How Utilities Can Balance the Growth of EV Charging Consumption

Electric vehicle (EV) adoption is proceeding faster than anticipated even a year ago. Recent projections say EVs could account for 30 to 42 million light-duty vehicles on U.S. roads in 2030. That does not include municipal and school buses, delivery vans or medium- and heavy-duty trucks, which are also undergoing electrification. All will be new sources of energy consumption drawing on the grid to charge their batteries.

The questions for the U.S. energy industry are: Will generation capacity and the grid be able to support charging needs? Will the right capacity and grid connections be ready at the right place and time for the direct-current fast-charging (DCFC) infrastructure buildout, when waiting periods can already run to a year or more? And will the local distribution system suffer congestion and outages when an entire neighborhood plugs in their EVs at the end of the day, as is already happening in the Netherlands?


Sizing Need For New EV Charging Capacity

Although $7.5 billion in federal funding for highway-corridor DCFC EV charging captures headlines, it is only the tip of the iceberg in what’s really needed to keep EVs running. According to a new data-driven study  from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), 28 million charging ports will be needed to support 33 million passenger EVs, a mid-range EV adoption scenario, consisting of:

  • 182,000 publicly accessible DCFC (Level 3) charging ports for long-distance travel, ride-hailing electrification, and drivers who don’t have residential charging
  • 1 million Level 2 charging ports at publicly accessible locations where people already park, such as high-density neighborhoods, office buildings and retail outlets
  • 26 million Level 1 and Level 2 charging ports at private locations, including single-family homes, multifamily dwellings and workplaces, where 80 – 90 percent of charging takes place.

For comparison, a 2022 study by the Edison Electric Institute (EEI) projects that 140,000 fast-charging ports will be needed to support 26.4 million EVs in 2030, along with 12.9 million other charge points. Today, there are some 32,811 public DCFC ports and 109,222 public Level 2 charging ports available in the U.S. (as of Aug. 14, 2023).

The Driivz platform provides a wealth of information for utilities and other power providers serving the EV charging network. Source: Driivz

A number of new EV charging industry players are entering the market to close the significant infrastructure gap that exists today, including electric utilities. Others are EV manufacturers, oil and gas companies, truck stop and convenience store retailers, and legacy and new EV charging network operators. All will be competing for state-level contracts funded by the federal government to build DCFC charging locations—and the new grid infrastructure that will be required.

One advantage the electric energy industry has is that demand for new grid connections and increased capacity to support EV charging will happen over time, allowing the opportunity to adjust supply in pace with demand. On the other hand, the coming demand for EV charging support is “lumpy.” In most cases, highway-corridor charging hubs in metropolitan areas may be relatively easy to accommodate, while charging stations located in rural stretches will require rapid upgrades for grid connections.

The same holds true for electricity supply and demand. While some estimates suggest that on a global level, EV charging will only account for about 4% of total demand for electricity by 2030. However, that demand happens in peaks—morning peaks for workday charging, early evening peaks for home charging, and highly volatile spikes for public fast-charging stations. According to one analysis, when local EV penetration hits 25%, the local peak load can increase by 30%. Eventually, unmanaged peak loads will push local infrastructure beyond capacity and require upgrades.

Reducing Capacity Expansion with Demand Management and Smart EV Charging

For single-family residential customers not managed by EV charging aggregators, time of use (ToU) rates are proving to be an effective way to manage EV charging demand and cut peak loads by as much as half, deferring or avoiding investments in capacity expansion. These programs are easy to implement, incentivizing individual EV drivers to delay charging from peak times in the early evening until after midnight or to charge at mid-day when solar power is plentiful.

The Driivz Smart EV Charging and Energy Management Platform brings flexibility and scalability to support rapid EV charging across residential and commercial and industrial properties. Source: Driivz

Smart home charging stations controlled by mobile apps allow EV owners to “set and forget” timers to start charging at a specified time. To automate participation and to avoid over consumption, utilities may be forced to require residential charging customers to install chargers that can receive demand response signals. For customer satisfaction, however, EV owners should have a way to suspend program participation so a vehicle can be charged when it’s needed.

“Front of the meter” demand-response programs, combined with “behind the meter” smart energy management software, enable electric utilities to partner with large EV charging customers to level out the load curve during normal operations and selectively reduce demand to avoid outages during extreme weather events and other grid-stressing circumstances. For example, demand response programs could include contractual limits on maximum load, dynamic response to real-time grid conditions, and planned demand reduction in response to event- or price-based signals.

These large EV charging customers include commercial locations that offer charge-at-work facilities, multi-family complexes with EV charging for residents, fleet depot operators, and operators of public or publicly available charging hubs and networks. Smart EV charging energy management software enables these companies to reduce grid power consumption while continuing to charge vehicles by reducing the amount of electricity directed to each active charging port based on priority criteria assigned to each EV. Smart EV charging energy management can also integrate power from the grid with local battery storage and local renewables like onsite solar to keep EVs charging and optimize costs.

Turning EVs into DERs to Help with Grid Congestion

Demand-response programs and the partnerships they establish between utilities and EV charging operators position electric utilities to use EVs as “batteries on wheels,” sending their stored energy back to the grid to help balance and/or supplement the grid. Vehicle-to-grid (V2G), or bidirectional charging, is the nascent technology that makes this possible. When paired with smart energy management, V2G can enable EVs to work together as a distributed energy resource or, at scale, a virtual power plant (VPP)—giving utilities the power to balance the grid while meeting the demand for EV charging.

The time for utilities and regulators to start planning for V2G and advocating for its implementation by automotive and EV charger manufacturers is now. The result will be a win-win-win: EV owners can monetize their EVs as grid assets and reduce their energy costs; utilities can reduce infrastructure investments while supporting electrification; and everyone will win as we recharge the planet with clean energy and transportation.

Doron Frenkel is CEO and founder of Driivz, a Smart EV Charging and Energy Management Platform.

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