Electric Vehicles

Utilities can play a key role in electric vehicle market development

Electric vehicles could bring more than 3,000 terawatt-hours of electricity demand per year to the grid in the U.S. by 2040, but charging trends so far haven't done much to offset an expected decline in over electricity demand, according to the Smart Electric Power Alliance.

Electricity consumption for EVs will largely depend on the individual community and its driving patterns, said Erika Myers, senior manager of research for SEPA. But by 2040, EVs are expected to represent 40 percent of vehicle sales, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, an energy research firm. This represents more than 3,000 TWh of energy use per year, Myers said during a June 24 webinar hosted by SEPA.

Conversely, distributed solar installations are expected to lead to less traditional power demand. The average solar system produces about 1,400 kilowatt-hours, Myers said. In 2015, EV charging only offset about 15 percent of the electricity produced by residential PV, and that offset is expected to rise to 18 percent by 2021. Myers said forecasts beyond 2021 are less clear.

Forecasts for EV adoption are also difficult to pin down, she said. National forecasts for EV growth diverge depending on what models are based on — currently low oil prices, limited but growing manufacturer product development, and high but declining battery costs, SEPA said in a May brief to its members. The Energy Information Administration projects only about 800,000 light duty EVs on the road by 2021, compared to BNEF's much higher estimate of about 2.6 million over the next five years. And all these predictions differ for each community, SEPA said.

But one thing utilities do know is that they can make an impact on EV charging infrastructure now, as well as customer behavior, as seen in the Salt River Project's charger-less EV program. SRP launched a web portal last year that has brought about one third of the community's estimated 3,000 EV owners in touch with the utility about their locations and charging habits.

"We don't want you to be caught unprepared," Myers said. "EVs are coming — maybe not tomorrow, but at some point in the future, and your utility should know what your options are and to what extent you should or shouldn't participate in the market."

Utilities who get ahead of the expected mass adoption of EVs will be better positioned to respond, she said. EVs have the potential to shift load or help manage daytime solar generation, SEPA said in its May brief. Utilities may consider deploying charging stations in strategic locations, implementing EV incentives or special charging rates, developing partnerships for equipment deployment and consumer education, or even deploying their own utility-owned EV fleets and workplace charges.