Vehicle-grid integration is a starting point, not an afterthought on the road to electrification

EV charging infrastructure, ABB
Shutterstock Julius Kielaitis
An ABB Power supply for electric car charging. ABB is a Swiss-Swedish corporation operating mainly in robotics, power, heavy electrical equipment.

As a global leader in environmental policy, California has adopted ambitious goals to transition not only to a zero-emission transportation sector but simultaneously to a 100 percent carbon-free electric grid by 2045.

Using the flexibility of electric vehicle charging could help California to meet both its transportation electrification and renewable energy goals. SB 676, signed into law Oct. 2 by Gov. Gavin Newsom, is a key milestone in achieving this vision.

Some perspective: Electric vehicles (EVs) are widely popular in the state and gaining traction fast: Sales were up 63.7 percent year over year, towards a goal of 1.5 million zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs) on the road by 2025, and 5 million by 2030.

In total, over 625,000 EVs are on California roads today. With more affordable and longer-range models coming to market, interest in this transportation option will only rise.

The state is also aggressively pursuing electrification of medium and heavy-duty vehicle fleets. The Innovative Clean Transit Regulation passed by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) in 2018 mandates that transit agencies transition to zero-emission buses by 2040. Similarly, CARB’s Advanced Clean Trucks Regulation is designed to accelerate medium and heavy-duty ZEV adoption by requiring manufacturers to sell an increasing percentage of their fleet chassis as electric.

Public and private companies are also taking note of the advantages of transitioning to ZEV fleets, with Amazon recently ordering 100,000 electric delivery trucks.

The time is now to get EV charging right. That means incorporating vehicle-grid integration (VGI) policy and technology into the emerging system of electrified transportation now.

All these EVs, from light-duty passenger cars to heavy-duty trucks, will need to be plugged into an electrical grid with the ability to handle and respond to increased electricity demand — and be charged with energy that is increasingly being generated by renewable resources.

Managing all of this energy on the grid while ensuring that millions of vehicles can be reliably charged will require new, intelligent energy management solutions along with effective policies to help spur investment.

California’s 2045 target of 100 percent carbon-free electricity will be largely comprised of wind and solar generation. Renewables, however, are not naturally "dispatchable" and have different energy patterns than centralized fossil fuel-based forms of generation. For example, solar is most abundant in the middle of the day.

This dual decarbonization effort, in a sense, places the transportation and energy industries at an intersection as the two become increasingly intertwined. These electrified transportation and renewable energy goals will not be achieved at the lowest cost unless the use of renewable energy for vehicle charging can be maximized. Up until now, the electric grid was designed to let energy generation follow load, but now load will need to follow generation.

VGI technology allows for charging to occur when it is most beneficial to the grid while still ensuring that customer needs are met. This could be when rates are most attractive or when a high proportion of renewables are available on the grid.

VGI also gives utilities and grid operators more options to balance the grid and optimize the use of power available on the grid at any given time.

Learn more about vehicle-to-grid integration and electric vehicle infrastructure strategy during the VERGE Transport conference at VERGE 19 Oct. 22 -24 in Oakland, California.

While VGI solutions are still being explored and slowly introduced, the time is now to enact policies that encourage and incentivize the rollout of these technologies as EV penetration and charging infrastructure are ramping up. Implementing VGI solutions at scale today will have a greater impact in the future and help California reach its ambitious energy goals more efficiently and cost-effectively by using EVs as grid assets.

If, on the other hand, we wait to implement VGI solutions — whether smart charging (V1G) or vehicle-to-grid (V2G) — the cost of implementation likely will be much higher. The effect would be similar to retrofitting a more efficient engine into a car five years into its life, rather than equipping it as such from the factory.

SB 676 is aimed at optimizing the interaction of EVs and the grid in a way that is beneficial to electricity ratepayers. This can be achieved in a variety of ways: adopting smart charging technologies or altering rate structures to effectively use EVs as a distributed "virtual battery" to avoid expensive grid distribution upgrades, reduce the cost of generation and maximize environmental benefits, all of which ultimately lower costs for ratepayers.

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) recently resumed its VGI Working Group with the goal of identifying the regulatory frameworks and improvements in market participation pathways that are needed to unlock the full value of VGI. SB 676 will require the CPUC to establish strategies by Dec. 31, 2020, that will maximize the use of cost-effective and feasible VGI through 2030.

Implementing VGI solutions at scale now not only would benefit ratepayers, it also would give automakers a clear signal of this technology’s value in a crowded and highly competitive automobile market. As VGI solutions succeed in the marketplace, automakers will be incentivized to build these technologies and service offerings into their products from the start.

Stakeholders across the EV spectrum, from charging network providers to major automotive OEMs, energy industry suppliers and environmental groups have shown support for SB 676 — acknowledging that now is the time to catalyze the opportunity to use flexible EV charging load in order to achieve California’s decarbonization targets.