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Some people are scared that electric vehicles will crash the utility grid. In two recent reports, researchers debunk such nonsense.

Clean Transport

Electric Vehicles & The Utility Grid — A Match Made In Heaven

Some people are scared that electric vehicles will crash the utility grid. In two recent reports, researchers debunk such nonsense.

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Ever since the Environmental Protection Agency proposed tougher new exhaust emission rules for cars, and light, medium, and heavy duty trucks last week, the Chicken Littles in America have cranked up their flamethrowers to condemn the new rules. They will force poor Americans to walk to work because they won’t be able to afford electric vehicles. They are a secret plot to make China the dominant force in market for electric vehicles, according to the New York Post. They will crash the grid, force utility companies to build hundreds of new coal fired generating facilities, and cause parking garages to fall down because of the weight of all those batteries.

There are actually those who see the new rules as ushering a golden age of electric vehicles, one in which we as a civilization stop wasting three-quarters of the energy contained in a gallon of gasoline and leaving behind a trail of pollutants as we drive. Those “the glass is half full” types envision a world in which utility companies actually put their knowledge and experience to good use to create efficient, intelligent grids that supply all of  America’s needs — including the ability to charge millions of cars and trucks — and be financially successful at the same time.

The analysis is quite simple. Utility companies sell electricity. It’s what they do. It’s a business and they are very good at it. They want to sell more electricity, not less, and the EV revolution will allow them to do just that. They’re happy, we’re happy, and the Earth can breathe a little easier as a result. Here are two examples that trickled in to the CleanTechnica news desk over the weekend.

Electric Vehicles & Grid Management

A pilot study by researchers at Cornell University was published recently in the journal Transport And Environment. In it, the authors acknowledge that the demand for electricity to power electric vehicles could create problems if not managed correctly. But that’s like saying commercial air traffic could create problems if there were no air traffic controllers.

If we were still in the 1950s when grid operators had few tools to manage demand, having a few million people plug in electric cars all at once would be challenging. But fortunately, we have learned a thing or two over the intervening 70 years. Today, thanks to the power of the internet and digital technology, we can manage the demand for electricity in ways that no one thought possible when Harry Truman was in the White House.

“The transition to an all-electric vehicle future will not be possible without careful coordination with the power grid,” the researchers say. “Timing matters. While most EV owners typically begin charging their cars when they come home in the evening — when demand for electricity is peaking — their charging requirements are usually flexible in the sense that their EVs remained connected to their chargers long after they have completed charging…Most EV owners do not need their cars charged immediately, but within a reasonable window of time before they expect to unplug and depart for their next trip. This finding suggests some EV owners might be willing to delay the time required to charge their cars given the right incentive.”

But delayed charging programs created an unexpected detriment. Many drivers set their chargers to begin charging at the same time — 11 pm, for example — which created a surge in demand at that time. To address this, researchers created a new system. Using a smartphone app, drivers simply set the parameters of what state of charge they want and when the charging should be completed. Then the utility company can manage each charging session to flatten the overall demand for electricity while guaranteeing that the required level of charge will be achieved at the desired time.

In a report in the Bulletin Of Atomic Scientists, the researchers say that in a pilot study they conducted with New York State Electric and Gas, they found customers were frequently willing to engage in optimized charging sessions, allowing a smart charging system to delay the completion of their charging requests by more than eight hours on average.

This smart charging system proved highly effective in shifting most charging loads to off-peak hours. Customer opt-in rates remained stable over the 17-month span of the pilot, which provided empirical evidence that the coordination mechanism is a cost effective solution to the increased demand for electricity driven by the growing adoption of electric vehicles.

The researchers envision that, far from being a detriment to utility grids in the future, electric vehicles will be part of a network of batteries and computers working together to optimize the nation’s energy distribution system. “Personal vehicles will no longer be just for personal transportation but also serve as valuable energy storage assets that can be aggregated and dispatched to provide energy and reliability services to the grid, making it easier to incorporate intermittent wind and solar energy resources.”

EDF Electric Vehicles Charging Infrastructure Report

Oregon electric vehicles

Electric Avenue, Portland, Oregon, Credit: Monica Samayoa, Oregon Public Broadcasting

Also today, a report prepared by Synapse Energy Economics for the Environmental Defense Fund finds that US utilities which cover the cost of infrastructure upgrades needed for fleet charging can increase their revenue without raising rates for consumers. There have been howls of outrage over the EPA’s proposal to address the pollution from medium and heavy duty trucks. The EDF report shows there is no cause for alarm, and in fact the new rules can actually benefit utility companies.

The EDF acknowledges that the electrification of those vehicles will require grid upgrades to support the added load from charging. The cost of upgrading the electrical infrastructure required can account for up to 30% of the total cost of charging for fleets. “Most US utilities and regulators have been wary of financing these grid upgrades for fear of needing to raise everyone’s electricity rates to pay for them. EDF’s new study debunks this myth,” the EDF says.

“Investing in make-ready programs can benefit fleets, utilities and consumers,” said Pamela MacDougall, Director, Grid Modernization at EDF. “When paired with clear targets, like the Advanced Clean Truck rule, make-ready investments can help states achieve their climate goals and accelerate the transition to a zero-emission future.”

The report profiles Con Edison, which serves customers in New York City, and National Grid, which serves rural areas in upstate New York. The study found that with “managed charging,” Con Edison’s make-ready program will create $1.1 billion in net revenue between 2023 and 2045, while National Grid’s program will create $141 million in net revenue during the same time period. Managed charging is the practice of aligning EV charging during times when clean, affordable electricity is most abundant, reducing stress on the larger grid and mitigating pollution from peaker power plants.

Even without managed charging, investing in make-ready programs was shown to have a positive to neutral impact on ratepayers in both utility service areas as more fleets of medium and heavy duty trucks purchase more electricity from utility companies.

“Con Edison stands ready to accelerate the transition to clean transportation,” said Raghu Sudhakara, the company’s vice president in charge of distributed resource integration. “Infrastructure and make-ready investments not only allow for customers to choose electric transportation and reduce pollution and noise in our communities, but will also help in moderating electricity rates in the longer term.”

The Takeaway

CleanTechnica readers will realize that all the gnashing of teeth and rending of garments as a result of the new EPA regulation are coming from fossil fuels interests and ethanol producers who don’t want to see the gravy train end. The utility industry has somehow managed to cope with an increase in demand due to more people using air conditioning and enormous server farms sucking down gigawatts of electricity.

By using new grid management techniques, they will be able to survive and even thrive in the coming years when millions of new electric vehicles are placed in service. All the weeping and wailing you hear is from those who fear their golden egg is about to be snatched away from them. Relax, people. Everything is going to be fine.

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Written By

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new."


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