Navigant Research Blog

Plug-In Vehicles: For Utilities, More Opportunities than Challenges

— January 3, 2014

According to the Energy Information Administration’s latest Residential Energy Consumption Survey (RECS), the average U.S. household consumed 11,321 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity in 2009.  If the average 2014 light duty vehicle is rated at 24 MPG and travels 12,000 miles a year, then the amount of energy consumed by the vehicle over the year is equivalent to about 16,000 kWh of electricity.  When the EV Project 2Q 2013 data is analyzed, it shows that 96% and 99% of the energy consumption for participating Nissan LEAF and Chevrolet Volt plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs), respectively, took place at the residence of the PEV owner from April to June of 2013.  That would seem to mean the transition from petroleum-fueled to electric-fueled transportation will present serious challenges for utilities, which face a drastic increase in demand from the residential sector.  This, however, is not the case, due to the efficiencies of electric drive, the charging behavior of PEV owners, and the ways in which individually owned PEVs can be used by utilities to help match electricity supply with demand.

PEVs are far more efficient than petroleum-powered vehicles.  With an average battery size of 40.1 kWh, battery electric vehicles (BEVs) have an average range of 124.2 miles.  For plug-in hybrids (PHEVs), the figures are 11.7 kWh and 27.2 miles for all-electric driving.  Using the same 12,000 miles per year metric, the average BEV consumes 3,869 kWh of electricity a year and the average PHEV (utilizing all of its electric drive capacity every day) 4,271 kWh of electricity.

Non-Peak PEVs

While these energy requirements are significantly less than petroleum-powered vehicles, they still represent a significant demand increase of around 33% for BEVs and 37% for PHEVs for an average U.S. household.  At the average U.S. residential electricity rate of $.12/kWh, utilities collect around $450 per BEV and $520 per PHEV, per year.  To reap such revenues, some modifications to the existing utility grid infrastructure are necessary, but not many.

The increased use of air conditioning has required utilities to develop a grid supply infrastructure that can meet the highest peak demand loads of summer afternoons, when AC units en masse are turned on.  Studies on the charging behavior of PEV owners have shown that few PEVs are plugged in during these times, fewer still in areas where PEV owners are enrolled in time-of-use programs.  Thus, peak electricity demand will not be greatly multiplied by PEV charging.  Further, using PEVs for demand response programs, for grid balancing, renewables integration, and demand charge reduction, will help utilities supply electricity and may actually reduce peak demand loads.

Where utilities are most vulnerable to PEV demands is at the local distribution transformer.  Residential customers are supplied electricity through a transformer that feeds a number of units.  If all or many of the units supplied by a transformer require increased load for PEVs, the transformer may need to be upgraded to increase peak capacity and use.  However, data from California utilities shows that local grids need upgrades to serve PEVs less than 1% of the time.  The net effect to utilities should be new revenue streams with few costs.


In-Home Energy Displays: Not Dead Yet

— January 3, 2014

The in-home energy display (IHD) market is still relevant, even though many people wrote off this device category a couple of years ago.  Several vendors and utilities report that residential customers are using the devices to help reduce energy consumption and lower bills (for more details on this market, see Navigant Research’s Home Energy Management report published in 4Q 2013). California’s Glendale Water & Power (GWP) provides one example of some traction for IHDs that connect to smart meters.  The utility and its IHD supplier, Ceiva Energy, recently released a new survey showing that customers involved in a pilot who received a Ceiva Homeview frame enhanced their understanding of energy use and did some experimenting:

  • Awareness of hourly electricity costs increased 19 percentage points, from 4% before the device was installed to 23% after
  • Awareness about the time of day they used the most electricity nearly doubled, from 18% to 35%
  • 83% experimented with their consumption, either turning lights on or off, or turning appliances on or off

Since GWP also supplies water to customers, the survey asked about changes in water consumption after the Homeview frame was installed, with 48% of respondents saying they took action, either adjusting their lawn watering schedule or reducing water usage in the home.  Ceiva’s device is also part of another pilot at National Grid in Worcester, Massachusetts, though results of that trial are not yet available.

