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Power to the people: EV charging from the grid

February 11, 2016 | Tim Kreukniet

Distributech is the largest energy transmission and distribution conference in the US. Its massive conference floors showcase booths that can easily span 1.000 square feet. As I witnessed at this year's conference, things are changing fast in the power distribution arena, and this could mean big things for EV drivers.

Rapid innovations around hardware and communications are transforming the structure of the electricity system, now reflected in buzzwords such as #DER #gridedge #microgrid #disruption. You name it and it's on display at Distributech. But what exactly changed in the ways we distribute and consume energy?


Distributech 2016 IBMdistributech 2016Distributech 2016 IBMdistributech3


It's no longer a one-way street from the power plant, via a transmission grid, to the distribution grid, into your home or workplace. Instead, it has become an integrated system, the likes of which we have never seen before. Consumers have become producers themselves, thanks to solar panels installed on the roofs of their homes or EVs that feed surplus energy back into the grid. Wind power supplies clean energy, but wind is also difficult to predict and should be supplemented (often by other resources).

The consumption of energy has changed too. Increasing welfare has led to more air-conditioned buildings (New York City alone, already has 8 million A/Cs), which create congestion problems on the grid. Of course, there is our bread and butter - the electric vehicle, which can be both a strain and a relief to the grid. It's a strain on the grid (operator) when cars charge at peak moments, or a relief, when cars charge at night and/or primarily use solar power.

Industry giants like Siemens and GE, as well as newcomers like Smarter Grid Solutions, all want to optimally integrate distributed energy resources into the grid. There are hurdles, however, from a technical and customer's point of view.

In the past, utility companies never had to deal directly with their end-customers. Supplying electricity and sending the bill were basically as far as they went in terms of consumer engagement.

Today, by communicating (either with a nice nudge or a price signal) directly with the end-customer, utility and service providers are able to change the demand for electricity at set times. By doing this, these providers can now optimize supply and demand and avoid expensive upgrades to the electricity grid.


Californian EV charging programs include time-of-use* pricing

The Californian Public Utility Commission recently approved both South California Edison (SCE) and San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E)'s EV Charging pilot programs. SCE has approved the installation of 1.500 chargers and SDG&E is considering 4.000 chargers. In both programs, the EV charger needs to reduce its load at peak moments. EV-Box charging stations have utilized this technique for over three years, with the city of Rotterdam as one of its key practitioners.

Initially, this so-called Load Balancing service was designed to avoid overloading the local circuit board, as well as to avoid expensive building upgrades and overcapacity fees. Interestingly, the same control system can be used to respond to price signals. These price signals can be used to motivate EV drivers to charge their cars during the moments of the day when there are no (or fewer) grid constraints.

Why is time-of-use pricing so important to Californian utilities? Well, California is a leader in solar panel adoption. Yet, combining this with high temperatures leads to frequent A/C usage, which creates an electricity load curve - dubbed the duck curve:


   Duck Curve California Energy Useduck_curve_duck-1170x814


With an increase in the amount of solar panels, energy consumption from the grid during the day decreases until 6 PM when the sun is setting. However, temperatures are still very high around that time, so air conditioning usage causes a peak in demand for electricity.

This is why many utility companies have now shifted their focus towards customer engagement. If they make sure that people change their consumption behaviors, they can avoid having to upgrade the grid - a significant investment, especially considering that the grid is only utilized 3% of the time.

With time-of-use rates, utility companies hope to motivate EV drivers to charge at times that are beneficial to the grid. Beneficial times are, for instance, moments when there is an abundance of sun, or when fewer people are using electric appliances.

Our years of experience with EV charging systems in Europe, and our flexible collaboration with various service providers to accommodate specific business and charging needs, make EVBox an ideal partner in EV Charging programs for Californian utility companies… and beyond.


Did we spark your interests?

Learn more here about charging electric cars in public.
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