New partnerships are taking shape between automakers, utilities, and other energy companies to tackle the power demand complexities of the shift towards electric vehicles.
Utilities and car companies are “two groups of people that never had to interact before the dawn of EVs,” Joel Levin, executive director of Plug In America, told Utility Dive. But they are now partners “until the end of time, whether they like it or not.”
If only because decisions made by automakers “have a huge impact on utilities, and vice versa.”
The uptake of EVs in the United States has the potential to increase electricity consumption 38% by 2050. And to reach federal net-zero targets in Canada, domestic EVs will consume 156.5 terawatt-hours of electricity per year by 2050, “representing 22.6% of current domestic annual electricity consumption,” found [pdf] a 2020 study.
The increasing electricity consumption is poised to reshape how utilities manage new demand dynamics like higher peak loads which, if mishandled, could pose reliability concerns. These emerging challenges are compounded by automakers introducing bigger EVs with larger batteries and faster charging capabilities.
Partnerships to address these challenges are taking a variety of forms. California utility Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) has partnered with automaker BMW since 2015 for a smart-charging pilot to manage EV charging loads. In May, their work expanded to explore ways for EVs to send power back to the grid through vehicle-to-everything (V2X) technologies, part of a shift in which utilities increasingly see EVs as potential distributed energy resources (DERs).
A similar pilot took place in Canada in 2021, when clean tech company Peak Power partnered with the federal government and Nissan to test bidirectional charging with 21 Nissan LEAF EVs in Toronto.
Consolidated Edison, which powers New York City and Westchester County, is working with General Motors’ new energy management unit, GM Energy, to test how EV chargers can track energy use and charging behaviour without a separate meter. ConEd has also partnered with the FLO charging network and NYC to test curbside charging options, which are critical to making EVs accessible to people who rely on street parking.
In a somewhat different kind of partnership, Vermont utility Green Mountain Power is working with Motor, a company with a mandate to accelerate EV adoption, to implement a “Try-an-EV” program. Customers who sign up and pay a monthly fee get to select an EV, schedule delivery, have a Level 2 charger installed in their home, and enroll in the utility’s EV rate plans, writes Utility Dive.
The pilot aims to collect information on EV owners’ charging behaviours, the effectiveness of various strategies in shifting load to off-peak periods, and the costs and challenges of implementing those strategies. Newfoundland Power says it can avoid charging customers more to increase system capacity if it can convince them to charge their vehicles during periods of low demand.