Navigant Research Blog

Utilities Rightly Taking Larger Role in EVs

John Gartner — July 11, 2016

EV RefuelingWithin the span of a few short years, utilities have transitioned from being bystanders to becoming active participants in supporting the rollout of plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs). Legislators and utility commissioners have evolved their view of the roles that utilities can and should play, particularly in incentivizing or operating electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure.

A few years ago, several states, including California, prohibited utility ownership of EV charging infrastructure. Today, utilities are not only encouraged to operate charging stations, but are also compelled to do so. Public utility commissions have recognized that switching from gasoline to renewably powered electricity for transportation is good for air quality and the local economy, and many have updated their rules to allow utility participation.

Since direct current (DC) fast charging (with power delivered at 50 kW-100 kW or higher) has the potential to affect grid operations, many utilities are focusing on ownership of these assets. For example, Hydro-Québec is expanding its Electric Circuit of fast chargers along Highway 20 in the province of Quebec in Canada. Meanwhile, AGL Energy is offering a flat $1 daily fee for unlimited residential EV charging in Australia.

Change on a Global Scale

This is truly a global phenomenon. My recent travels have taken me to Honolulu, Munich, and Dubai—all of which have EV charging stations operated by utilities. In Hawaii, utility Hawaiian Electric Co. (HECO) is embracing PEVs as a method of helping to balance the power grid in the state. Hawaii has an ambitious goal of moving to 100% renewable power generation by 2045.

In many cases, PEVs are good load additions, as vehicle charging can be timed to balance intermittent solar and wind power production. Utilities are also launching pilots where PEVs are enrolled in demand response programs, as Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) and BMW are doing in Northern California. The new load from PEVs can help utilities replace revenue lost to the myriad of energy efficiency programs that are flattening or reducing power consumption. PEVs will also become more frequently accessed as part of the growing use of distributed energy resources (DER).

Navigant Research will discuss the many opportunities for utilities to derive value from using PEVs in demand response, as DER, and for load shifting and other ancillary services during a webinar on July 12.

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