The plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) available today can help grid operators manage the grid – although few in use actually do. This is not too much of a problem now, but as more PEVs populate roads, utilities are likely to become increasingly concerned with managing and making use of these mobile assets. Today’s PEVs represent a significant increase in residential electricity demand and, if unmanaged, could cause problems with distribution-level transformers and could drastically increase demand during peak hours when PEV owners return from work and plug in their vehicles. The effect would force utilities to make upgrades to distribution networks that would likely be passed on in the form of higher rates to consumers.
Contrarily, PEVs also represent an increase in load that could be used to capture renewable electricity generation and help balance generation with demand, theoretically making electricity marginally cheaper and cleaner.
This latter scenario would likely decrease electric bills, as the utility would be able to provide more energy through the existing infrastructure, thus avoiding transformer capacity upgrades. Most of the technologies to accomplish this process have already been developed, and multiple companies and organizations, such as GreenLots, PowerTech Labs, and the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), are busy testing respective platforms for future deployment. However, to achieve such a paradigm, utilities need to develop demand response (DR) programs that are both simple and compelling to the consumer – not an easy task.
A PEV owner’s understanding of why the charging of his or her car should be scheduled or managed by the utility is not fundamental to the owner’s participation in any given utility DR program. However, the price at which the PEV owner will choose to participate in the program is. In other words, the more money saved, the more PEV owners will be willing to participate. Given that, there is a problem: driving on electricity is really cheap.
Most battery electric vehicles in use have an operating efficiency of around 3 miles/kWh, and the average residential electricity price in the United States is around $0.13/kWh. This means that if the average electric vehicle is driven 1,000 miles in a month, energy costs will be slightly over $40. This low energy cost means the actual savings from participation in a DR program would also be low and might not justify the investment from the utility or the energy aggregator for the smart charging infrastructure.
On the other hand, investment costs are zero for the PEV owner, as much of the necessary system elements already come standard on PEVs. They will likely be low for utilities and/or energy aggregators depending on how many vehicles participate. Additionally, the costs and savings equation will vary widely across the United States, based on a utility’s ability to balance the grid without PEVs. The trick for utilities and energy aggregators will be to make DR compelling enough to attract future PEV owners who may be less tech-savvy than initial PEV adopters.
Tags: Clean Transportation, Demand Response, Electric Vehicles, Smart Grid, Smart Transportation Program
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