Navigant Research Blog

Demand Response Will Improve EV Economics

— February 17, 2014

With EVs selling in the U.S. by the thousands each month, their collective impact on the grid is getting increasing attention from utilities that are looking to reward EV owners for helping to balance power supply and demand.  EVs give power providers a new resource for smoothing peak loads and contending with the rising amount of variable power produced by renewable solar and wind assets.

For several years organizations such as the SAE, IEEE, and SGIP have been creating standards to enable smart grid equipment to communicate with EVs and their charging stations. This “smart charging” technology will delay or ramp up vehicle charging in response to changing grid conditions, including through demand response (DR) programs.  According to Navigant Research’s Vehicle to Grid Technologies report, by 2020 EVs enrolled in commercial DR programs will be able to curtail up to 272 MW of peak load in North America, which will come in handy on those hot afternoons when power demand outpaces supply.

Utilities are slowly removing humans from the DR equation through automated demand response systems.  According to Navigant Research’s recently published report, Automated Demand Response , roughly $13 million is expected to be spent on ADR globally in 2014, with investment rising to $185 million in 2023.

ADR Spending by Region, World Markets: 2014-2023


(Source: Navigant Research)

EVs connected to charging equipment using service provider Greenlots’ software platform will be able to participate in demand response thanks to a software upgrade.  Greenlots announced last week that the OpenADR Alliance has certified its SKY EV charging platform as compliant with OpenADR 2.0b, a standard that utilities are rallying around to send pricing information and demand response signals.

Utilities compensate demand response participants when they voluntarily reduce their consumption, which in the case of EVs could include payments to “site owners” where the vehicles charge, automotive companies (which can aggregate the power consumed by EV drivers) and the vehicle owners themselves. While slicing the revenue this way reduces the money available to EV owners, the payments could reduce the cost of vehicle charging and make EVs a more attractive purchase.

For example, employers could offer free or heavily discounted EV charging to workers who agree to participate in the company’s DR program.  Electricity vehicle charging amounts to only 25-30% of the cost of gasoline to power a vehicle, and dropping the “refueling” cost to close to zero would shorten the payback of switching to electric drive.

In the future, utilities could take advantage of this new grid-to-vehicle communications platform to prevent transformer overheating, which is expected to be the most common problem for the grid caused by the proliferation of EV charging.  However, because of the cost of adding sensors to transformers that would detect stress, utilities are likely to wait until the current installed equipment fails before replacing it with EV-friendly technology.


EVs Integrate With the Smart Grid

— December 20, 2013

More than 1 million plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) will be on American roads by 2017, according to Navigant Research’s Electric Vehicle Market Forecasts report, which in aggregate has the potential to increase or extend the peak load on the power grid.  However, thanks to new onboard technology for smartly managing vehicle charging, they will become a considerable asset to the power grid at little cost to utilities.

Automakers don’t want PEVs to be disruptive to the power grid, and they do want consumers to pay as little as possible for electricity; therefore, many companies are integrating technology to make their vehicles responsive to the grid.  For example, GM’s new 2014 Cadillac ELR includes hardware and software enabling the vehicle to receive and respond to grid pricing and performance data via the vehicles’ OnStar’s telematics system. The smart grid features on the ELR include:

  • Demand response: An API is included that will be used for a future opt-in service that enables customers to save money on energy costs by turning off charging in response to signals from the electric grid.  GM hasn’t said anything about if or how customers will be compensated.
  • Time-of-Use rates: Via OnStar, the ELR can receive dynamic time-of-use pricing from utilities and select and send a rate plan to the vehicle to simplify scheduling of charging times.
  • Charging data: GM will collect EV data, including locations, to direct customers to charging stations, while also allowing them to provide information to utilities about potential load scenarios.
  • Aggregated services: GM will enable ELRs to coordinate charging with energy aggregating companies to better match electricity demand to supply in a specific geographic area.

GM is not alone in adding grid features; Ford, Chrysler, and others are also looking to work with (and get money from) grid operators by tracking when, where, and how vehicles charge.  As described in Navigant Research’s recent report, Vehicle to Grid Technologies, the most popular vehicle-to-grid application will be demand response, in which energy customers voluntarily reduce demand when the grid is stressed.

Utilities will look with favor on PEVs because, unlike purchasing stationary energy storage to balance the grid, the batteries within the PEVs don’t cost the utilities anything; they only need to develop an adequate method of compensating vehicle owners.

The Cadillac ELR is a range-extended vehicle that can travel up to 37 miles on battery power alone, and up to 340 miles with the gas engine providing additional power to charge the batteries.  The ELR also comes loaded with safety features such as lane departure warning, forward collision warning, and other systems that are part of the suite of emerging autonomous vehicle features, which are described in Navigant Research’s Autonomous Vehicles report.  While other PEVs offer automatic regenerative braking or multiple settings that will slow the car and capture energy, the ELR includes small paddles on the steering column.  It will be interesting to see how consumers respond to braking by hand rather than by foot.

With a base price of “only” $75,000, the car isn’t much more expensive than the gasoline-powered Cadillac CTS-V Coupe ($64,900), and will compete with the $72,400, 265-mile range Tesla Model S.


