The following is a contributed article by Pamela MacDougall, director, grid modernization at Environmental Defense Fund, and Katie M. Sloan, vice president, customer programs and services at Southern California Edison.
The electrification of the truck and bus sector is ramping up.
State governments are developing key policies, like the Advanced Clean Fleets Rule in California, that aim to accelerate the market for zero-emission medium- and heavy-duty vehicles. Recent federal legislation boosts tax credits and charging infrastructure funds to speed the transition.
Industry is investing billions of dollars in bringing electric vehicles to market, and hundreds of fleets are placing orders. This investment will dramatically reduce harmful emissions from one of the major sources of air and climate pollution – trucks powered by fossil fuels.
A critical piece in this rapid transition is the investment in infrastructure to support EV charging for truck fleets. Much progress has been made in this area, but there’s still a lot of work ahead.
According to the California Energy Commission’s recent EV Charging Infrastructure Assessment, an additional 157,000 chargers are needed to support the 180,000 medium- and heavy-duty vehicles anticipated for 2030. This rapid scale-up requires utilities to play an active role in supporting the installation of EV charging by providing the backbone utility grid infrastructure.
Southern California Edison is confident the infrastructure needs and demands of this transition can be met through early engagement and is exploring various solutions to ensure the grid is ready when and where trucks and buses will need to charge. Here are some proactive measures to help utilities stay ahead of the curve.
Streamlining utility infrastructure processes
With expedited targets for truck and bus electrification, utilities are seeing a rise in requests for integrating charging infrastructure into the grid, which, if not planned for, can result in significant interconnection delays. An essential step electric utilities can take to address demand is to review and proactively streamline processes that support EV charging infrastructure where feasible. When developing and installing charging infrastructure, utilities should work with fleets to ensure sufficient capacity is available at the depot to handle this new load.
That’s why utilities in many areas provide a dedicated design and project management team to support commercial customer EV charging infrastructure requests. This support is critical to help electric truck and bus customers newer to the electricity space navigate the processes.
These teams work with customers to collaboratively develop plans that pace customer EV adoption with the grid expansion work required, allowing current and future needs to be met.
Additionally, as part of these collaborative plans, customers and utilities can explore options for flexibility in grid management or enable intermediate solutions, such as active managed charging software, onsite batteries, or both, to allow for interim safe and reliable service while necessary grid upgrades are completed.
In states with clear truck and bus electrification targets, such as California, utilities should be providing the necessary additional resources to enable these engagements. These utility resources, including program managers, inspectors, program support staff and engineers, are just one part of a larger ecosystem of jobs growth in the market transition to fleet electrification. Workforce Projects to Support Battery Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure Installation, a report prepared by Energy and Environmental Research Associates, estimates that approximately 60,000 job-years will be needed from 2021 to 2031 to support California’s EV goals and charging infrastructure needs.
Policies should support proactive planning
Timelines for grid infrastructure development can vary. Depending on the magnitude and location of the new load, deploying infrastructure can take anywhere from months to a decade if a substation or new transmission line needs to be built. Therefore, proactive utility planning is essential to ensure sufficient capacity is available for these new trucks to charge. New policies such as the proposed Advanced Clean Fleets have targets as early as 2024, and if utilities have to wait until policies are enacted to include them in their grid planning, there could be an issue. Agencies, regulators, and system planners at the broader system planning level should consider these future targets when assessing system needs.
On the forecasting and planning side, utilities and energy system planners must adapt planning efforts to reflect expected EV growth, including impacts from proposed and adopted policies and incentives. For example, to account for the new developing needs of the Advanced Clean Cars II and Advanced Clean Fleets policies in California, SCE and the other California investor-owned utilities were recently approved to use higher forecasts for transportation electrification than previously used.
Getting the appropriate forecasts is a critical underlying input into the actions necessary to ensure adequate grid development to support electrification and decarbonization needs. And California utilities are not alone in seeing the benefit of this proactive planning approach.
National Grid also sees this collaboration as vital to meeting transportation electrification targets, calling for utilities, system operators, and policymakers to “work together to forecast and plan for the medium- and long-term impacts of fleet electrification, and to develop and implement solutions.”
Preparing the grid for mass electrification is possible. However, industry — including utilities, fleet operators, and vehicle manufacturers — and agencies and policymakers, should work together to ensure this transition is timely and beneficial for all.
Data is the piece that completes the infrastructure puzzle
The mobile nature of vehicles as well as transition phases for commercial fleets, makes it difficult to know precisely when, where and how much charging will need to be supported. Accurate data is vital to prepare the grid at the right level in the right place and time to most efficiently deliver the infrastructure without under or overbuilding. Automakers, fleets and charging providers can offer insights into where and when they expect adoption and charging to take place. Agencies – importantly including those responsible for state and local transportation policy – can work with industry and utilities to identify and prioritize key corridors where infrastructure support is needed.
Policymakers can help play an important role in coordinating the transportation data and planning needs to support the necessary grid development for scaling transportation electrification. Recent legislation in California, such as AB 2700, sets fleet data collection and sharing requirements among the agencies for the purposes of infrastructure planning. SB 671 requires the California Transportation Commission, along with other state agencies, to develop an assessment to identify zero-emission clean freight corridors and the required supportive infrastructure.
To best prepare and proactively plan for the supportive infrastructure for medium- and heavy-duty EVs, utilities ultimately need localized information that fleets have on when and where vehicles will be charging and at what levels. To address this, SCE is engaging customer fleets it serves through surveys and targeted outreach to determine when and where loads may occur. This will improve planning processes in preparation for this sectoral transformation. In the near term, utilities can also provide maps and data that can help give customers a directional understanding of where the capacity for additional load may exist.
Active outreach builds a strong utility-fleet relationship necessary to realize market transformation
Educating and helping fleet operators prepare for this transition is another essential part of the grid and infrastructure planning process and overall communication efforts. To get the word out to fleets, collaboration between agencies, industry associations, original equipment manufacturers, and utilities will have the most impact. This requires an all-hands-on-deck approach to ensure that all relevant information reaches every corner of the market.
Utilities like SCE are engaging with fleets through multiple channels and languages, including account managers, working/industry group meetings, and by providing online tools and resources for fleets, such as SCE’s education webinars on sce.com/CRT and sce.com/TEAS.
Utilities in many states are offering fleet assessment programs and support, such as National Grid’s fleet advisory program in Massachusetts, which provides public fleets overview materials for a no-cost fleet assessment program. Providing fleets with the information and support they need in an accessible format is essential to building a strong, long-term relationship between fleets and their electricity provider. As this relationship strengthens by closer engagement, utilities come to appreciate and understand fleet operational demands and fleet operators gain an understanding of the dynamics of grid planning and development.
The grid serves as a backbone to enable and accelerate mass electrification. The utilities who plan, design, and operate the grid are the leading connecting points for fleets and the broader ecosystem necessary to realize this market transformation. SCE views the challenges and work ahead as a call to action and we are committed to doing our part to ensure a successful transition to the necessary technologies that clean the air and address climate change.