Electric vehicle use is expected to grow rapidly, increasing the need for charging options.
But while several models are available to develop and fund charging sites, it won't happen automatically, and questions remain about how it will all be paid for. Nevertheless, electric companies are poised to help accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles and the expansion of charging infrastructure. At the same time, utilities are looking at EVs as a potential energy storage resource, but only in the long term.
These and other issues surrounding the adoption of electric vehicles were the focus of a Florida Public Service Commission roundtable Oct. 17 with a variety of stakeholders.
Benefits to everyone
The discussion highlighted a changed view of electric vehicles and electrified transportation in general: that it is a matter of when, not if, they become the norm. While EVs are still a small fraction of vehicle sales and cars on the road, the expectation is for them to become far more common and to ultimately serve as a grid resource.
Edison Electric Institute Manager of Sustainable Technologies Kellen Schefter said that "if we can add this load in a cost-effective way, it's something that benefits everyone in the system.”
EEI, which represents the investor-owned utility sector, this summer released a new analysis predicting a boom in sales of plug-in electric vehicles. The report projected 7 million of the zero-emissions vehicles will be on the road by 2025 — up from 567,000 at the end of 2016.
While that represents a solid increase, and a shift that electric utilities will need to stay ahead of, it remains a fairly small number compared with the United States' overall obsession with automobiles.
By 2025, electric vehicles could make up 7% of new car sales. But with 250 million cars on the road, the 700,000 electric vehicles currently in service represent just 0.2% of cars.
Path forward unclear
Schefter said the writing is on the wall, when it comes to EVs. But the path forward is less clear.
"Long-term, we do see government sending a strong signal that's the direction we're going," he said. "But we find a lot of forecasts don't take into account charging — they just assume it's going to happen."
Charging at home must be easy and available, which may mean the introduction of EV-specific rates. And workplace-charging must scale to about 100x its current size, said Schefter. "It prompts the question: 'How are we going to pay for this?' .... Electric companies can be more assertive and play a larger role” in system grid integration, he said.
Peter King, who heads the stakeholder group Drive Electric Florida and recently became electric transportation project manager for Duke Energy Florida, stressed the need for more chargepoints at places of employment.
"If you have workplace charging, an employee is six times more likely to buy an electric vehicle," he said.
Spreading charging infrastructure
Electric companies can help accelerate EV adoption and the spread of charging infrastructure, with several different models available to develop and fund charging sites. Utilities can offer just the service connection, or in a make-ready scenario, could develop the supply infrastructure as well. Other models include full utility ownership of charging infrastructure, where states allow it — though not all states are heading down that road. Kansas and Missouri, for instance, have determined electric supply companies are not appropriate owners of charging stations.
Last year, state utility regulators rejected a plan by Kansas City Power & Light to have ratepayers fund an extensive electric vehicle charging network. And earlier this year, the Missouri Public Service Commission concluded electric vehicle charging stations are fundamentally different than a power plant — and so the commission does not have jurisdiction over the equipment.
But speaking of the different models for charging infrastructure, Schefter said, "We like that there are lots of options. It opens up a lot of interesting policy questions: How do we let the electric companies spur investment while not closing out competition?”
Vehicle to grid technology
PSC Commissioner Gary Clark asked about the possibility of electric vehicles being used as a grid resource beyond load shifting — in other words, vehicle to grid technology. But so far, the industry see EVs being a grid-tied energy storage resource as something possible in the future, not necessarily now.
"There are so many societal and grid benefits if we can get to scale on this," said Britta Gross, GM's director of advanced vehicle commercialization policy. "We're designing for 10, 20, 30 years down the road."
It is "absolutely on the roadmap," Schefter said. "In the long term, when there are millions of EVs that could be a potential resource." But "in the near term, we're not seeing that; car companies haven't yet made that capability available and electric companies don't necessarily have a way to monetize the storage," he added.
Grid-tied storage will certainly become a resource, but stationary projects are likely to lead the way followed eventually by EVs, Schefter told the roundtable. If and when electric vehicles reach a 5% share of vehicles on the road, he said it would likely increase grid throughput in the United States by about 20%. "We're not talking about doubling it," he said.
At 20% to 30% more load on the system, "it doesn't mean we have to scale the grid to that; this load can help fill in the gaps with excess generation."
Utility leadership needed on infrastructure
GM's Gross said the company had for a time worked with about a half dozen utilities on charging infrastructure. "We learned there's no end to how much you'd have to pump into it," she said. The manufacturer now sees electric companies as essential partners. "Our mission has been to work with utilities to find the way forward."
Brian Hanrahan, director of in-home technologies for Florida Power & Light, said, "we have baked in EV adoption to our planning for the last seven years."
Lang Reynolds, electric transportation manager for Duke Energy Florida, said the utility is seeing heavy interest in electrified buses and currently has about 3,700 EVs in its territory. That's less than a quarter of the state's EVs, but the number could rise to 150,000 over the next three decades, he said.
In terms of expected system needs, the utility's modeling estimates 60MW of summer peak load impact from EV growth by 2030. "That is well within our reserve, but I would caution there is a lot of uncertainty around this," he said.
Kenneth Hernandez, program manager for Tampa Electric Co., said the utility has more than 2,000 electric vehicles in its territory and expects the number to grow as consumers are offered more choices. The utility has a unique program that provides an electric vehicle to driver education classes at five schools. TECO is also looking at the impacts of DC fast charging and workplace charging, and how to align charging rates with inexpensive solar capacity.
"We're not aware of a single incident where an EV has caused as reliability issue on our system,” he said.
Updates to clarify that Duke Energy Florida estimates 60MW of summer peak load impact from EV growth by 2030, which is within the company's reserve margin and won't require new capacity.