The push for vehicle electrification and renewable energy as catalysts for decarbonization holds immense global potential. Recent studies indicate that the adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) is projected to skyrocket in the coming years.
According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), electric vehicles are expected to make up 60% of total global car sales by 2030, a remarkable surge from the current 2.6%.
However, this transition calls for significant adaptations to our electricity infrastructure. To usher in an ideal new energy economy, we must strive for flexible, open, and distributed clean energy sources that can be accessed seamlessly through intelligent and consumer-friendly systems. The pivotal question remains: Can our existing grid infrastructure and utility networks effectively accommodate this critical and transformative shift?
Navigating the Pitfalls for Utilities
This transition will impact every utility in the U.S—it doesn’t matter how large or small the region is, whether it is mountainous or flat, coastal or inland. To meet the projected electricity demands for charging EVs, U.S. generation capacity will need to double by 2050, notes the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
However, today’s electric grid is complex, at times unpredictable, and desperately underinvested, with infrastructure already past its expected life. Beyond the hefty price tag associated with the necessary grid modernization, regulatory and supply chain hurdles will slow development.
Furthermore, since the new generation will need to come from low-carbon, renewable resources, it isn’t just a matter of adding more generation when you need more power. Instead, it will require creating flexibility through energy storage, solar, wind, and vehicle electrification as power sources for later use—and this will mean creating additional transparency across the electric grid with intelligent energy management capabilities.
Three things are clear: (1) we need to aggressively add new generation capacity, (2) we need to manage existing grid assets more effectively to extend their life, and (3) we need to manage significant new loads—EVs in particular—or risk grid failures.
Tackling Challenges in the Age of Decarbonization
The concept of “orchestration”—connecting and coordinating multiple systems on the grid through a central solution—has been well understood in the industry for over a decade. These technologies include distributed energy resources (DERs), DER management systems (DERMS), and advanced distribution management systems (ADMS). The technologies give the utility more control at the grid edge but are typically limited in their reach and coordination of both front-of-the-meter (FTM) and behind-the-meter (BTM) assets simultaneously.
Furthermore, the time, resources, and cost to implement these systems are significant.￼ Utility networks have evolved over time, with layers of new added on top of or alongside old, increasing integration challenges. A typical DERMS implementation can run to tens of millions of dollars (depending on functionality and breadth) and take two to five years to deploy fully. This can limit traditional implementations to only the largest investor and municipally owned utilities.
Today’s challenge for industry practitioners is solving the fundamental problem of exponential load growth in the context of the existing utility-built network environment within a relatively short period, all while EV adoption continues to grow.
But how do you overcome the lengthy build-out timelines, the costs for infrastructure expansion, and the complexity associated with integration? Utility practitioners, fleet operators, and fleet managers need (1) a more flexible operating platform so that they can identify, manage, and control distributed assets alongside an increasingly constrained network; and (2) to leverage the systems they already have in place to extract more value and improve their return on capital investment.
Maximizing Gains: The Power of a Holistic Strategy
The answer lies in broader, more holistic orchestration of grid systems and services—specifically, in a cloud-based (private or public) platform that acts as a system-of-systems. Such a platform would extend beyond the substation to intelligently and simultaneously coordinate systems, devices, and stakeholders across generation, transmission, distribution, markets, and the grid edge—both in front of and behind the meter.
There are five essential characteristics that this platform would need to have:
- Identifies assets on the network, with a high-fidelity view into what’s happening at the grid edge, including holistic transparency into all-electric vehicles in a utility service territory and all grid network and customer assets that those EVs impact.
- Characterizes network asset loads and customer charging characteristics as part of the entire network topology, including the vehicles, drivers, residences, and business.
- Contextualizes the customer’s operating requirements and constraints, removing concerns about demand charge impact or unexpected grid interconnect charges.
- Supports decision-making using holistic predictive algorithms while extending the functionality of any existing built environment (including charge management systems, advanced metering infrastructure (AMI), supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems, DERMS, and graphical information systems (GIS).
- Engages with and delivers information tailored to individual users across the utility and fleet ecosystem, whether that’s distribution operations, distribution planning, customer programs, energy traders, rate and tariff analysts, fleet managers, operators, or planners.
Building on these principles, Rhythmos designed a modern analytics platform from the ground up as a simple, intuitive, and user-enabling platform that addresses the needs of fleet managers, operators, and planners alongside its utility partners. At the same time, the platform provides scalable, modular functionality—meaning it offers a comprehensive, integrated, and transparent network solution that can grow with a utility or fleet, adding functionality when the need arises without a wholesale replacement or additional point solution.
This modularity lets the platform meet the customer where they are. For example, utilities that need help today with transformer loading in the future could add geographic information systems (GIS) cleanup, EV detection and forecasting, EV planning scenarios, EV optimization, and full DER integration.
In today’s rapidly evolving energy landscape, the grid demands enhanced predictability, flexibility, and intelligent energy management to expedite the widespread adoption of EVs by fleets and utilities. Today’s grid needs a solution that:
- Provides near real-time transparency for utilities and EV customers.
- Integrates smoothly with existing systems, extending their value and offering an intuitive interface.
- Allows for swift deployment within months rather than years.
- Offers significant cost savings compared to traditional ADMS/DERMS deployments.
- Serves utility, DER, and fleet ecosystems, catering to multiple stakeholders.
This comprehensive approach presents a transformative solution to tackle the staggering grid modernization challenge, estimated to be worth trillions of dollars. By embracing this approach, we can expedite the transition from fossil fuels to clean, renewable energy sources and achieve decarbonized transportation more rapidly and cost-effectively.
—Ken Munson is CEO of Rhythmos.