Itron Smart Community Challenge: Transforming the Grid with Electric Vehicles
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In 2020, we begin a new decade in which vehicle electrification is becoming a dominant force in reshaping the electric grid. A transformation of this scale presents a significant opportunity for utilities. Utilities realize that electric vehicles (EVs) will play a central role in the distributed grid. Deployment and operation at scale of the infrastructure necessary for the charging of the growing EV fleet is a formidable opportunity and challenge for the utilities around the world. At Itron, we believe that a successful transformation is possible with creative business models and advanced technology, so we partner with our customers through programs like the Smart Community Challenge to drive innovation that addresses these emerging opportunities.
Demand for EVs has been ramping up steadily as consumer acceptance is transitioning from serving early adopters to the mainstream. Today there over 1 million EVs on the road in the United States alone, according to a recent study by the Edison Electric Institute. This is expected to surge to more than 18.7 million by 2030. Servicing this new fleet will require a massive investment in infrastructure, approximately 9.6 million charge ports.
While the market is still relatively nascent, utilities are first and foremost focused on developing solutions that can coordinate the load from EVs and protect their grid. This requires integrating chargers with the utility’s advanced distribution management systems (ADMS) to enable visibility and control across the charging fleet. With the ability to remotely control charging events, the utilities will have a readily dispatchable load that can absorb intermittent supply from local renewable generation assets. This offers a powerful tool that can help communities reduce the greenhouse gas emissions from traditional generation sources.
Realizing this vision will require innovation in a variety of areas. First and foremost, the opportunity around electric vehicles is primarily about creating better services for consumers and creating more sustainable communities. Electric vehicles provide a myriad of benefits, including reducing the carbon footprint of the transportation system, eliminating pollution, and lowering the cost of vehicle miles traveled. Maximizing these benefits hinges on the utility’s ability to coordinate with vehicle owners. This requires customer-facing applications that enable consumers to easily enroll in EV programs, reducing their total cost of ownership and improving the overall experience when utilizing EV charging stations.
Another important consideration to address is that adoption rates are likely to differ regionally. Urban and suburban areas are projected to become hot spots, according to a recent analysis by McKinsey. Peak loads in these hot spots will increase substantially, placing additional strain on substations and distribution transformers. Even at relatively low penetration rates of 25%, the same study estimates that peak loads will increase by as much as 30%. If left unmanaged, the local demand on these critical assets could exceed capacity. Thus, utilities are eager to identify solutions that influence charging behavior. Ideal solutions will incentivize charging at the right time and location on the grid and deliver predictable changes in local demand profiles.
There are multiple service providers for EV charging, which adds an additional layer of complexity for utilities to connect these networks in a unified system. The industry has made significant headway in developing standard interfaces like OpenADR, CharIn, and OVGIP that enable connectivity between vehicles, charging stations, and the utility’s ADMS. Such standards will be essential to enabling seamless orchestration across multiple vehicle manufacturers, charging networks, and the utility’s ADMS.
As the market continues to mature and scale, EVs will become an integral part of the distributed grid. Advanced vehicle-to-grid (V2G) applications will enable bi-directional power flow between vehicles, charging stations, and the grid. Aggregating all these assets into a unified ADMS, utilities can orchestrate this fleet of distributed energy resources as a virtual power plant to balance the grid in real-time.
For example, EVs can absorb excess supply by charging overnight, when demand is low, and excess supply during the day, when solar systems are generating at peak output capacity. Furthermore, a system that can seamlessly integrate EVs into the utility’s ADMS will be significantly more capable of balancing these assets with other distributed energy resources. Grid operators will need to be able to control the rate of discharge from EV batteries, which will give them much more granular control of how EVs interact on the distributed grid.
At Itron, we recognize that innovation must first and foremost prioritize the needs of the communities we serve. Through open innovation initiatives like the Smart Community Challenge, we are partnering with leading utilities to identify solutions that can create smarter, more resourceful communities. Our electric vehicle challenge aims to address some of the key barriers to enabling future mobility networks. In other regions where extreme weather events are becoming increasingly common, public safety is a top priority. Communities like Joplin, Missouri are seeking innovative solutions to enhance resiliency and minimize disruptions for critical services.
While every utility will have different priorities for digital transformation, innovation must begin from the bottom-up, inspired by communities for communities.
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This article was originally published on September 8, 2020.
Update for April 20, 2021:
After the murder of George Floyd we wrote this article as a kind of blueprint, a beginning to a new way of working with equitable resilience in our cities and beyond. Now, as the trial of Derek Chauvin comes to a guilty verdict in Minneapolis and the whole country reflects on the legacy of that verdict, we have to remember another senseless murder – another young Black man, Daunte Wright, at the hands of law enforcement, just miles from the courthouse. Again, Minneapolis is all of us. We have protested, we have voted. We stood up, we spoke out, we have raged about the anti-Black racism. We have seen people come together, we can feel a shift in this country. But there is so much more to do. No equity, no resilience.
-Ron & Stewart
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