How Utilities Can Ensure The Grid Is Ready For EVs

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Last Updated: 
July 31, 2023

It’s official: The EVolution is here.  

Electric vehicles climbed from 3.2% of total passenger vehicle sales in 2021 to 5.8% in 2022 – and experts say that they could account for 40% or more of new sales by 2030. Vehicle emissions targets and mandates at the federal, state, and local levels are expected to accelerate the EV transition – including among commercial and public sector fleets. 

The widespread adoption of EVs will fundamentally disrupt the dynamics of our grid, so it’s imperative that utilities begin to prepare. The upgrades to enable widespread EV charging are sizable – in California alone, preparing for EV adoption may require up to $50 billion in distribution infrastructure investments by 2035. 

That’s why it’s so important for utilities to figure out how to prepare for EVs – without breaking the bank.

Last week, we hosted a webinar with industry leaders from General Motors, Duquesne Light Company, and Connexus Energy to discuss how utilities can cost-effectively integrate EVs onto the grid, without sacrificing reliability or resiliency. Strategies ranged from large-scale charger rollouts to customer rebates, incentive programs, and rate design, as well as the adoption of grid orchestration software to monitor and manage local energy resources. In particular, collaboration between utilities, EV OEMs, technology providers, and other stakeholders within the broader ecosystem will be critical to making EV adoption a success. 

The discussion was very engaging – so much that we didn’t have time to address all of our participant’s questions. We enlisted a few of our fantastic panelists to answer some bonus questions below: 

1. What do you see as the major ways in which EVs are going to support the grid in the next 3-4 years?

Kathy Knoop, Manager of EV Grid Integration Solutions, General Motors
Where I work, GM Energy, is the energy side focusing on making EVs part of the solution to the grid problem, not part of the problem itself. The vehicle is an asset, an energy device that can be used to store energy and support the grid when needed. As customers electrify their vehicles, the energy paradigm shifts, and GM wants to address this.

In the simplest way – it's what we are already doing with V1G or managed charging: making sure the EVs are not charging on the grid during the most critical stressed 80 or so hours of the year. We are also using telematics to know when EVs are charging and, with the customer’s permission, send a signal to the vehicle to shop charging for a given period. We have pilots doing this with more than five different utilities today.

Secondly, what is also just on the horizon is how to allow the EV to power your home's critical appliances in the event of an outage. Many areas of the country are subject to more frequent disruptions to weather, the age of the system or other factors. Keeping more homes powered during those instances is also key.

The next iteration of that is how to not just allow vehicles to charge the home when the power goes out, but to deliberately switch to the vehicle powering the home during the peak periods.  So not just – don’t charge from the grid but supplement the grid in the home for those hours.

Then ultimately, how to use aggregated EV battery supply as a full on grid resource like any other distributed energy supply.  More collaboration and efforts around standards, interconnection and rates are needed to get to this point.  Considering how  many EVs will be in service by 2030, we need to get started now.

2. Many EV owners want faster charging, even if they don’t “need it”. How are utilities preparing for 11 kW or 19 kW chargers at homes?

Chris Punt, Supervisor - Distribution Engineering & Planning, Connexus Energy

That’s something we're keeping an eye on for sure. Overloading of transformers is something that's been talked about for years. I think I've given presentations ten years ago about this first wave of EV impacts. It’s particularly stark for an electric cooperative with more rural service. We have a history of installing transformers that are 10 kVA, 15 kVA and then, more recently, 25 KVA as our standard. Today about 85% of our transformers are 25 kVA or below.

If we look back at what Kathy was talking about for Ford Lightnings and 19.2 KW charging, that's a concern. In our territory adding that level of charging is like adding 2-4 times the peak load of a typical home. So, the impact is significant. The solution is multifaceted and can be solved by better utilization of grid capacity, increased local capacity, EV owner knowledge, and advanced technology.

3. Is data collection on transformers limited to new equipment or can that be conducted for legacy assets?

Dylan Cutler, Head of Product, Camus Energy

Our analysis to understand the impacts of EV charging on upline equipment is not restricted to newly installed equipment – it can be done for legacy assets. We are primarily using AMI data and connectivity information from the GIS data to understand transformer loading and EV behavior. EV charging behavior itself is also pulled in from either EV supply equipment (EVSE) integrations or EV telematics. 

4. How do you view telematics for managed charging?

Justin Partee, Sales Manager, Connexus Energy

Telematics are great. It's just getting on the same page as the customer on how to manage the charging. If we had controls for their telematics, that would be great, but the conversation is still ongoing as to what the right approach is.

5. Kathy mentioned whitepapers about rate design for EV charging. Could you share those?

Of course. The full set of The Alliance for Transportation Electrification resources is available here. But the two specific whitepapers recommended by Kathy include Part 1 and Part 2 of their rate design series.

Missed the webinar? You can watch the recording and access the slides at any time.

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