial and operational benefits such as energy resiliency.

Hedging Utility Costs with Solar-Plus-Storage

Electricity bills are an unavoidable cost of doing business. Smart companies do everything they can to reduce and optimize their energy use. Solar panels are a great way to achieve this while also mitigating a facility’s environmental impact — and even greater financial and environmental benefits can be realized when solar is combined with battery storage. 

The ability to store power gives organizations more control over when they use electricity from the local utility — and how much they pay for it. Electricity rates often vary based on time-of-use (TOU), and if a facility consumes a lot of power when rates are high, it can have a significant impact on energy costs.

Image credit: EDF Renewables* (photographer: Jamie Dickerson)

Utility companies also levy steep “demand charges” based on a customer’s highest 15 minutes of electricity usage during the monthly billing cycle, as well as each 24-hour period. This incentivizes customers to reduce their “peak demand” by actively managing their electricity consumption to avoid big swings in their usage. Storing electricity in batteries for strategic deployment at times when consumption is high can complement these efforts and further reduce a facility’s peak demand charges.

Managing the EV Charging Impact

EV charging can create significant additional load at individual charging locations as well as across the electrical grid. Using solar to charge EVs during the day is ideal, but traditional infrastructure draws a fixed level of charge for each vehicle. This constrains the number of vehicles that can be charged at any given time and creates the need for drivers to move and re-park their vehicles so that others can have access to charging, which can be time consuming and disruptive. 

Adding more charging stations solves the access issue, but if multiple vehicles attempt to charge at their maximum rate at the same time, the cumulative demand for electricity can easily cause a spike in utility power consumption.

This issue can be solved with Adaptive Load Management (ALM) with its state-of-the-art software algorithm that optimizes power consumption across networked EV charging stations. By flattening a facility’s load curve and distributing electricity usage more evenly throughout the day, ALM enables each station to meet user demand while using only a fraction of the total power traditionally required. 

Image credit: EDF Renewables

A solar-plus-storage system with ALM means EV charging can be implemented without incurring additional electricity costs. Businesses can significantly reduce the cost of electrical system upgrades and peak demand charges, reducing energy-related expenditures by as much as 60%. This allows for larger and more affordable charging networks that ultimately meet or exceed the adoption pace of EVs. Designed to scale easily and affordably, charging systems can be built to accommodate customers’ specific needs as EV adoption and charging demands increase, and can be further expanded without additional expensive infrastructure cost.

Enhanced Resiliency Through Microgrids

Organizations for which an uninterrupted power supply is critical typically rely on fossil-fuel powered emergency generators as backup. As outages become more common in some parts of the country, many commercial energy users have installed microgrids to enhance their resiliency. At a minimum, microgrids rely on a traditional emergency generator, but they can also incorporate solar panels and batteries to create an efficient system that saves money and reduces fuel consumption. Tying solar, storage, and EV charging technologies together in a microgrid that can be isolated or “islanded” from the larger electrical grid can make a facility resilient and self-sustaining in the event of power failures or forced outages. During times when the power grid is operating normally, solar combined with battery storage can mitigate an organization’s energy costs as well as manage environmental impact by reducing reliance on “brown” power from the utility.

Image credit: EDF Renewables (photographer: Jamie Dickerson)

Managing an Integrated System

Combining components like solar panels, battery storage, and EV charging into a microgrid creates a need to effectively manage and monitor all aspects of the system. When selecting a provider, be sure your new energy management system includes a platform that tracks performance through real-time insights as well as historical data reporting and consolidates information into a unified asset dashboard that provides at-a-glance visibility into the system.  

Image credit: EDF Renewables (photographer: Jamie Dickerson)

A Range of Options

Whether you are “solar curious,” considering expanding your organization’s EV charging, or interested in a fully integrated renewable energy system, it’s important to select a provider that is well positioned to provide information and ideas about various ways to meet your needs. PowerFlex is the only company that offers a full suite of customizable solutions all under one roof, paired with proprietary software to ensure that your system maximizes efficiencies and remains optimized for years to come. Interested in reducing long-term energy costs, increasing resiliency, and achieving sustainability goals? Connect with one of our experts to see if your facility qualifies:

*This article is supported by EDF Renewables.

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