Electric Vehicles

Electric transportation expansion is key focus for SMUD: Orchard

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The expansion of electric transportation has become a major strategic focus for the Sacramento Utility District, with the utility pursuing a number of activities on the electric transportation front including engaging in research and development work on things like managed charging and taking steps to reduce range anxiety for electric vehicle customers.

These and other SMUD electric transportation activities were detailed by Arlen Orchard, SMUD’s CEO and general manager, on March 7, in remarks he made at the Alliance to Save Energy’s “Great Energy Efficiency Day” in Washington, D.C. 

Orchard, who noted that SMUD has supported electric transportation since the early 1990s, said that the expansion of electric transportation “has become a major strategic focus for SMUD, driving potential new revenues and supporting” the sustainability goals of the utility, its customers and its communities.

“We undertook an in-depth strategic planning exercise in 2016 and determined to focus on three broad areas – investing in activities that reduce barriers and increase market adoption, increasing awareness and support of EVs in our community and conducting charging research to gain more insight into how to minimize impacts to the grid brought on by increased charging activities and increase the integration of renewable energy on to the grid,” the SMUD CEO and general manager said.

“Out of that came a robust, multi-pronged approach,” Orchard said. For example, SMUD on its website offers an EV estimator, which helps customers make informed decisions about whether an EV is right for them individually.

“Our most successful program to date is our charge free for two years incentive for new EV purchasers,” Orchard noted. Paired with a multi-media advertising campaign, “we exceeded our goals in the first go around,” he said, noting, among other things, that three hundred customers took advantage of the incentive.

In order to encourage the utility’s customers to charge at the right time, SMUD offers a 1.5 cent per kilowatt hour discount for EV owners who charge their vehicles between midnight and 6 a.m.

“The advertising campaign has also driven awareness around the benefits of EVs. In less than two years, we’ve seen our customers with positive views of EVs increase from thirty percent to forty two percent,” Orchard said. “Moreover, more of our customers seem to be kicking the proverbial wheels of EVs.”

Addressing range anxiety

To address the issue of range anxiety, SMUD has installed six separate public DC fast charging stations in the last couple of years including one at the Sacramento International Airport.

“These stations enable EV owners to charge their vehicles in less than 30 minutes,” he noted.

“We’re also partnering with our business customers to install additional public DC fast charging stations, providing both technical support and a $100,000 incentive per charging station,” Orchard said.

Available public charging “isn’t the only barrier to adoption, so we’re providing financial incentives to our business customers to install workplace charging and to property owners to install charging for multi-family housing.”

Meanwhile, SMUD has also teamed up with “our local air quality management district and three school districts on one of the largest electric school bus deployments in the United States. The twenty-nine new electric school buses will primarily serve students in our disadvantaged neighborhoods.”

On the research and development front, the utility’s efforts include managed charging, truck stop electrification and coupling storage with DC fast charging to limit grid impacts and facilitate the integration of renewables.

Orchard noted that “in our own business operations, we’re actually walking the talk and transitioning to a plug-in hybrid and battery electric fleet” including 19 plug-in hybrid bucket trucks.

Collaborating with important partners

“As we embrace the destructive nature of the transportation revolution, we are collaborating with important partners,” Orchard told attendees at the Alliance to Save Energy event.

“SMUD helped lay the framework for Sacramento being designated the first green city by Electrify America,” he noted.

Electrify America was created to manage the $2 billion over the next decade that will be provided by Volkswagen Group of America to invest in zero-emission vehicle infrastructure in the U.S. and to build awareness of EVs.

“Our friends at Electrify America committed $44 million of funding to the capital region, approximately 35 percent of which will be devoted to making electric transportation more accessible in low-income communities,” the SMUD CEO and general manager said.

Orchard said that the green city designation builds on work already being done to connect Sacramento’s low-income communities to green technologies and accessible transportation options. “With transportation often serving as a barrier to employment and education opportunities, the effort by Electrify America and community partners will help build economically and environmentally sustainable neighborhoods.”

He said that SMUD is supporting Electrify America’s plan to provide EV car sharing opportunities to disadvantaged communities. “As part of our partnership, we’ll use our knowledge about these communities and customers in those communities to support targeted marketing, ride and drive outreach efforts and strategically sited charging to support the program,” Orchard noted.

Additional details about Electrify America are available here.

Moreover, SMUD is working with Volkswagen “on different EV infrastructure options including ultra-fast charging and battery storage options to support deployment,” Orchard noted.

Autonomous vehicles

Orchard also used his remarks to discuss autonomous vehicles, or AVs. “As an electric utility, AVs represent a significant opportunity with electricity being a logical fuel source given GHG concerns, the regulatory climate, and lower maintenance costs,” he said.

Orchard said that “we’re supporting Sacramento’s autonomous transportation open standards coalition, with an eye to better understanding” the long-term impacts of AVs on electric load and the grid.

“Assuming AVs trend towards the expected shared use model, we believe the average AV will use about six times more energy per vehicle versus what we now see with private EV ownership,” he said.

AVs, EVs and DERs “represent technological advances that are disrupting the utility industry and causing us to rethink SMUD’s future investments to support a power grid that will likely include management of potentially hundreds of thousands of distributed energy resources,” he said.

SMUD is currently investing “in foundational technologies like the advanced distribution management system to improve the visibility of connected devices like EVs on our grid.”

The public power utility “is also looking to the future, having entered into a strategic technology partnership” with Open Systems International to co-develop and co-deploy “the next generation of grid technology – a distributed energy resources management system,” or DERMS, Orchard said.

“Once deployed, the DERMS will provide utilities with better visualization, controls and tools to optimize their distribution system,” including optimization of DERs.

Modeling of distribution system

Orchard said that SMUD has done extensive modeling and analysis of its distribution system and doesn’t anticipate any major barriers to extensive EV adoption until post-2030.

Even then, “we see a lot of potential in new technology tools” such as the DERMS “to help us manage EV penetration and demands on our system.”

Going forward, “we see EVs as a part of the broader distributed energy resources mix that we’re looking to harness to better integrate things like solar or wind as we transition to a low-carbon economy,” he said.

50 x 50 Commission

Orchard serves as a commissioner on the Alliance to Save Energy’s “50 x 50 Commission.”

The commission brings together business, government and civil society leaders to work together to develop a pathway and recommendations to reduce energy use in the U.S. transportation sector by 50 percent by 2050 while meeting future mobility needs.

Other commissioners on the 50 x 50 Commission include Mark McNabb, President and CEO of Electrify America.