The biggest utility in Texas is casting a nervous eye at the future as it prepares for a wave of large electric vehicles that could demand "major investments" in its power grid.
"The individual owner of an [electric] sedan or SUV is not our major problem at the moment because they're going to be distributed all across our system," said David Treichler, director of strategy and technology at Oncor Electric Delivery. "We're going to have points of investment … but it's not a major revolution or transformation of our system."
The issue, Treichler said, comes with larger EVs, like Class 6 and Class 8 trucks used for deliveries, and larger electric semi trucks being piloted by Volvo and Tesla. Those could necessitate transformative changes to parts of Oncor's distribution grid due to their charging needs.
"Recently, our friends at Amazon bought 20,000 Daimler Sprinter vans to deliver their packages in one year," Treichler told an audience at the DistribuTECH convention in New Orleans, Louisiana, this month. "They're all gas today, but once you start converting all of those 20,000 vans per year into electric, how do we as Oncor, a utility, get ahead of that issue?"
Oncor, which serves more than 10 million people in and around Dallas, Texas, is preparing for that shift to begin soon. The utility expects large EVs could be cost competitive with traditional gas-fueled options in the early to mid 2020s, Treichler told Utility Dive after the event. Amazon, for instance, bought 100 EV vans from Mercedes for its German operations last year, and this month invested $700 million in the EV startup Rivian.
Already, Treichler said, Oncor is getting inquiries about vehicle charging from its commercial customers.
"The things around trucks are starting to happen," Treichler told the conference audience. "One of the things that brought this whole issue to our attention was about six or eight weeks ago, we got an inquiry from a company that wants to build a logistics center just outside of Dallas."
At the outset, Oncor expects most large electric vehicles will operate during the day and come back to a central depot to charge at night, creating big pockets of electricity demand that were not there before. For the logistics company, Oncor calculated that charging all of its 325 fleet vehicles would add 40 MW to the customer's power demand — a huge increase over the 0.5 MW load the utility typically sees from a commercial ratepayer.
And that's just one company of many, Treichler stressed.
"What do you see when you fly into Dallas? A sea of warehouses as far as you can see," he said. "Every one of them has a fleet."
A very expensive process
If Oncor is to electrify all of those vehicles, "we're going to have to figure out ways of putting substations into very densely populated warehousing districts and bringing transmission into those areas," he said, "which is a very expensive process."
To prepare for large EVs, Oncor is already analyzing the potential locations of electric fleets in the future.
"We're looking at trying to identify where are all of the fleets and put this all on a tableau map," he said during his presentation, "trying to understand the size of the fleets, what's the makeup of them, what kinds of vehicles, and trying to do some forecasting."
A fleet of 200 Class 6 and 8 vehicles, for instance, would likely require a second substation to serve their load, Treichler said. "This is the kind of of advanced planning that as a utility you're going to have to do."
Not all utilities are that far along in planning for large EVs. At Southern Co., utility representatives are still in the discussion phase about planning for them, said Director of Transportation Policy Lincoln Wood.
"We have conversations with a lot of Atlanta-based companies, some of them you might know," he told the audience. "I guess at this point we're having conversations. We realize the technology is coming, so the question is how does it make sense for both them and us and what the timing looks like."
Residential plans, too
As utilities prepare for the influx of larger EVs, some say they should apply that planning to residential adoption as well. While many utilities have based their EV planning on early models with relatively small batteries, the CEO of charging company Greenlots says those small vehicles are becoming more powerful.
"A Tesla uses the equivalent [electricity] of a single family home," said CEO Brett Hauser. "If you've got a subdivision that has the distribution system [that] was set up for 10 homes and three people get EVs with 55 kWh or 75 kWh batteries or more, all of a sudden you've now got basically the equivalent of 13 homes on a system built for ten."
That dynamic could sneak up on utilities, Hauser cautioned, necessitating major upgrades not just for large companies, but residential consumers as well.
"There are going to be a lot of upgrades that need to happen a lot quicker than I think some of these utilities have been planning," he said. "So I think utilities can have an issue at that [residential] level as much as they're going to have with the fleets that are going to come online."