Electric Vehicles and Grid Integration of Renewables

Vote Solar just intervened in a proceeding (pdf) on electric vehicles (EVs) at the California Public Utilities Commission.

Solar power panels charge a plug in hybrid car

Why EVs and why are we — a solar organization — so excited about this effort?

Couple of reasons. The first has to do with the grid-integration of renewables.  EVs represent a large source of potentially malleable load, and will result in the interconnection of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of very large batteries to the grid. With appropriate policies, EVs could be a very low-cost solution to some of the challenges of integrating large amounts of variable renewables.

As a CPUC whitepaper (pdf) puts it,

“1.5 million EVs] would represent an additional load of 10,000 MW on the grid. Accounting for plug-in hybrid electric vehicles(PHEV), total load exceeds 30,000 MW, which represents nearly 60% of the summer peak load in 2013…Rather than being viewed as an obstacle for system operators to manage, Vehicle – Grid Integration (VGI), allows these vehicles to be used as a resource that helps us reduce grid operations costs, avoid or defer distribution maintenance and upgrades”

The paper goes on to enumerate in some depth the grid benefits, including: frequency regulation; spinning, non-spinning, and supplemental reserve; load following/ramping support for renewables; distribution upgrade deferral; voltage support; power quality; power reliability; retail energy time-shift; and demand charge mitigation.  Using EVs to provide these services means avoiding new fossil generation.  But the real kicker is the potential for cost savings. According to the CPUC, EVs “may be able to help meet emerging system needs at a lower cost than stand-alone storage or flexible thermal [i.e. fossil] generation.”  That’s a big deal.  California is on track to meet (and hopefully exceed) 33% renewables, and making sure the integration of these resources is achieved in ways that maximizes the environmental benefit and minimizes costs is mission critical.

Secondly, we believe that this process will prove to be the pointy-end of the wedge that helps reconfigure the relationship between utilities and their customers.  Specifically, from a one-way flow of payment to a two-way flow communication, value, and compensation.

What kind of money are we talking about?  The CPUC cites a few studies:

  • “A government fleet of PEVs in Southern California providing regulation up and regulation down to the CAISO markets may yield total revenue of $100/month-vehicle.
  • An institutional fleet of PHEVs in Boston providing discharging energy to a building at peak times could mitigate demand charges and result in savings of $100/month-vehicle.”

Our goal in this proceeding is to help establish the transactional space where the grid operator communicates the grid’s needs, and all those that have solutions are able to respond, and be compensated for the value added.  In many ways, EVs are a piece with distributed solar in forging new utility business models.  Not just different, but better.

Would you rather have a car…or a car that pays you $100/month while it’s parked?

Would you rather have a grid where a utility buys brand new equipment for every needed service, or a grid that makes efficient and effective use of existing resources, even if they are owned by customers?

Would you rather have a roof, or a roof that generates valuable power, prevents pollution, and saves you money?

The future is gonna be awesome.

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