We Have the Electricity We Need to Charge New EVs, but We Need to Use it Intelligently

By: Jeff Hendler. Founder & CEO of Logical Buildings

Stand on a busy street corner of any major American city, and within a few minutes, you are bound to spot an electric vehicle (EV) quietly gliding past. What was once considered a curiosity is becoming commonplace. Many of the most crucial factors that would have discouraged drivers in the past from considering an EV purchase, such as range or reliability, have been solved or drastically improved over the last few years. Recently, Ford, the first mega-manufacturer of cars and trucks, announced it would double production of its F150 Lightning electric pickup truck in response to booming demand for the vehicle (the company’s stock price shot up 12% after the announcement). Despite the fact that they still represent a single-digit percentage of cars and trucks sold every year, there’s no question that EVs have entered the mainstream in the U.S. And for many would-be EV buyers the top question and obstacle remains, “where can I plug this in?”

The availability and expansion of EV charging infrastructure remain a crucial component of the campaign to encourage the wider adoption of EVs. The consulting firm McKinsey recently warned that more needs to be done to ensure that “the availability of fast-charging infrastructure doesn’t become a bottleneck for EV growth.” Fortunately, businesses, nonprofits, and governments are taking steps toward better and more plentiful options for charging EVs. Just recently, Vice President Harris unveiled the White House plan to build 500,000 new EV charging stations across the U.S.

As EV charging networks expand nationwide, charging station operators and utilities should make it a priority to invest in virtual power plant (VPP) solutions to ensure that these stations are an asset to the grids in which they operate and not an added risk. VPPs are a collection of energy resources–anything from industrial machines that consume a lot of electricity to rooftop solar panels–that can be controlled to quickly reduce demand on an electric grid. The big batteries that power EVs need a lot of power to recharge quickly, and if too many of them are charging in one place at the same time without the proper controls, it could disrupt electricity supplies.

It is important to remember that EV charging infrastructure expansion is not happening in a vacuum. Electrification of cities and entire industries is underway, and the trend will accelerate in the coming years. New York City, for example, banned natural gas in new buildings, and many cities and states have already or are considering doing the same. Concurrently, utilities, companies, and consumers are adding renewable energy resources like solar, wind, and energy storage to the power grid. These changes create new challenges that VPPs are best equipped to address.

With the help of advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) upgrades introduced by utilities, VPP software can dynamically adjust electricity demand to avoid overloading the grid, while minimizing greenhouse gas emissions. It can also monitor EV charging and ramp it up or down–or even pause it–to protect the integrity of the grid and avoid localized disruptions to the electricity supply. Revel, the New York City-based ridesharing service, uses VPP software to ensure that their moped charging network is integrated in a responsible manner with New York City’s grid.

Revel turns to software to keep its e-moped fleet powered without straining NYC’s grid

When the city experienced a severe heat wave last summer, intelligent software responded to increased demand on the grid by automatically modifying the timing of Revel’s charging sessions and avoided the peak usage hours when electricity is dirtiest, most expensive, and emits elevated levels of carbon dioxide and air pollution. Automated demand reduction by Revel’s charging stations helped avoid brownouts and blackouts that can occur when electricity use peaks.

The software solution that powers Revel’s moped charging network can be replicated in EV charging stations as well. EV charging stations need to be seen as valuable assets to the communities that they serve, as opposed to a burden on an already overtaxed grid. Nothing will turn the public sentiment against EVs faster than rolling blackouts and brownouts that are partially caused by or even perceived to be related to EV charging. On the flip side, expanded availability of responsive charging networks can foster EV adoption.

Intelligent charging operations can ensure that EV charging networks set the gold standard for how these electrical assets can assist cities in smooth electrification and decarbonization. As the electrification of everything accelerates and more renewables are added to the grid, thoughtful planning and intelligent software will ensure that electrified transport is well-supplied without disrupting grid operations.

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