Rethinking the Grid for EVs
Interoperability and ‘smart’ energy management are vital for meeting EV charging demand.
The clock is ticking for the automotive industry to meet looming “greener” energy deadlines, which will come into effect at the end of the decade. Achieving widescale adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) and meeting the mandates will require significant changes. One area that needs more attention is how to power the transition to an electric future. With the demand for electricity expected to grow nearly 20% by 2050 due to EVs and other clean tech initiatives, the grid is under immense pressure. With the aging infrastructure already creaking, expecting it to support this growth is not feasible using the established electricity value chain: generation, transmission, distribution, and consumption. Successfully powering the transition requires utilities and the broader ecosystem to collaborate and look at energy capacity in new ways.
As more EVs take to the road, coupled with fast charging networks, the growing load on the grid could drive a mismatch of supply and demand, increasing the likelihood of system-wide failures. Moving forward, interoperability and intelligent energy management are vital, requiring all parties, including policymakers, to develop a roadmap to ensure the necessary capacity.
Renewable energy resources, including wind and solar, will help. But their inherent variability has the potential to further exacerbate challenges of supply/demand mismatch. This is why energy storage is so important. Careful coordination and intelligent utilization are critical to ensure a balance between demand and generation.
Energy generation & distribution
Centralized generation and unidirectional power flow are not the answer for meeting the challenge. Instead, innovations such as bidirectional power flow, which takes energy from the grid when demand is low to recharge the vehicle and then sells the excess power back to the grid, will be critical. Tesla’s opt-in program sends power from its batteries back to the grid during peak demand.
The shift to vehicle-to-grid (V2G) turns EVs into energy storage systems that can relieve pressure on the grid. New intelligent power conversion technology and utility communication capabilities built into EVs and charging stations enable V2G. Additionally, they allow vehicles to communicate with, and help stabilize the grid by using the onboard battery as a grid-tied energy storage system. Bidirectional chargers are starting to become available, with Nissan and Ford introducing their first versions (https://www.sae.org/news/2022/01/bi-directional-charging-amps-up). However, the systems are not inexpensive and often require additional specialized hardware. Encouraging individuals to embrace V2G will require utilities to implement an incentive program to accelerate uptake.
Utilities, automotive companies and charging infrastructure organizations must collaborate to use EVs as energy storage distributed energy resources (DERs) to support the grid and improve resiliency. Adding innovative energy storage solutions is critical as building out capacity to the existing grid is not viable. By enabling higher levels of renewable energy, this supports sustainability efforts and net-zero initiatives.
Interoperability & standardization
Another component of smart energy management is making interoperability mandatory. The existing grid is fragmented, and regulations are vital so the industry ecosystem can function in unison. For example, EVs and charging stations must meet new and evolving standards for DER interconnection and interoperability with the power grid.
Regulatory hurdles will need to be overcome to support V2G for vehicles to actively participate in the health of the grid rather than simply being a drain. Once this is in place, utility operators can manage DERs as a resource to accommodate the diverse energy mix and shifting demands. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) are working to clear a path for DERs to play a more prominent role in the energy ecosystem. The NERC is a not-for-profit international regulatory authority. Its mission is to assure the effective and efficient reduction of risks to the reliability and security of the grid across the U.S., Canada, and northern Baja California. It is subject to oversight by the FERC and governmental authorities in Canada. For example, FERC 2222 enables DERs to be part of the wholesale energy markets run by regional grid operators. This will incentivize DER adoption and lower costs, adding flexibility and resiliency to support more innovation.
Visibility & grid-edge testing
Utility organizations need to digitize their infrastructure to have the necessary visibility to deploy energy resources dynamically. With DERs, managing the distribution network is much more complex. In addition, fast-charging networks will result in unpredictable load surges, making more granularity vital. Over time AI and machine learning will be incorporated to provide the intelligence to predict, plan and manage EV charging to ensure the required resiliency and support dynamic load management. Utility operators need detailed insights to manage power generators and distribution.
As the modern grid evolves, it will become increasingly digitized to manage and optimize energy distribution. DERs will be incorporated, supported by advanced power converters and inverters to enable the flow of power both ways. Battery energy storage systems (BESS) will store excess energy that can flow back to the grid during demand peaks. Testing the converters and inverters in the power grid, their interoperability with each other and utilities and energy management systems is essential to ensure safety and performance across complex DER networks.
Off-peak rates and demand
Utility companies are starting to adopt flexible rate structures to better balance demand and alleviate pressure on the grid. Time-of-day electricity pricing has lower rates during off-peak times. These programs and others such as EV and solar tax rebates, are important tools for providers to encourage participation and build social acceptance.
Achieving mass adoption of EVs is complex and smart energy management is a foundational part of making this a reality. With demand for electricity set to soar, the energy and automotive sectors must collaborate and operate in lockstep if the electric transformation is to become a reality.
Thomas Goetzl is VP & GM Automotive & Energy Solutions at Keysight Technologies.