Right Time & Place

San Diego Gas & Electric, meanwhile, has tested and approved not only Ceiva’s device but also ones from vendors such as Aztech Associates and Rainforest Automation.  Also, northern California utility giant Pacific Gas & Electric has tested IHDs and approved models built by Aztech Associates and Energy Aware.  These IHDs enable homeowners to set up energy-focused home area networks (HANs) and wirelessly connect to smart meters in order to view power consumption in near real-time.  Armed with this data, they can make more informed choices and use energy more efficiently. Outside of the United States, IHDs have also made some inroads.  In Ontario, Canada, a free provincewide program called peaksaver PLUS includes an IHD for customers who enroll; now in its second year, the program provides average savings on bills of about 9%.  One of the key drivers of adoption is the fact that the province is now on time-of-use (TOU) rates, which encourage people to use less energy when electricity rates are high.  So far, some 140,000 homes have displays supplied by Blue Line Innovations, among other providers.   Additionally, Hydro One, a utility serving rural areas of Ontario, has a pilot program to install IHDs from Ambient Devices; results of that trial are still pending.

The Smartphone Factor

In the United Kingdom, millions of IHDs are expected to be installed in the coming years as part of the government’s mandated smart meter deployment.  An IHD is to be made available to every home and small business (some 30 million in all) that receives a new smart electric and gas meter over the next 7 years. As one IHD manufacturer told me recently, IHDs are not dead as a product category, though they have struggled to gain wider attention in a market where app-enabled smartphones and tablets have come to lead.  Therein lies the challenge: despite these concrete examples, overall adoption of IHDs remains low, in the single-digit percentages of utility customers or lower.  Many of these devices work well at communicating consumption, and customers find them useful.  But the trend is toward providing consumption data to the mobile devices that consumers already own and use, which is more convenient for most people.  The BYOD (bring your own device) movement makes it difficult to see a rapidly growing market for IHDs in coming years – outside mandated situations like the United Kingdom or Ontario.


Automated Demand Response Takes Spotlight at DistribuTECH

— January 3, 2014

With the unveiling of LEED 4.0 in late 2013, the Pilot Credit, which has existed for a couple of years, became a full LEED credit.  That means participants can get three LEED points for enrolling in an existing demand response (DR) program using automated demand response (ADR), one point if there is not a program currently available but ADR capabilities exist in the building, and two points if the facility can shift load to off-peak periods.  This increased point potential may encourage more buildings that are going for LEED accreditation to include ADR in their design.

LEED 4.0 will be high on the agenda at DistribuTECH, the annual gathering of the power sector’s transmission and distribution vendors and customers.  The conference session on DR in the LEED Commercial Buildings track at this year’s DistribuTECH will cover the results of the Pilot Credit program and look ahead to what 2014 holds for the latest version of LEED.

DistribuTECH is well-timed, not only because it gets me out of Boston in January and in San Antonio.  Although I’ve worked for several vendors and utilities in the past that participate in DistribuTECH, I’ve not had the opportunity to attend in person.   I’m also currently working on an upcoming report on ADR, so it will be a good chance for me to talk face-to-face with the leaders in the field so they can tell me how accurate or inaccurate my forecasts are.


In addition to LEED, there are a number of other ADR-related aspects of this year’s DistribuTECH.

The session on Demand Response Optimization from a utility perspective will examine ways to leverage DR resources for different value streams and operational purposes.  NV Energy will describe its experience with Alstom’s demand response management system (DRMS), which allows NV to interface with OpenADR or directly with programmable thermostats.  Oklahoma Gas and Electric (OGE), which uses AutoGrid’s DRMS to send signals to thermostats via the Zigbee-based Smart Energy Profile over OGE’s advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) network, is also on the panel.  The next generation of utility DR programs will be “bring your own device” (BYOD), where consumers choose the thermostats they desire at the store and initiate the enrollment process instead of having a technology preselected for them by the utility.

