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Report Lays Out Steps Needed to Prepare Grid for Electric Vehicles

A new report from the Energy Systems Integration Group outlines gaps that need to be filled in order to better prepare the grid for electric vehicles.

The ESIG report, Charging Ahead: Grid Planning for Vehicle Electrification, argued that public charging sites and vehicle fleet depots can be planned, permitted, and constructed much more quickly than other loads such as commercial sites or industrial facilities, therefore, utilities have much less time to upgrade distribution system infrastructure for electric vehicle integration.

The report identified four steps to support vehicle electrification, namely, improving forecasting, embracing smart charging, incorporating future ready equipment, and promoting proactive upgrades and processes.

Forecasting the impact of electric vehicle adoption and use can be improved by enhancing adoption and behavior models by forecasting charging behavior and how the vehicle is used. For instance, the location and timing of charging a school bus and a city bus will have different impacts on the grid, the report noted.

Forecasting adoption at a granular level can be achieved through likelihood models informed by costs, policies, and customer preferences, as well as through new sources of data, such as fleet electrification surveys, the report said.  

Additionally, the report’s authors said, embracing the uncertainty around electric vehicle adoption and charging patterns through scenario planning can help planners think in broad strokes rather than narrow solutions.

The report also recommended that utilities embrace smart charging programs that use rate designs, automation, or demand response to align electric vehicle charging with infrastructure capabilities and the lowest-cost electricity.

One California study found that unmanaged electric vehicle charging, coupled with some electrification of other loads, could lead to $50 billion in distribution upgrades. Another study, which used different assumptions on charging behavior, found that distribution upgrade costs could be $16 billion.

In addition to combining smart charging with infrastructure upgrades, utilities should also incorporate future-ready equipment into their planning by upgrading equipment when it is slated to be replaced or first commissioned, the report argued.

In its fourth step, the ESIG report recommended that utilities actively implement grid future-ready grid upgrades because upgrades that take place over decades may not be sufficient to meet all projected electric vehicle charging needs.

“Widespread just-in-time upgrades of distribution equipment to support the level of electrification projected would likely be both costly and infeasible for utility construction crews,” the report’s authors said. Instead, they said, distribution utilities should be “proactive but should do so intelligently by working with multiple stakeholders and using improved, granular forecasts that may help to avoid over-building the system and creating stranded assets.” Over building can increase costs, while under building can lead to stunted interest in electric vehicles and falling short of public policy, they added.

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