Sensus Lands Great Britain Smart Grid Communications Deal

— August 14, 2013

Raleigh, North Carolina-based Sensus was the only American company to win a piece of the long-awaited Great Britain smart meter deployment contracts, which were announced on August 14.  The U.K. Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) selected  Arqiva Limited as the preferred bidder to provide the smart metering communications service for Northern England and Scotland.  In conjunction with Arqiva, Sensus will provide the long-range radio technology for the communications network.  DECC estimates the value of the communications service contract to be £625 million ($828.5 million) over 15 years.

Sensus’ FlexNet technology will deliver data from both gas and electric meters at 10.2 million locations across the region, or between 16 million and 17 million meters.  Sensus will be providing base stations and long-range radios that will communicate with a hub at each meter location.  Base stations will be mounted on Arqiva-owned communications towers; Arqiva owns 8,000 cellular towers and several thousand radio and television broadcast towers across the U.K.

Sensus says the complexity of the region to be served was a big reason for its selection.  Covering both rural and urban areas, the district reaches from the Highlands of Scotland to the City of Manchester.  Sensus reports a range of up to 40 miles in rural locations for its Flexnet wireless network, and 2 to 3 miles in urban and suburban locations.  Cellular provider Telefónica UK was chosen for the more urban central and southern region communications contracts.

FlexNet is a point-to-multipoint private radio frequency (RF) solution.  In the United States, FlexNet operates on licensed 900 MHz spectrum; in the U.K. the solution will operate over licensed 400 MHz spectrum owned by Arqiva.  The use of licensed spectrum allows for higher power transmission than unlicensed communications networks, and is generally not subject to the interference that may occur in unlicensed systems.  The system uses a star topology, with nodes communicating with a centrally located tower.  Each node typically sees more than one tower, allowing for network redundancy.

Big Win

The solution was designed to meet DECC’s service level requirements and has the ability to prioritize data through channelization.  The FlexNet system can support data throughput of 1 megabit per second.

The solution will support pre-pay and load-shedding applications, and will also facilitate British consumers’ ability to change retail energy providers in the deregulated market.

The deal is a very big win for Sensus and positions the company well for future business in Europe.  Sensus says that it already serves 475 electric, gas, and water utilities worldwide.  Previously, however, the bulk of Sensus’ business was in North America.  PECO in Philadelphia, for example, is deploying the FlexNet communications network in its 1.8 million meter smart grid program and plans a wide range of distribution automation applications over the network, in addition to traditional AMI applications.

Navigant Research estimates that point-to-multipoint communications nodes accounted for just 2% of total smart grid communications nodes worldwide at the end of 2012.  With Sensus’ significant entrée into Europe, however, it’s possible that share may grow in coming years.


Utilities Nourish Smart Grids With Fiber

— August 14, 2013

Discussions of communications networks for smart grid initiatives tend to focus on private, radio-frequency (RF) mesh solutions in the United States, or narrowband-power line communications (N-PLC) in Europe and Asia.  As utilities look ahead to a truly integrated and robust smart grid, though, more and more demands will be placed upon the underlying communications network.  The need for high bandwidth, low latency, signal prioritization, and high security will only become greater over the course of the next decade.

At the same time, the integration of distribution automation (DA) applications with advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) is highlighting the limits of many AMI communications networks to support critical DA applications today. (For more on AMI/DA integration, see Navigant Research’s forthcoming report on Integrating Distribution Automation Applications with Advanced Metering Infrastructure.)  Limits, that is, unless the network is built upon fiber optics.

“Fiber-to-the-meter” isn’t a concept that many utilities talk about, primarily because of the very high cost of deploying fiber.  Passing a home with fiber can range from $700-$800 per home in densely populated areas to $4,000-$5,000 per home in lower density areas.  Despite the expense, a number of utilities in the U.S. have decided to deploy fiber to the meter—and their smart grids are among the smartest in the nation.

Generally speaking, municipal utilities have led the way in installing fiber optics, justifying the investment by offering a triple-play service (voice/video/data).  With consumers willing to spend upwards of $100 each month or more for triple-play services, the utility can justify the investment apart from the improved efficiency of its grid.

No Competition

Electric Power Board (EPB) in Chattanooga, Tennessee, is the largest such fiber-to-the-meter deployment in the U.S. to date, and the reported results have been impressive.  EPB’s 6,500-mile fiber network provides 5 millisecond (ms) speeds, enabling a full suite of DA applications, including automated self-healing and fault location, isolation, and service restoration (FLISR).

EPB reports that when remnants of Tropical Storm Lee hit Chattanooga in September 2011, even though its system was only about half deployed and less than 20% was automated, nearly one-third of homes and businesses in its service area avoided outage altogether or experienced less than a 2-second interruption, thanks to the automation built into the network.  In 2012, EPB’s average interruption duration index (SAIDI) fell 24% from 109 minutes to 82.5 minutes.  EPB also says its AMI applications are helping it avoid truck rolls and more easily verify restoration.  The robustness of fiber means that the number of applications the utility may now integrate is virtually unlimited—no other smart grid communications network today offers that kind of capacity (although 4G wireless may get there).

Unfortunately, fiber isn’t an option for all utilities today, and not only because of the costs.  Sixteen states have enacted legislation to prevent electric utilities from competing against franchised video service providers (cable and DBS); in other locales, the cable industry has filed lawsuits to stop the competition.  Without the monthly triple-play service revenue that fiber enables, many utilities will be unable to justify the expense.  Longer-term, cooperation among the cable, telecom, and utility industries might result in the ultimate in smart grid and robust communications and entertainment infrastructure—but that will no doubt require regulatory intervention.


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