Several new models of plug-in electric vehicles will enter the market in 2012, joining the Nissan LEAF and Chevrolet Volt. The Edison Electric Institute has prepared four suggestions to help utilities smoothly handle the introduction of these vehicles to roads and grids.
This is an important year for electric transportation. Following late-2010 introductions of electric vehicles by Nissan and General Motors, other major auto manufacturers and several startups will be offering their customers a plug-in electric vehicle (PEV) in 2012. Among the new PEVs being introduced this year are the Toyota Prius Plug-in, Mitsubishi i, Ford Focus Electric, smart fortwo electric drive, and the Tesla Model S (Figure 1). From compact two-seaters to hatchbacks and luxury sedans, PEVs will soon be coming to car dealerships nationwide.
|1. Major 2012 EV introductions. From top to bottom: Toyota Prius Plug-in, Mitsubishi i, Ford Focus Electric, smart fortwo electric drive, and Tesla Model S. Courtesy: Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.; Mitsubishi Motors; Ford Motor Co.; Mercedes-Benz USA, LLC; Tesla Motors|
To help electric utilities get themselves and their customers ready for these new electric cars and trucks, the Edison Electric Institute (EEI) has produced The Utility Guide to Plug-In Electric Vehicle Readiness. The Guide builds on lessons learned by utilities serving the cities and regions where the Nissan LEAF and Chevrolet Volt were introduced just over a year ago. It also includes advice and insight from automotive and utility industry leaders, as well as groups such as the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) and the Electric Drive Transportation Association.
The Guide identifies four main issues that every electric utility will need to address to make sure it is ready for PEVs to plug into its service area’s grid.
Get Up to Speed
The first thing to realize is that PEVs will affect nearly all aspects of a utility’s business. Here are just two aspects of preparedness.
Utility Structure and Organization. Customer-facing employees and media staff will need training. Regulatory and policy staffs need to understand how PEVs can impact rates and legislation. Engineers and planners may need new tools for forecasting loads and managing distribution systems. PEVs may also involve demand management programs, grid modernization initiatives, and customer information and billing systems.
PEVs are cleaner than gasoline-powered vehicles; therefore, utilities may wish to analyze their environmental benefits in light of future carbon credits and emissions actions.
Utility Fleet PEVs. Adding PEVs to a utility’s fleet can return a number of benefits, such as gaining direct, valuable experience in PEV technology, test-charging infrastructure, and demand response systems. It can also make a positive public statement about the company’s position on clean transportation.
Several types of PEVs can be added to the fleet, including PEV bucket trucks, delivery vans, SUVs, and 4-door sedans. Some are available commercially, while others are only available through demonstration projects or trial programs.
To fund PEV additions, some utilities have used traditional means or have used them as components of a research project on smart charging, demand-side management, grid modernization, emissions, or load. Funding from Clean Cities, the Department of Energy, or other sources may be available to offset the PEV cost premium.
Enhance the Customer Experience
The second consideration is the customer experience. For PEVs to be a success, customers must be happy. They will need to know about the benefits that PEVs can offer and experience them firsthand. To help ensure a positive customer experience, education and outreach will be essential, beginning with information about the differences among PEVs.
Types of PEVs. One type of PEV is the battery or “pure” electric car, like the Nissan LEAF. It uses a battery and an electric motor to supply all of its power; there is no supplemental gasoline engine. When the battery gets low, the car can be plugged into an ordinary outlet for a recharge. The LEAF and other pure electric PEVs have a driving range of up to 100 miles on a full charge. All-electrics with a larger battery, such as the Tesla Roadster, can travel more than 200 miles on a single battery charge.
Other PEVs, like the Chevy Volt, use a hybrid of gasoline and electricity to power the vehicle. As with non-plug-in gas-electric hybrids—such as the Toyota Prius—the Volt uses battery power in addition to a gasoline engine to supply power. But unlike non-plug-in hybrids, the hybrid PEV (depending on the model) can drive between 10 and 40 miles on its electric charge alone before gasoline is consumed. Once the battery charge is depleted, the gas engine allows the car to drive about another 300 miles. When the owner gets home, the hybrid PEV can be plugged into an outlet to recharge its battery, just like the LEAF.
Cost Benefits. Either type of PEV is good news for consumers. Research shows that the typical driver travels an average of 32 miles a day. This means that the majority of PEV owners will be able to operate on battery power—with minimal or no gasoline usage—to meet their daily driving needs. And when they need to recharge, the cost of an equivalent electric “gallon” of gasoline is about $1.00.
