It’s one thing to announce a grand goal — one million EV chargers by 2030, a chicken in every pot — but when it comes to building the infrastructure needed to support the EV revolution, utility companies need to know today where those EV charging stations will be located, how many of them there will be, how much power they will draw, how frequently they will be used, and what times of the day they will be needed the most.
General policy pronouncements are all well and good, but the decisions needed to make those policies a reality need to be based on data. Britta Gross is the transportation director at the Electric Power Research Institute. She tells Canary Media that supplying utility companies with more data about planned EV charging locations is the key to unlocking utility investment sooner rather than later. That is the purpose of a nationwide initiative launched this week.
Dubbed EVs2Scale2030, it brings together EPRI, utilities, major EV truck manufacturers, government agencies, and regulators to collect data on expected future EV-charging deployments across the country. The goal is to help utilities plan and proactively build the grid upgrades needed to serve that charging so they will be ready when the need arises.
The Biden administration foresees at least 30 million EVs on American roads by 2030 — up from 1.7 million today. “The load is big — but it can be accommodated if we have more early notice,” Gross said.
The Department of Energy predicts the US will have enough generating capacity to meet the increase in electricity demand these EVs will create, but the distribution grid remains a weak link. What is keeping utilities and regulators from solving this problem is a lack of reliable, long term data about where EV charging stations will be located, said Gross.
“We need much more granular information so we can inform the utility industry at a much more granular level — a level you can invest on.” That data has to show where new EV charging loads are going to appear well ahead of when that infrastructure is needed — not six months ahead but years in advance, she said. “EVs2Scale is about building the tools we need to get it in place.”
EV Charging Challenges
Charging for heavy duty EVs like trucks and buses is even more challenging to accommodate on the distribution grid, since they require far more power in concentrated locations. Some electric truck buyers are already being told by utilities that the grid upgrades needed to support their multi-megawatt charging needs “will be 18 months from now, or two years or four years, depending on the nature of the upgrade required or the headroom on that feeder,” she said.
The new consortium is collecting data from electric truck makers Daimler, Volvo, and Paccar, as well as electric school bus data from the nonprofit World Resources Institute. The group is seeking the participation of more EV manufacturers and fleet operators, as well as the companies developing charging sites across the country.
Data on future EV-charging needs could give utilities and regulators the information they need to determine which grid expansions are good investments and which aren’t, Gross said. “The data is the convincer. It’s what we need to get in front of them. That’s a picture, in red, yellow and green, of what’s coming at us.” The scope of this data currently extends from near-term out through 2025, and will expand further into the future as more participants join, she said.
Charging Data & Privacy Concerns
Many companies are competing to find charging sites with the right combination of open land, proximity to major transport corridors and available grid capacity, Gross noted. Those companies have good reason to hide their plans from competitors. That’s why EPRI has developed its GridFAST tool, an online platform that will support a “secure and private exchange” between utilities seeking data on where EVs and chargers are being planned and the companies and agencies providing it.
There’s no guarantee that any single planned EV charging installation will end up coming to fruition. But if large numbers of planned deployments are clustered in a particular local grid area, the likelihood of at least some of them being built can give utilities and regulators “a much higher level of confidence” that grid investments to serve them are justified.
“Most of the time we think about infrastructure too late in this industry,” said Henrik Holland, head of Prologis Mobility. The company has opened large scale charging sites in Southern California and has 65 more planned across the country. It is working closely with utilities to seek out sites with ample grid capacity in an attempt to avoid bottlenecks.
Getting data on EVs has become an essential part of a utility’s planning, said Brett Carter, chair of EVs2Scale2030 and group president of utilities at Xcel Energy, which serves large swathes of Colorado and Minnesota and parts of six other states.
“Say a rental car company wants to turn around an EV in 20 minutes for the next customer,” he said. “That’s going to take a DC fast charger. And you take four of those charging at the same time, they can pull a megawatt of charging from the grid. We want our partners to give us as much information as possible so we can prepare for the grid impacts to come. We’re giving them all the information we have.”
Carter acknowledged that utilities need to win the trust of EV-charging providers to get them to share their forecasts of where they plan to build next. “I think that as long as we’re not taking away their competitive advantage, they’re willing to share,” he said. “The sooner we can get in front of this, the better off we’ll all be.”
Gross emphasized that the consortium is seeking the participation of major EV charging developers in hopes of playing a role as a “trusted intermediary” between them and utilities. “They are very stressed trying to get DC fast charging stations in the ground, and facing this challenge of long lead times,” but they’re also leery of sharing data.
Maintaining confidentiality will be a priority for the coalition, Gross said. “At its core, it’s the trusting relationship between manufacturers, fleet operators, fueling retailers and the utility industry,” she said. “Can we have these conversations three years in advance, four years in advance, not four months in advance, when your trucks are already set to arrive?”
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