OpenADR falls under the microscope in San Antonio as well, as a number of system operators discuss the progress and results of their use of the standard.  Hawaiian Electric has been running a pilot program to enroll commercial and industrial (C&I) customers to respond within 10 minutes of receiving a signal of an imbalance between supply and demand in order to address a state mandate to incorporate 40% renewable energy in the grid by 2030.  OpenADR unveiled its 2.0 profile specifications in 2013, vastly expanding the applications that can be covered.  International interest in OpenADR has grown quickly, with 20% of member companies now coming from Asia Pacific, including 15 out of the 110 total members in Japan.

The list of exhibitors at DistribuTECH includes players on all sides of the ADR space.  On the C&I side, there are familiar names like Schneider, Siemens, and EnerNOC, as well as relative newcomers like REGEN Energy.  For residential DR, Comverge and ThinkEco represent the implementation and technology field.  Also represented are the companies that work to enable the utilities/grid operators to run DR programs with tools like DRMS, such as Aclara, Alstom, AutoGrid, GE, Lockheed Martin, and OATI.  Finally, groups like the OpenADR Alliance and Zigbee Alliance are working to create standards for DR signals to encourage open communication structures and interoperability of devices.


Wearable, Solar Soldier Power Nears the Battlefield

— December 31, 2013

Seeking to solve one of the most intractable challenges of 21st century low-intensity warfare – supplying power to troops laden with electronic devices and deployed to remote battlefields – the U.S. Army is developing wearable solar panels that will be integrated into uniforms.

Today’s infantryman (or, rather, infantryperson) carries around a dozen pounds of batteries, according to Chris Hurley, battery development team leader at the U.S. Army’s Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center (CERDEC).  ”If we can cut down on the need for batteries, we’re saving fuel costs with the convoys that have to deliver these items to the field,” Hurley told Mashable.

More importantly, wearable solar could save lives: as documented in Navigant Research’s report, Renewable Energy for Military Applications, in forward operating theaters like Afghanistan, one of the most dangerous assignments is delivering fuel (and batteries) to soldiers in the field.

CERDEC is looking for other innovative, lightweight ways to provide what it calls “Soldier Power,” including kinetic energy.  Bionic Power, a Vancouver-based startup, has developed a knee brace that would capture the kinetic energy of a marching soldier and supply it to portable devices.  Called the PowerWalk M-Series, the brace could supply up to 12 watt-hours of electricity, enough to charge two or three smartphones.  The lightweight device would be another step forward for the technology movement examined in Navigant Research’s report, Energy Harvesting.

Last year Bionic Power announced that it has secured contracts with the Army, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and the Canadian Department of Defense to test the PowerWalk.

Paging Tony Stark

The eventual goal, naturally, is an Iron Man-style exoskeleton that can collect its own energy, enhance the wearer’s physical capabilities, and supply data and communications from integrated devices.  Known as the Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit, or TALOS, the superhero armor is being developed by universities and commercial labs under the direction of the Pentagon’s Special Operations Command.  TALOS was first announced by the perfectly named Admiral Bill McRaven, the commanding officer of the Special Ops branch, earlier this year.  It’s still somewhat theoretical – a prototype is not expected for at least 3 years – but it’s already spawning some potentially powerful innovations in materials research.

One of the most intriguing is a nanotech “liquid armor” that would morph on impact (i.e., when struck by a bullet) from a flexible fabric into an impenetrable shell.  “It transitions when you hit it hard,” Norman Wagner, a professor of chemical engineering at the University of Delaware, told NPR. “These particles organize themselves quickly, locally in a way that they can’t flow anymore and they become like a solid.”

On the Runway

The military, of course, is not the only field interested in wearable solar and other futuristic forms of apparel.  The fashion world is forging ahead in this area as well.  The Wearable Solar project, launched by Christiaan Holland from the HAN University of Applied Sciences, in the Netherlands, collaborating with solar energy developers and fashion designer Pauline van Dongen, has produced a line of dresses with built-in solar cells.

“Wearable Solar is about integrating solar cells into fashion, so by augmenting a garment with solar cells the body can be an extra source of energy,” Van Dongen told the online fashion magazine Dezeen at the Wearable Futures conference, in London.


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