Environmental and Employment Benefits. As more and more PEVs take to the road, the country will benefit as well. By using less gasoline than regular cars, PEVs can help to reduce our nation’s dependency on foreign oil. This in turn will increase our energy independence and reduce vehicle emissions. And as the nation transitions to a new era of electric transportation, demand for jobs in this new technology sector will continue to increase. From manufacturing batteries to building the charging infrastructure, PEVs will create high-quality job opportunities throughout the country.
Communicating the Benefits. Utilities will want to present a uniform set of basic PEV facts to the public, supplemented with their own rates, incentives, and program information. Here’s what they’ll need to provide to various stakeholders:
- Utility customers will need to know about the availability and benefits of specific PEV rates, vehicle “fueling” costs, and basic charging information.
- Commercial and governmental fleet managers will want guidance on how to best integrate PEVs into their fleets.
- Local media will want to report what the local utility is doing to enable the new technology.
- Local government agencies will be seeking guidance on best practices.
To get the word out about PEVs, electric utilities are using a wide variety of communication channels. These include the traditional bill inserts, brochures, public events, and speeches, along with a host of electronic methods, including websites, email, and social media.
It is important to note that PEVs are a technology that utility customers believe their electric utility should be encouraging. In fact, in a survey from the third quarter of 2011, EEI found that 65% believe that electric utilities “should [be] working and investing now to assure [sic] that the proper infrastructure [is] in place for convenient recharging of electric vehicles.” Furthermore, a majority (56%) want to see their “utility take a leadership role in encouraging a shift toward electric transportation.”
Include Very Important Passengers (VIPs)
Successful introduction of PEVs requires the support of many different groups and stakeholders. Below is a quick look at these groups and the issues and activities that utilities must consider when working with each.
State Regulators. For utilities governed by public utility commissions, educating and informing regulators about the need for appropriate PEV rates and programs will be essential. Other issues that utilities will most likely need to address with state regulators include: adequacy of resources to serve PEV loads; rate impacts and cost allocations of PEV infrastructure and programs; the use of smart metering and communications technologies to manage, track, and bill for PEV energy usage; and new PEV rates or programs to encourage off-peak charging.
Federal and State Legislators. Electric utilities around the nation will be the fuel providers of the future PEV fleet. This will have wide-ranging policy impacts at federal and state levels. To ensure the success of PEV technology, utilities should broadly support policies that offer incentives for vehicle purchase and home-charging installations, as well as incentives for investment in research and manufacturing of vehicles, batteries, and components.
Important Stakeholders. Many states have established regional or statewide working groups to address the many issues and barriers surrounding transportation electrification. These broad stakeholder collaborative groups—which typically include state agencies, utilities, automakers, environmental groups, commercial interests, and local communities—have become a best practice way to educate a broad audience, foster the adoption of favorable PEV policies, and remove many policy barriers to PEV adoption. We recommend that electric utilities participate actively with these groups, taking a leadership role or forming new groups where needed.
Plug into the Grid
As more and more PEVs are purchased, utilities must be proactive to ensure that customers get the charging network they need. To ensure that new PEVs in their service area run smoothly for both themselves and their customers, utilities will have to address the following issues.
Power Usage. Unlike other electric appliances, PEVs vary greatly in how much electricity they use and when and where they use it.
Charging Location. Studies have shown that in terms of generation, transmission, and distribution, widespread PEV adoption will have little to no effect on the electric system for many years. EPRI has done studies that indicate distribution systems are unlikely to have any major problems, even if PEV sales grow at moderate levels. Two big mitigating factors will be when and where customers recharge their PEVs. In one scenario, where home and workplace charging were available to all vehicles, the average load per PEV peaked below 0.75 kWh.
Charging Infrastructure. Next to the PEV itself, the system for charging it is most important. Utilities can fill several key roles to ensure that both conventional and “critical” charging infrastructure is in place when their customers need it. Electric companies are also exploring a variety of rate options that will provide consumers with appropriate price signals.
An Integrated Future. The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, EPRI, The Society of Automotive Engineers, and other groups are collaborating on the development of smart charging standards that will integrate PEVs with utility meters and smart grid systems.
Download the Guide
Electric transportation offers consumers and the nation tremendous opportunity. The new EEI Guide gives utilities an important tool to help them support, encourage, and enable electric transportation to reach its full potential. Download a free copy of The Utility Guide to Plug-In Electric Vehicle Readiness from http://www.eei.org/newsroom/energynews/Pages/20111115.aspx.
— Rich Tempchin (firstname.lastname@example.org) is executive director, Retail Energy Services for the Edison Electric Institute.