Utilities should prepare for EV adoption

Thursday, 22 November, 2018

Utilities should prepare for EV adoption

Energy utilities need to take a proactive approach to prepare their networks for the increasing uptake of electric vehicles (EVs), according to a study.

The growing demand for energy from EVs will affect the grid in three ways: increased overall consumption, increased peak demand and greater unpredictability. A joint study by L.E.K. Consulting and Australian EV charging infrastructure company Tritium explained why utilities should start planning for the future implications of EVs on the electricity grid and local infrastructure.

“There are significant opportunities for network owners, operators and energy retailers as EVs are one of the few growth drivers for many developed energy markets, and also enable the opportunity for utilities to build closer customer relationships,” said Natasha Santha, Principal at L.E.K. Consulting. “But utilities need to be proactive in planning for a future scenario of significant EV adoption, especially in a world where spending capex on additional infrastructure at the cost of the consumer is no longer a palatable response.”

While there are currently only about 4 million EVs globally, the number is expected to reach 50 million by 2025 and 125 million by 2030. This means there will be a modest increase in overall energy demand in the short to medium term, but a much more significant impact on increased peak demand at a local level.

The report stated that in 2017, the estimated electricity demand from all EVs was 54 TWh, which equated to 0.3% of global electricity demand. Assuming there is a similar level of battery energy efficiency in 2030 as today, the predicted increase in EVs will cause the overall share of energy demand to increase to 6.3%.

However, owning an EV will increase a household’s electricity consumption by about 50%, and the report highlighted the need for utilities to incentivise charging in low-demand times to prevent overloading the local electricity infrastructure. This is especially important considering the ‘clustering’ effect, said the report, in which some suburbs, streets and locations have a higher proportion of EV ownership than others. If multiple houses on a single street charge simultaneously, the feeder lines may not have sufficient capacity to meet demand. For example, assuming that most EV owners charge at the end of the traditional work day, overlaying the impact of EV charging on a local network (with 50% EV adoption) would drive peak demand up by around 30%.

By 2030, the number of charging stations required globally will exceed 130 million units, which is almost 30 times the current stock, estimates the International Energy Agency.

The report found the development of high-power charging infrastructure may have a more manageable initial impact for network operators. High power chargers, up to 350 KW each, are typically installed as a group of chargers and equate to very large (1 MW+) connections, but the charger owners will deploy the appropriate infrastructure adjacent to the charging equipment at the time of installation.

Santha said EV uptake in Australia is still in its infancy in Australia, but preparation efforts should begin as soon as possible. “Given the expected pace of adoption, and time it will take to turn over the car parc, grid owners have sufficient time to prepare for the change.

“As the need for the deployment of public fast chargers is required in Australia, utilities will need to be ready to turn around new connections quickly.”

Five measures were suggested to stabilise future grid behaviour and ensure utilities do not become a barrier to scale EV adoption:

  1. Design tariffs and demand response programs: Utilities should prepare incentive structures to manage residential chargers, such as time of use EV tariffs that can shift customer charging behaviour alleviating local feeder stress. They could glean lessons from South Australian and Queensland networks, which are trialling new tariffs to encourage households with electric hot water systems to heat them in off-peak periods.
  2. Utilise smart software: Managed charging uses software to schedule home charging throughout the night, avoiding the risk of EV owners all plugging in during the evening peak.
  3. Improve grid information: Provide clear and detailed information publicly to businesses and entrepreneurs looking to invest in and install public charging infrastructure. For example, PG&E, a Californian utility, has created an interactive mapping tool for network capacity highlighting the locations on its network where existing equipment has the capacity and is ready to be utilised for EV charging.
  4. Assess adjacent opportunities from charging infrastructure: These opportunities may be stationary battery storage, to reduce grid augmentation costs and enable charger deployment in areas of the network that would otherwise be prohibitive.
  5. Trial, test and work with charging manufacturers: Collaboration and joint research will enable utilities to be at the forefront of emerging vehicle, charging and grid integration technologies.

The report, which was released at the Australian Utility Week expo in Melbourne, can be accessed here.

Image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/au/rottadana

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