Are Electric Vehicles (EVs) Poised to Save the Utility?
by Bob Shively, Enerdynamics President and Lead Instructor
Just over a year ago, penetration of electric vehicles was miniscule compared to the more than 226 million registered vehicles in the U.S. But change was happening through various initiatives by car manufacturers, electric utilities, and new integrated solutions that combine smart homes and EVs. Given the speed at which technology can develop and the significant impacts that EVs could have on our industry, it’s worth looking at developments in EV growth in the last year.
Ownership of EVs, including Plug-in Hybrids (PHEVs), has continued its growth. The U.S. still leads the world in number of EVs, though not in percentage of cars that are EVs, where Norway with over 25% holds the lead.
Key factors preventing more sales in the U.S. include the price tag and the specter of running out of charge due to low range. EV manufacturers have been working on these issues and, in 2016, numerous announcements have been made about coming models with over 100 miles of range at a price less than $40,000.
Some manufacturers also have continued their efforts to package EVs with other green home innovations. Ford continues its work on MyEnergiLifestyleTM (although it’s currently focused on the Chinese market), and Tesla recently offered to buy SolarCity to create a “highly-integrated, sustainable energy company.”
A recent paper by the Rocky Mountain Institute titled Electric Vehicles as a Distributed Energy Resource suggests that if utilities take a proactive approach to EV implementation – an approach focused on properly-sited charging stations and rate design price signals – the result will be significant benefits for ratepayers and shareholders. Utilities must develop rates or incentives that place charging stations at optimal locations on the grid and encourage charging during low-cost hours when system supply is high relative to demand. In some regions this may become mid-day with large amounts of solar power flooding the grid; in others it may be at night when wind power or unneeded traditional baseload generation is available.
Believing projections about major technology shifts is dangerous business, but at least one respected organization, Bloomberg New Energy Finance, has projected that by 2022 EVs will cost the same as gasoline-powered cars. If so, utilities that develop forward-thinking EV offerings now may soon benefit from a new source of load that will rekindle the past days of robust load growth.
 Ford partners with Trina Solar to launch myenergi-lifestyle in China, Vincent Shaw, pv magazine, May 29, 2015, http://www.pv-magazine.com/news/details/beitrag/ford-partners-with-trina-solar-to-launch-myenergi-lifestyle-in-china_100019621/#axzz4CXcXOYt5
 Solar plus storage: With SolarCity deal, Tesla aims to speed clean energy transition, Gavin Bade, UtilityDive.com, June 22, 2016, http://www.utilitydive.com/news/solarcity-tesla-deal-/421370/
 See http://www.rmi.org/evs_as_ders
 Here’s How Electric Cars Will Cause the Next Oil Crisis, Tom Randall, Bloomberg.com, February 25, 2016, http://www.bloomberg.com/features/2016-ev-oil-crisis/