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Data and Collaboration Needed to Maintain EV Market Momentum

To capitalize on the clean energy gains achieved during the Obama Administration, White House staff hosted an Electric Vehicle Datathon on Nov. 29 to bring together key government and industry players. The purpose of the event was to maintain the administration’s forward momentum on electric vehicle (EV) deployment, with a special focus on the role of data in expanding the market. For example, vehicle usage data from EV manufacturers can be used to help promote optimal siting of public charging infrastructure.

Election results notwithstanding, the mood at the event was upbeat, with about 60 individuals representing diverse federal agencies, national laboratories, electric vehicle manufacturers, charging infrastructure companies, utilities and other industry stakeholders. Officials from major data warehouses, primarily from federal agencies and laboratories, provided details on the types of data they have and how best to access it. Following these presentations, attendees broke out into smaller groups to discuss what data is still needed to advance the EV industry and how best to collect that information.

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The White House EV Datathon drew a wide range of electric vehicle industry stakeholders, from federal agencies to EV charging companies and utilities. (Photo by Erika Myers)

Electric vehicles have been a major success story for the Obama Administration. All EVs on the roads in the United States today — about half a million, according to figures from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) — were sold during his two terms in office.

Check out the SEPA member brief, Can EVs Offset Solar Losses for Utilities, here.

The past five years have been also seen vast improvements in vehicle technology, costs, and public access to charging infrastructure. According to the DOE, the number of light-duty EV models — primarily passenger cars — has risen from two in 2011 to 28 today, while the number of publicly accessible vehicle chargers has grown from 3,400 plugs in 2011 to more than 42,000 today.

EVs also represent a significant opportunity for utilities. According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance’s Electric Vehicles to be 35% of Global New Car Sales By 2040, a total of 4.4 million electric vehicles will be on the roads by 2030, representing about 113 terawatt-hours of load — substantial load growth. At the same time, the batteries in those cars, strategically deployed, could be a grid asset.

 

The data we do and don’t have

The currently available datasets discussed at the event reflected a range of stakeholder interests — from city planning commissions, to vehicle manufacturers, to utilities. Vehicle usage information has been requested to help plan for infrastructure rollouts, workplace charging programs, vehicle battery sizing, and utility distribution system planning. The methods of collecting this data have varied widely, but direct data collection from the vehicle was cited as the most optimal.

The issues and data needs not fully discussed at the event were equally important. Filling these gaps in information could help address some of the existing and emerging barriers to EV deployment — specifically, access to charging infrastructure, and EVs’ potential role as mobile, distributed grid assets.

 

Here is a quick rundown of issues still to be addressed.

 

1. To set realistic goals for EV infrastructure deployment, we need to consider a role for utilities in the market

Consumers’ fears of EVs running out of power — range anxiety — has been an ongoing challenge for the EV market. The U.S. Department of Transportation’s recently announced Alternative Fuels Corridor Designations for EVs is aimed directly at addressing this issue. The program has designated 48 corridors around the country — about 25,000 miles of highways — as having publicly available Level 2 or DC Fast Charging locations at least every 50 miles.

The problem here is that any EV driver traveling 100 miles or more, or cross-country, would likely need more than a Level 2 charger to be able to refuel in a reasonable amount of time. Level 2 chargers can take four to six hours for a full charge versus 10 to 15 minutes for a DC Fast Charger.

Utilities could play a significant role in the strategic deployment of these charging stations. Specifically, utilities have better visibility into the locations where the distribution system can handle the intense energy requirements of DC fast charging. A fast charge draws about 50 to 100 kW of maximum power output — 10 to 20 times more power than a clothes dryer uses. Utility ownership and control of chargers is a sensitive issue now being debated by regulators in several states, but allowing utilities to participate on some level in the EV infrastructure market could address some of the data gaps.

2. Electric utilities and vehicle manufacturers need each other’s data

Utilities and EV manufacturers both have data that the other wants and needs. Utilities want to have vehicle data to understand EV usage patterns in their areas, such as rates of charge, times of charge, and other load profile information. EV manufacturers want to know what, if any, value the charging capabilities of EV batteries may have for utilities.

Read Erika Myers’ previous EV blog post, Solar Energy and Electric Vehicles: Maximizing Value Through Holistic Utility Programs, here.

For example, programs such as managed charging would allow a utility to manage the rate of charge or to stop it completely during peak periods, much like demand response. The opportunities for data sharing and strategic development between these industries should be further explored and developed, similar to the partnerships we are now seeing between utilities and solar companies.

3. Electric vehicles should be more fully leveraged for grid services

Finally, it was clear from conversations that many questions still remain around what services EVs can provide to the grid, and what value these assets might have for the grid operator. EV valuation could take a form similar to value of solar proceedings in the past, or it could be tied into the larger effort to define DER valuation now underway across the industry.

Getting it right

Though the White House meeting didn’t address these data gaps or specific utility issues in detail, it did highlight the broader need for collaboration between between industry sectors. Utilities traditionally have had very little involvement in the automotive sector, and vice versa. It will take time and dedicated effort to build these relationships and form productive partnerships, but the payoffs could be rewarding for both sides.

Certainly, utilities across the country are recognizing the need to prepare and plan for large-scale EV deployment. Drawing on their experiences with distributed solar, many utilities understand it will take considerable time, effort, and forethought to “get it right.”

Read the SEPA-Nexant report on Addressing the Locational Valuation Challenge for Distributed Energy Resources, here.

For example, better advance planning for widespread residential solar deployment could have avoided some of the concerns about solar’s impact on individual feeders and circuits — and grid stability in general. More proactive partnerships between utilities and inverter manufacturers might have resulted in earlier recognition of advanced inverters’ capabilities to better leverage those solar systems for grid stability. Likewise, if utilities today will more closely coordinate with EV and charging infrastructure manufacturers, they could jointly identify easy upgrades to software or hardware on the vehicles or chargers that would enable more efficient integration and communication with the grid.

The Smart Electric Power Alliance (SEPA) will be releasing research in March 2017 on managed EV charging opportunities for utilities, including the state of the managed charging industry, how utilities are playing a role in the space, current regulatory filings under consideration, and technology issues.

Drop us a line if you’d like to be notified when the report is released.

Beyond its clean-tech cachet, the EV market and value chain in the U.S. may increasingly be framed in terms of jobs and infrastructure — themes that, going forward, may resonate more strongly with the new administration about to settle into the White House.

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