Navigant Research Blog

California Utilities Look to Manage EV Charging

Scott Shepard — March 27, 2015

Through multiple programs aimed at both supply and demand, California has developed the most vibrant market for plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) in the world. According to the forthcoming update of Navigant Research’s report, Electric Vehicle Geographic Forecasts, the total number of light duty PEVs in California is expected to surpass 140,000 by the end of this year and 1.5 million by 2023. The state’s electric power sector is taking note because the speedy PEV market growth may pose problems if PEV charging isn’t managed well.

The most likely problems will occur at the residential transformer, where a cluster of PEVs may outstrip a transformer’s capacity, requiring costly upgrades and/or repairs. To date, this issue has been fairly minor, with California’s three major utilities (Pacific Gas and Electric [PG&E], Southern California Edison [SCE], and San Diego Gas & Electric [SDG&E]) reporting that, of the 97,350 PEV customers in their combined service territories from July 2011 to October 2014, there have only been 126 PEV-related infrastructure upgrades.

Getting Worse

These problems are likely to worsen with the aforementioned 10-fold increase in PEVs in under 10 years. Looking ahead, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) launched a PEV submetering pilot in September 2014 through the big utilities. The pilot is designed to lower energy costs for PEV owners through time-of-use (TOU) rates that incentivize off-peak charging and measure their energy consumption for vehicle charging apart from their overall energy consumption. By separating PEV charging, utilities could assess how best to influence PEV charging beyond TOU rates to avoid infrastructure upgrades.

Although TOU rates are effective at managing demand for a more efficient grid at the generation and transmission level, their effect on localized demand issues like transformer capacity is limited. Automated charging of PEVs based on TOU rates essentially creates a new spike in demand at the beginning of the off-peak period. This spike looks marginal at the grid level, but can be fairly drastic at the transformer feeding a cluster of PEVs.

Leading Edge

Thus, utilities, electric vehicle supply equipment (EVSE) manufacturers, and EVSE service providers are looking to create more dynamic and advanced PEV charging schemes to manage charging at all levels of the grid. Greenlots, for example, recently announced its partnership with EVSE LLC to demonstrate the company’s SKY Smart Charging system in 80 Level 2 workplace chargers at SCE facilities. The SCE project will examine how PEV owners respond to demand response events and dynamic pricing schemes for a number of purposes, including mitigating local transformer issues.

Outside of California, other PEV markets are expanding, too; utilities in these areas will need to begin testing and implementing similar technologies and programs soon. Companies competing for utility services in California now will be well served by expansion elsewhere and likely represent the leading edge of charging services development for years to come.

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