As we hurtle towards the end of 2017 – vehicle electrification has snuck upon us – so is enough being done to accommodate the transition?

A new publication, titled From Gas to Grid: Building Charging Infrastructure to Power Electric Vehicle Demand, by Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) advises much more needs to happen so that utilities and municipal governments are not left behind.

Sales of EVs are accelerating so rapidly in the US that Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) warns the US will hit an ‘infrastructure cap’ in the mid-2030s due to a lack of charging stations.

Those municipalities that do not plan now could end up bequeathing cities and urban areas with higher transportation and energy costs, as they end up building costly peaking plants to accommodate electric vehicle (EV) charging load, not to mention higher emissions.

In order to keep the e-mobility transition moving, all utilities and municipalities should be actively planning and developing their charging station infrastructure. A typical utility rate case of this nature could run for up to two years, making it 2020 before a utility is ready to implement a programme of EV infrastructure investment initiated today in the US.

Careful planning and early intervention will see EV uptake help optimise the grid and reduce the unit cost of electricity, while increasing the share of renewable electricity and reducing emissions in both the electricity and transportation sectors, states the report.

According to From Gas to Grid passive management techniques, such as using time-of-use (TOU) tariffs that incentivise drivers to charge at cheaper off-peak times, offer a simple and easy way for utilities to use the charging load of EVs to provide dynamic, real-time grid regulation services, and to provide a flexible load to meet supply.

Actively managing the charging of EVs via aggregator companies, or even via direct utility control, may also be useful, although the methods for doing so are still fairly nascent, the report states.

Using EVs to absorb excess solar and wind energy can help integrate higher levels of renewable electricity into grids, by avoiding curtailment of these intermittent generators, reducing the need to build new fossil fuel-based ‘peaker’ capacity.

 

Stakeholder benefits

The report identifies several stakeholder benefits, presenting the value in dollars (2016 $) per EV, over the vehicle’s lifetime.

The chart shows that values vary between categories as well as across them. This range can be attributed to many factors, like electricity market, utility regulation, battery size, tariff structure, generation mix and vehicle characteristics.

If charging infrastructure investment fails to match EV uptake, expensive investments in new gas peaking plants may be needed to ensure enough energy is available [image courtesy of Clarke Energy].

While EVs provide value to all stakeholder groups, ranging from consumers to utilities, there are too many variances so characterising that value in a generalised way becomes very difficult.

When EVs are integrated into the grid, the benefit both consumers and the grid. This means a degree of risk in early pilots. However early action is advised before demand increases rapidly forcing hastily planned and executed infrastructure investments to meet the demand.

Managed charging has the potential to provide several ancillary grid services, such as demand response, frequency regulation and voltage regulation.

Download the full report here: https://www.rmi.org/insights/reports/from_gas_to_grid/